By Dave Hood
On a cloudy, cold November afternoon, in which the setting imbues the soul with melancholy, golden maple and birch leaves descend, like heavy rain, scatter across the lawns and streets of a quiet upper-middle class neighborhood, like an image of a surreal painting of autumn.
In her back yard, a newly divorced middle-aged woman, with full possession of the former matrimonial home, attired in a fleece jacket, woolen cap, rubber boots, stands with a rake in muddy grass carpeted in remnants of autumn. With the rake, she sweeps the leaves into piles.
For twenty five years, her former husband, an athletic type, had raked the leaves. Now he was gone, living in a condo, frolicking with a knockout blond half his age, in a distant part of the city.
Bending over, the woman gathers the fallen maples and birch from the pile with her hands, stuffs the leaves into large paper bags, then drags the fading shades of autumn glory to the curb for pickup. She does this repeatedly as if working on an assembly line. It’s a mindless, labour intensive task, causing her to recall the past.
Each time she fills a bag, drags it to the curb, she remembers the glorious sunny, summer day two years ago when she garbage bagged her cheating husband’s clothes, dragged them out for garbage collection. She has not talked to him since that day.
It was an unexpected event, like so many one reads or hears about, that changed her own life forever. Reaching for the newspaper, one Sunday afternoon, sipping a coffee, relaxing, she noticed that her husband had not closed his email on the tablet, resting on the glass coffee table. So she began to read his messages, quickly discovering the intimate affair. Her husband was seeing a younger woman from work. The unexpected news tore away her peace of mind, stabbed her in the heart, turned her comfortable life upside down, as if an unexpected earthquake had passed through.
After gathering the leaves strewn across the lawn, stuffing these symbols of summer into twenty-two large paper bags, and then hauling them to the curb, the woman’s physically exhausted, like the time she’d hiked several miles with her husband in the woods to a camp site. Her back aches from bending. Her hands are chapped, rough as sandpaper, from picking up wet leaves. She’s mentally weary from the mindless chore, and tells herself: Though I delight in the abstract colours of autumn, I detest the chore of autumn cleanup. Next year, I’ll hire landscaper’s to rake up the mess.
The woman sets the rake against the wall in the corner of the dingy garage next to the winter shovel, pulls down the heavy wooden garage door, enters her warm bungalow, has a strong desire to shower, wrap herself in a comfortable cotton bath robe, escape the realities of her newly defined life, pour herself a glass of red wine, turn on the stereo to soothing classical music, sit in the wing chair, relax with her novel,purchased a few days ago from the book store, a love story, in which a middle-aged woman meets her soul mate by a chance encounter, while strolling an empty beach, searching for sea shells.
Into the darkness of the night, she reads and drinks the bottle of wine, finishing both near midnight. Then she sets the book on the glass coffee table, next to the empty wine glass, gazes at a painting, hanging on the wall, across from where she’s sitting. It’s a print of “The Lover’s II” by Rene Magritte, the famous surrealist artist, who rendered on canvas a man and woman, wearing veils, embracing and kissing. The painting symbolizes two lovers who don’t really know each other. After a few moments, she turns off the table light, trudges to the bathroom, relaxes in a hot shower. Then she heads for her bedroom, where puts on her pink cotton pajamas, a gift from her former husband. Then she lifts the comforter and sheets, slides into bed, rests her head on a soft pillow. In a fog of intoxication, lying alone in a double bed, shared for so many years with her former husband, she gazes at the ceiling, begins to replay, in her mind, the events of the day. For some reason, she ponders the image in the painting again. My marriage was like the surrealist image of that Magritte painting. I must get rid of it tomorrow, replace it with a beautiful piece of art, one that inspires me, gives me hope.
Then she begins to weep.