Sunlight streams in through our open window, the sheer curtains fluttering about in a breeze that tickles our faces and coaxes us from our sleep. I pretend I don’t feel it, knowing that if she wakes and finds me still dreaming, she’ll kiss my neck three or five times before getting dressed and cooking breakfast for us. Three means eggs with runny yolks and buttery toast; five means the rolls from an evening meal I don’t remember smothered with blackberry jam and served with fresh milk.
She traces her fingertips along my spine and kisses me — I count — one, two, three. Eggs and toast, then. She stretches and climbs out of bed, slipping out of her nightgown and into her work clothes. Soon I smell the eggs frying and I hear her humming, and I know that if I don’t get up by the time I hear the breadbox open, she’ll tell me during breakfast that I had too much wine last night, to which I’ll say — how much did I have? And she’ll laugh and shake her head and say exactly my point and I’ll laugh too. But she never tells me how much.
She’s wearing her blue-checkered shirt under overalls that are cut off just below the knee, barefoot and glowing with all the sun she’s soaked in from spending her days in the garden. I step on the creaky floorboard, intentionally, knowing that when I do, she’ll turn and smile at me and say:
“Well good morning, sunshine. Breakfast is about ready; go ahead ‘n sit down. I’ll fix you a plate.” I smile back and, on a whim, give her a peck on the check on the way to my place at the table. Have I done that before? She blushes and sticks her tongue out at me before turning back to the stove, humming resumed.
While we eat, she tells me that my dress has a tear in the sleeve, I should probably mend it before bed tonight or else I’ll forget again. I’ve stitched that damn tear 47 times, but I nod and tell her how good breakfast is. And I ask her what her plans are for the day.
“Got some gardening to do — you know that always needs to be done. I was wanting to work on our quilt a little, and… maybe later I’ll take a dip in the river, depending on the heat.” She takes another bite of her toast with the egg on top. According to her, she always eats it like that. And she’s right. “Wuh ‘bout you?”
“Jus’ gonna follow ya aroun’ an’ help wif da chores.” I also speak with my mouth full. I wonder what she’ll say; the kiss on the cheek didn’t change much and the morning is already numbingly familiar. She swallows and giggles, wiping her mouth with a napkin.
“Okay, okay, I know I eat like a little pig. I’m just a damn good cook.” She grins at me and my heart starts racing. Finally, a new variable to test in the endless wave of egg and toast breakfasts.
We wash the dishes together and head out to the garden, her with the spade and me with the baskets that we’ll fill with ripe vegetables and berries. She gets to work on the weeds, digging them up at the roots while I pluck and pick at the plants. I don’t count them anymore — I know just by looking that it’s the same as always.
On my first day she held me as I cried because I couldn’t remember. My fifth day she said I was hysterical and ill and tucked me under a pile of blankets with warm broth and a worn copy of Pride and Prejudice with daisies and dandelions pressed between the pages. On the twelfth day I ran as far as my feet could carry me, through an endless field of wildflowers, until my legs and lungs were burning and the sun was rising and I closed my eyes to rest.
On the thirteenth morning I woke up back in her bed and she told me that she carried me inside after our guests all went home. I told her — tried to tell her, choking on tears — I don’t know what you’re talking about, I don’t know who you are, I don’t know who… I don’t- I don’t- I-, and she felt my forehead with the back of her hand and told me that cold wine and summer heat do strange things to the mind.
The days began to bleed together until time itself was washed away, like chalk during a rainstorm, or the way that 100 days of summer become one long continuum of picking flowers and chasing frogs and playing hopscotch. I didn’t leave the bed, sensing, somehow, that no matter where I went, no matter how far and fast I ran, I would end back up there, under a thin sheet the color of butter with her next to me, the curtains dancing in a soft wind.
Every morning, she acted surprised when I told her I didn’t know who she was, like I hadn’t been telling her this for days and days; she always brought me warm broth and that copy of Pride and Prejudice with the daisies and dandelions pressed between the pages and always said that a little R and R goes a long way, try and take it easy for me today. The repetitiveness of her actions confused me, but the broth was delicious, and Pride and Prejudice — something about it was comfortable and familiar, like an old sweater — so I took her advice. Surely, I’ll remember after a few days.
But I didn’t. And when I asked her if she had another kind of soup, that the vegetable broth was getting old after having it for so many days or even weeks in a row, she laughed and told me you haven’t had this broth since you were sick with the flu last February!
The recurrence of my reality began to present itself to me, and I exhausted myself, trying to disprove what my mind was perceiving. I would meticulously place my bookmark between pages 58 and 59 before bed, only to wake and find it stuffed between the cover and the blank first page with the words From your mother, on your 14th birthday scrawled at the top, followed by X’s and O’s. She must have moved it, I told myself. I stayed up all night, every night, for three days, trying to catch her in the act; only to blink for a second longer than usual, eyes heavy with sleep, and find the bookmark sitting, mockingly, in the place it should not have been.
It all became too much to comprehend. The clothes in the wardrobe were shredded in my madness; the china was dashed onto the floor, and when I threw myself to the ground, sobbing, I barely felt the porcelain shards cut my flesh; the tomato plants were pulled up at the roots and stomped. She always pleaded with me to tell her what was wrong, why I was destroying the things we loved; trying to explain never ended well. Darkness would fall, and she’d be crying under the willow. The wind carried the sound of her away into the fields, but it parted the branches for brief moments, allowing me to glimpse her curled up on her side, asking herself where things went wrong.
Never once did I see the moon.
Morning would come, and everything would be just as it had been. Of the things ruined, only I would remain, breaking more and more by the day, or maybe the hour, or maybe the minute.
My tantrums weren’t changing anything. I remained entrapped, and reality’s insistence on repairing itself secretly in the night made my every action seem futile. I decided to do what she expected of me — to eat breakfast, work in the garden, help around the house — anything. If she was making my decisions for me, if I played along for once, maybe time would start again and maybe tomorrow could finally, finally, come.
It was then that I noticed the patterns.
Doing as she asked, living a life that pantomimed productivity, displayed the patterns to me clearly. If I got out of bed first, she would sit up and stretch and ask what we should have for breakfast and if I said strawberries and cream then she would wear cut off jean shorts and a thin, white blouse and later in the day, when we gardened, she would insist on picking the produce while I took care of the weeds. Every time.
If I told her I wanted toast with apple butter, it was a short sundress with small, delicate roses dancing across the faded fabric, and after supper she would ask me to rub her feet and then she’d read me a few lines of poetry before bed. Oatmeal with brown sugar; faded cutoff overalls with an old t-shirt underneath, hot dogs for supper, and through the open window I’d watch her, sitting cross-legged at the edge of the field, painting flowers and the sky, even though she told me you should nap, you look exhausted.
Finding the patterns kept me sane. I made conscious choices each morning, depending on the day I wanted to have. I would change up my routine, my outfit, the hand I held my fork in, just to see what could trigger these changes. For a long time, I was kept afloat, memorizing action and reaction — I took note of everything in my mind, counting how many times she would smile at me in a day depending on the outfit I wore; listening to her say the same words, over and over like a favorite tape, to see if her inflection was slightly different if I woke up before or after her; telling her, on the days that I set off a chain of events leading her to realize that she’d never asked my favorite color before, that it was green, blue, purple, yellow, orange, periwinkle, chartreuse, all the colors of the rainbow, to see if she would grin, or laugh or put her hand gently on my arm while she responded to me depending on the outfit I wore or the breakfast we had eaten.
Eventually, maddeningly, there started to be fewer and fewer new things to test in a day. I would have to be creative with causing variations — standing on my head during breakfast, poorly drawing a portrait of her and hanging it on the refrigerator, cutting my hair off before she woke up and slipping back into bed. It was exhausting work, often with very little pay off. I began to save these for the days that felt excruciatingly same, rationing it so that the highs would be stronger, if few and far between.
Soon, the patterns began to blur as if someone had taken an eraser and swiped it across a cluttered chalkboard. Everything that happened had already happened and had already happened nine or ten times. And I felt myself slipping again, into recurrence, into desperation, dissolving into the sameness of the world.
We eat our noon meal under the willow tree, cheese and tomato on slices of bread — the usual eggs-and-toast-breakfast lunch. The willow branches are buffeted gently by the soft wind, and in the shade it’s easy to forget the heat that lies beyond it. When we finish eating, we lay on our backs and hold hands, breathing in the scent of the earth and each other’s sweat. The grass is soft, and I decide to ask her a new question, one I’ve been saving for a few months’ worth of perfectly stale days:
“When did you realize that you love me?”
I feel her shift next to me, propped up on her side by her elbow. I keep my eyes closed. She always does that when I ask her something after lunch. I feel her gaze on me and I feel my face grow warm despite the shade.
“Who said I love you?” I can hear the cheeky grin on her face, but I don’t want this to devolve into some silly joke, brushed off after a few moments and a couple of giggles. I need something to change. Anything.
“I- we’ve been here, together, for a while now,” I say, which is true but also maybe not. “I just thought…” I feel my chest tighten. Why?
I listen to her stretch out onto her back again. I open my eyes just enough to see her staring up into the branches of the tree, her chest falling and rising almost deliberately.
“Probably since that first dance.”
“Hmm?” My heart skips a beat. She loves me.
“Remember? It was a full moon, and Miriam told you to bring some of that strawberry wine like your daddy used to make. ‘Perfect for a summer dance,’ she said.” She rolls over and gives me a coy smile. Her fingertips brush my arm and suddenly it’s hard to breath, and I try to tell myself it’s because she mentioned a father I had forgotten. “And when our song started playing- well, it wasn’t our song yet, of course- but when we danced to it, we felt- I felt-“
“Like we’d known each other for a hundred years,” we say, at the same time. How did I know what she was going to say?
And when did her face get so close to mine!?
She kisses me — my face heats up like the sand on the riverbank does when the sun hits it — and I kiss back, and suddenly breaking the pattern of this day seems unimportant because she tastes like honey and sun-ripened tomatoes and she feels like I don’t mind mending this tear in my sleeve a thousand more times if she’s the one reminding me to do it.
The rest of this today is completely off-script; for the first time in a long time, the afternoon and evening are unexplored and beautiful. She doesn’t work on her quilt this afternoon — instead, we make ice cream flavored with fresh strawberries, and she tells me that she’s thinking about buying baby chicks at the market this weekend; I wonder if maybe she will go to the market, leaving me and this small fragment of herself behind, two moths encased in an amber moment; she holds my head in her lap and strokes my hair. And I ask myself if this feeling in my chest is from the newness of it all, the change in the air, the high of living without knowing what comes next — or if it’s her.
After our evening meal — a small hen and potatoes that we roast outside over an open fire, new and delicious and I eat too much — we strip and swim in the river, golden from the setting sun and then inky as cicadas and crickets and frogs begin to sing. We lay bare on the streambed, and for the first time I hum along with her, with OUR song — why haven’t I done this before? The vibrations swell within us and mingle with the sound of life that the air is heavy with.
I decide that it’s finally time to ask. I am gleefully, eagerly, and painfully aware that all of this can happen again in the infinite tomorrows that will follow this one, but today feels special, like the first bloom of a perennial flower or the beginning steps of a small child, or the first time you read your favorite book with daisies and dandelions pressed between yellowing pages.
We walk back to the house, dripping and shivering in the night air. She starts to put on her nightgown and tie up her hair, but I grab a picnic blanket and the comforter off the bed and point to the window. She grins and we go back out and stare up at the stars, which seem brighter tonight, somehow. I kiss her again, softly. We gaze into each other’s eyes, and I swear that hers are brighter than any star could ever dare to be. Why haven’t I done this before?
“What’s your name?”
She laughs and snuggles closer to me. I rest my chin on her head, and her hair smells like sunshine and the breeze that floats in through our window each morning. Why haven’t I noticed this before?
“You already know my name,” she says, draping an arm over my neck. I’m feeling bold.
“Indulge me.” I swear I can feel her roll her eyes, but I can also feel her smiling.
Angie. Angie Angie Angie. Is it short for Angel? For Angela? Does it matter? Angie.
I tap her shoulder lightly. When I point up to where the moon should be, she looks. Clouds are drifting lazily across the sky.
“Hey, Angie…” The word feels foreign on my tongue, but it tastes like strawberries.
“When do you think the moon will come back?” She gives me a confused look and laughs when she sees my serious expression.
“In about two weeks, right? Just like it always does.”
We drift off to sleep, outside, wrapped in a comforter and each other and gentle starlight.
The breeze wakes me, as always, but it feels, or smells, or just is different somehow. I keep my eyes closed, and I feel her stir next to me in bed. Five kisses and she’s up and dressed and making breakfast, and it’s comfortable and familiar instead of restrictive and suffocating. Sitting at the table, waiting to eat, I know instinctively that everything is the same, a world of patterns and linearity and cause and effect — but when we chat over breakfast, same words and smiles as always, it feels better than it has in a long time.
The day passes as it usually does. I think about kissing her, Angie, but I decide to let the day play out its tired old patterns with my new perception of them. In the evening, I tell Angie to let me fix supper, that she should take some time to herself and relax. She kisses me and lets me know how much she appreciates it. I pack a picnic basket with cold sandwiches and salad and realize that this is the first time in a long time that I’m doing something for a reason other than breaking the pattern.
I build a small fire for roasting marshmallows after we eat. Cross-legged, sitting on the ground still warm from the sun, we make s’mores and it gets in our hair and the smoke blows in our eyes. We move to the other side of the fire and hold hands and talk about where a good spot for a chicken coop would be, since Angie is planning to buy some chicks at the market this weekend.
Twilight falls. We put out the fire and Angie goes inside to wash the marshmallow out of her hair. I stay by the embers, absorbing the night air. The cicadas and crickets start singing. I listen to their gentle intonations, wondering if they start at the exact same second every night.
My eyes wander upwards, to where the moon would be if the Earth wasn’t sitting under its shadow at precisely this moment. Clouds float across the twinkling darkness, shifting, altering the night sky as they drift along. For a split second, they part just enough to reveal what’s behind them and I could swear I see a small sliver of the moon, but as soon as I think I see it, the clouds cover it again, and I’m left wondering. Wondering if she and I will be preserved in a golden shell for eternity, or if soon we will try finding our way by moonlight, together, until it disappears again.