By Beate Sigriddaughter
She sits by her window, a candle lit beside her, as junipers and pinons and the birdbath fade into dusk. Later she will switch on her desk lamp. Often, she sits like this way into the night, reading, thinking, surfing the internet.
When she was a very young woman, she walked past windows just like this one with her schoolbooks in her shoulder bag, and she would be drawn to the soft-gold mystery inside, especially at dusk, especially when mist rose from the river and brisk early winter made her own breath visible. The golden glow of promise seeped into the air to enchant her like an aching dream. The light was so soft, surely those on the inside had to be happy to belong there, women and men caressing, cooking dinner, children with dolls and toy trains or leaning against their mother’s hip, later saying bedside prayers, small voices calling to each other, cats rubbing against legs. She wanted to touch those worlds, to be inside them somehow, but her place was always out in the mist, on the outside of the glow, hurrying forward into her future, stopping for just a moment.
Today, if a young woman like that walked by her window, she too might yearn toward its captivating square of gold, a solid world behind it somewhere, drawing attention.
She is safely inside the gold now, dreaming back across the ribbons of her life. A husband, a child long grown and on his own, some music, some adventures, walking across favorite bridges, back and forth, many times. Paris once. She has done well for herself. And yet, the three big ones have always somehow eluded her. Money. Sex. God.
Okay, admittedly, there was always some money. Enough to get by, be fed, be sheltered. Enough for that one trip to Paris. Enough to pay for a friend’s lunch from time to time. Enough to wear her favorite clothes until threadbare. But not enough to build the artist’s retreat center she had once hoped to create. And not enough to visit her favorite waterfall or to dance tango in Buenos Aires.
And, yes, there had always been a little bit of sex as well. Otherwise, there would not have been her beautiful son, now roaming and romancing the tantalizing world on his own terms. Otherwise, she would not have held on to her husband who was now reading something or other elsewhere in the house. But sex had never really belonged to her. Somehow, it had always made her feel like a stranger to herself, doing her best with an assignment she knew she couldn’t ever ace, a faceless receptacle for male satisfaction. She remembers reading early on, with mild pity, about women who could never climax, and still, they claimed, it was pleasant enough, though nothing spectacular. And here she had become one of their ranks. Sometimes she wondered: Was she expecting too much? More than there was or could ever be? Sex had been promised in such shimmering shades, and then society delivered it with its sordid wrappings of contempt. It was hard to own up to the truth of all that, even to herself. Life had equipped her with desire. Her culture had transposed it into scorn and insults. She never got over that. With all her intelligence, she hadn’t been able to cross the bridge to ecstasy. A pity, yes.
And it was the same with God. There was always a little bit of God everywhere. God hovered just in the periphery, in flowers, in rain squalls, in all that beautiful wind in juniper branches, in ocean waves and all the invisible stirrings of the nights. How she used to yearn for being one of God’s enraptured children. How she was instead repulsed by so much harsh ugliness committed in God’s name. A fervent friend once told her: when you find God, you’ll know. She was still looking. Furtively. Perhaps she was simply not chosen due to endless faults of her own. Though surely the God who had created her would not have simply created her in vain, a rough draft, languishing in the waste basket of the universe?
And so, the hours of gold in her window progress with gratitude and melancholy contentment, with her safely inside. It is exquisite here. She remembers a time only a few years back when she had a crush on a young man who often passed her on a mountain path in those days. She saw him again on the trail yesterday. He looked older. They exchanged a few words.
She: Finally, summer is almost here.
He: I still have to build a fire at night.
She likes to think of him building a fire.
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Beate Sigriddaughter, http://www.sigriddaughter.net, grew up in Nürnberg, Germany. Her playgrounds were a nearby castle and World War II bomb ruins. She lives in Silver City, New Mexico (Land of Enchantment), USA, where she was poet laureate from 2017 to 2019. Her latest collections are short stories Dona Nobis Pacem (Unsolicited Press, December 2021) and poetry Wild Flowers (FutureCycle Press, February 2022).