It snowed steadily all day, and by evening chores nearly four inches covered the ground. At lunch, we put the winter tires on the truck, and the floor jack wouldn’t roll through the accumulated snow, so I lay on my back, pushing and huffing, trying to position it in place. It was not a pleasant task: The heavy jack, the slushy snow, already soaking through my pants by the second wheel and swallowing the lug nuts that dropped through my numbing fingers. And perhaps worst of all, the lurking knowledge that if only we’d done this the day before, it would’ve been half the job.
That night, just before bed, I walked down to the shed where we keep the freezers. I’d half-heartedly tried to guilt one of the boys into doing it for me, but they weren’t biting, so I donned my still-damp clothing, tucked my feet into my chore boots, and grabbed a headlamp.
It’s not a long walk – just enough to limber the legs and get the blood flowing, is all – and I turned the headlamp off, letting the luminescence of the fresh snow guide me. I passed the cows, huddled under the protective shelter of their run-in shed. I could not see them, but I could feel their presence, their sheer mass, the heat of all that flesh. I passed the newly shod truck and the rows of round bales, smelled the sweetness of the fermented hay. It was flurrying still. Just a little. Winding down.
At the freezers, I made a pouch of my jacket front, filled it with food. Meat and berries and broth. I was thinking about the book reading I’d been to a couple of nights prior, where Brett Stancui read from her new novel.
Brett is an excellent writer and a fine reader, and it was a pleasure to sit and listen for a time. She’d attracted a full house despite dodgy road conditions, and as one who has drawn plenty of half and even quarter-houses to my readings, and therefore knows the particular despair of driving three hours home from a six-person audience (but hey! Two of them bought books!), I was happy for her.
Listening to her read, it was obvious how carefully she chooses her words and equally important, I think, how well she understands rhythm. Or maybe she doesn’t understand it; maybe she just feels it, the way some people can just feel their way into music or dance.
I sliced hot bread, buttered it, and cut the pieces into triangles. Listening to his voice in the other room reading that familiar story about the old man who called children horrid things, I stared down at the bread triangles. My mother had always cut sandwiches in this way for me. I had always eaten the inner points first.
Lucien said, “What a mean old man.”
I put tea, cups, bread, on a tray and carried it into the living room.
“Tea time!” Tansy sang.
Lucien said, “Tea time?”
I handed him a mug of tea. “We’d go mad as hatters in the cold seasons, without some civility.”
He leaned over the steaming tea and breathed in deeply, his eyes closed, smiling. “Mint,” he said with contentment. He sipped the tea. “That’s good.”
His smile drew at the awfulness in me, how near to tears I was.
Tansy asked Lucien to read the book’s table of contents to her. At each story title, she said, “Ooh, I love that one. That one’s so funny.”
Lucien rubbed a hand over his skinny belly, as if he could feel the warm tea settling in.
I handed him a triangle of bread.
He took it from me.
To my thinking, rhythm is one of the most elusive, unteachable aspects of good writing (or maybe it’s just elusive to me, unteachable by me). It’s more than merely varying the length of words, sentences, paragraphs (though there’s certainly something to this); it’s the myriad ways all these units of language and sound interact. It’s the ways all the types of language and sound interact. This becomes especially clear when someone’s reading aloud. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m thoroughly convinced that the easiest way for anyone to improve their writing is to read it aloud, even if only to themselves.
Anyway, Brett’s book is very good and even if you give a fig for rhythm, I would like for you to buy it, in part because I think you’ll enjoy it and in part because I want for Brett to enjoy the success she deserves.
I walked back up the hill with my family’s sustenance. I was glad I’d let the cows into the run-in. I mean, they would’ve been fine if I hadn’t, they’re sturdy beasts. But sometimes we all need a little break.