How many more Novembers?


Sharing Stories
September 17, 2023 at 3:30 p.m.
Aging happens to everything.
Aging happens to everything. Terry Cook


“Time is a funny thing. I was always puzzled by the way a single day could stretch itself out to the point of eternity in your mind, all while years melted down to a fraction of a second. Gloria Naylor



In a forgotten corner of a small town, a weathered gray house stood framed by a carefully trimmed circle of grass. Alongside it, a line of elderly elm trees, their bare limbs cast into the darkening sky, displayed gnarled trunks that bore witness to the passage of years.

 A gravel drive worn smooth by the march of time and countless tires, diverted off the coarse stone road. The drive meandered gracefully around the house, resembling a winding ribbon. It led to a leaning building that served as a garage. The house was like the other houses along the creek, square with a small front porch and a large sleeping porch on the back. It was built by hand before the war with great logs hauled from the nearby mountains, then hand hewed and interlaced setting up a rectangle of walls. The logs were calked and the exterior overlaid with neat orderly rows of hand-cut cedar shakes.

This house, a silent sentinel of a bygone era, had withstood fifty years of cold winters, rainy springs, long hot summers and windblown autumns before the woman hired three local men to paint the shakes gray. The color, the viscous gray of a late winter’s dawn had faded gracefully to a shade that blended seamlessly with the surrounding landscape. The trim, painted off-white, made the windows look like eyes in the night.

The house lay waiting through the day, years of memories floating in the air like dust motes. As evening descended, it gently siphoned the last traces of light from the pewter sky. An old green car turned into the drive, its headlights spilling across the sparse yard, silhouetted the brown remnants of summer’s plants, now hoary with the early frost. Snowflakes piled up in the sunken spots.

A small woman, her hair a soft cascade of silver, carefully nosed the car into the garage. The door squealed as she got out. She sighed as she pushed it shut again. Doris wrestled with the shabby doors of the garage, thinking again she ought to get someone to come rehang the doors and replace the hinges. She picked her way slowly through the snow to the house. The wan porch light leading her through the settling dark.

The key turned reluctantly as she slid it into the lock. She had to step down onto the back porch to pull the kitchen door open. This door too she had to unlock. There had been a time when she hadn’t needed to lock her doors.  

The kitchen was cramped, but neat. A refrigerator rested on the far wall across from the door. A small blue Formica dinette set with two chairs sat between the refrigerator and the entry into the dining room. A green enamel stove stood against the outside wall next to a window that looked out across the driveway to the willow strewn creek. Along the back wall, a counter with a worn sink—the porcelain stained from years of use. Cupboards hung above the counter, with a series of varied size drawers arranged below. A single cup and plate sat in the sink beside a solitary knife and fork, residue from the woman’s breakfast that morning.

Doris moved to the thermostat and turned the heat up to 68 degrees, then walked into the spare bedroom. “Spare” because there was no use for it except the rare times when someone visited. Her wool coat and gloves went into a closet, lined with shelves that were filled with aging gifts left in their packaging. The bed was also piled with unopened things—silently unused in their boxes. She had no purpose for things anymore. She slipped off her shoes and put on slippers. Her feet were glad for the release.

The dining room and living room were conjoined. The plaster and lathe walls were heavily textured and outlined above with plaster cove molding…she had insisted on this when they built the house. Three doors off that room lead to two bedrooms and a bathroom with a claw foot tub.

There was a dark walnut dining table with four chairs along the north wall, framed by three windows. Two sofas faced each other across a maple coffee table in the living room, and a rocking chair sat near a window in the northwest corner. A radio with a small TV perched on top stood along the wall between the front door and two windows that faced the front yard. Roll down shades hung in all the windows. Sheer drapes delicately framed the edges of each window.

An opened box of See’s candy sat waiting for her on the coffee table. A worn leather bible rested on a side table near the rocking chair. A filled bookcase stood between the bedroom doors. A scattering of photographs lined the walls or stood in small frames on the bookshelves—children and grandchildren through the years. Each face showed a familial architecture. They were now scattered across the country.

The furnace came to life with a clangor followed by a low hum as warm air wafted from the grate. She walked back to the kitchen, noticing that the wind had picked up, windows rattling in their ancient frames. It was early November, but the weather forecast said, “snow tonight.” She was glad the snow tires had been put in place last week.

The meal she prepared was modest: green beans canned from her garden and a cold piece of chicken roasted for Sunday’s dinner. For dessert, she indulged herself with home-canned raspberries, allowing a small dollop of ice cream. As the dark, short days of the impending winter encroached, the flavors of summer lingered on her tongue.

After the dishes were washed and dried and put away, she picked up the pile of mail on the corner of the dining room table. The comfort of simple chores offered some solace in the silence. The pills the doctor prescribed were swallowed.

In the living room, Doris switched on the lamp over the rocking chair, then sat. The rocker swayed gently as she settled. The mail was mostly advertisements and a few bills. A large card caught her attention. Her address was typed formally in tight block letters. She opened the envelope, pulled out the card.
The stock image of flowers spelling out Happy Birthday greeted her startled eyes. On the inside it read:
            Dear Mrs. Widemer,
            Congratulations on reaching yet another milestone birthday. Many happy returns on this special day. Remember, we are always here for you. 

            Your team at Martin Insurance

One by one, she opened each bill, sorting them by due date. Her car insurance bill had no return envelope, and the payment coupon was missing. Instead, there was a letter.

            Dear Mrs. Widemer, 

            We deeply regret to inform you that we are terminating your auto insurance policy. Although you have never had an accident, our algorithm indicates that you are likely due for a mishap. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions.

Your team at Martin Insurance

The letter slipped to the floor. The rain had turned to sleet again. The wind slapped against the windows, a melancholy rhythm of pock-tick, pock-tick. The lamplight flickered with the wind. S  he picked up a book on the table, thumbed through it, then laid it back down.

Her mind was restless that night, like the storm moving through the valley. It wove in and out of the murky cold that hovered outside, turning quietly into her memories.

Today was the first day of November, another November. The deep cold turned, the air sighing into winter. She wondered, how many more Novembers? How many more Novembers were there with her in them?

Terry Cook is a member of Ariele’s Thursday ZOOM group. She blesses her work with a lot of imaginative images. She is a Washington State resident and writer.

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