He makes coffee in someone else's kitchen, admiring as always the collection of antique pots, and watching chickadees pick at the last of the firewood tumbled on the porch. Two years ago he read Merton on contemplative prayer here, waking at midnight in a dull panic and reaching for the woman who owns the place and who, from time to time, invites him to spend a few days reading and praying. When the weather allows, they carry a scratchy blanket to the far pasture and make love just before the forest. So close to the earth you can hear the cows pacing gently up and down the hill. Usually she sleeps after and he ambles over to the cows, naked and happy, scratching their thick heads and talking to them in low tones about God.
Yet today she is outside, shoring up fencing, and he is turning his mind in the direction of "theological fidelity," surprised as always to learn what he already knows. Earlier, waking beside his wife, he wondered again what it means to "give only love." The dog looked grumpy near his feet, upset that someone else had found their way into the bed. Yet he was grateful for her company, the long talk about what is going on with the minister at church, and the neighbor's daughter who looks suspiciously pregnant, and then later going down on each other, one after the other, almost as an afterthought. When she thought he was asleep she got up to sit in the dark living room and it made him sad, the interior space that she can not - or will not - share with him.
Well, he has earned a certain rebuke, that is true. Or so he tells himself, going outside with the coffee and walking up the hill to take a look at the taps to see how the sap is running. The temperatures will drop later, and later still snow is coming, and he can't help but laugh as he always does at how misplaced is our reliance on nature. You can take what is given, sure, but you can't insist. Also, you can't depend.
He thinks of his father, as he does often these days, a dairy farmer who died too young, one of the last in this part of the state. The funeral left him queasy inside, like he might throw up, but when his mother auctioned off the cows - saying it serves the bastard right - it broke him, and he ran crying into the empty silo, scattering some rats. Years later it makes him smile, that memory, what it shows about his father and him, and he apologizes out loud to the displaced vermin who no doubt had it worse. Some lives are harder than others. Some lessons you learn by repetition.
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