Ian sat on his perch in frail light, watching it leak from the yard into the linear space separating this world from another. It was a habit developed the past year, after everything changed, when he began to work in the dark, tiny anteroom of the cottage. It got claustrophobic, but it served the purpose. He’d made and set up a simple desk and tidy bookshelf; the room’s one window opened to the garden so that bees or a dragonfly and winged beetles and occasionally a bird flew to and fro through the screen-less opening. The window was stuck open through warm weather; he had to muscle it shut as fall arrived. He always liked the company of nature. He was happy to glance up, see vegetables and flowers as he worked at his computer. But he got outside whenever he could.
He sat on the weather beaten bench with its cushion of mosses, small cracks in its grain snagging him with a splinter now and again. It had been set upon Jupiter Hill, one that overlooked a small canyon fifty years earlier when the cottage was built. In the deep valley below glowed hundreds of bright pinpricks of subdivision houses. The place from which he escaped three years ago when Frieda and he split up. It was the best thing for them. She travelled on, the spacious brick house she’d bought before him a mere change station for her modelling career. He quickly purchased the falling down cottage. Made it more habitable the first year, stopped renovation the second year as he liked it rustic. And then the virus invaded all and he worked at home and was glad of it. It was cramped and aged and good enough for him.
“Good enough for a hermit,” Freida said in her arch way when she visited just once, words clanging in the rooms that he quickly showed her.
As was usually the case. One reason they could not sustain peace. She was a fighter; Ian was… not a fighter, exactly. He was, perhaps, leaning toward becoming a spiritual warrior. He didn’t feel he had a choice in the matter, just as she didn’t feel she had a choice in her ways. It was fireworks; once done, they were spent. Besides, it was true that Ian was drawn to the energy of very early morning and early evening.
“Like a vampire or werewolf?” Frieda teased. This thought excited her. It was an erroneous idea in general and patently ridiculous when she tried to connect it to Ian. But she had a genuine all-night sort of spirit.
He found himself feeling more at ease certain periods of time, too. Just as Freida found herself awake all night, sleeping much of the day; she moved at near-warp speed when the sun went down. And not given to contemplation, she stated made things happen, chiding him on his ability to sit still.
He once told her to settle things, “Yes, crepuscular, vespertine. Matinal, too. You know this about me, I am drawn to in-between things– times, ideas.”
He spoke while avoiding her cat-like eyes, amber gemstones set in tawny skin that spoke volumes–he just wasn’t sure exactly what they were saying. She was so tall and lithe that he expected her to leap across space rather than walk, and to land on him. All that was a reason he fell for her–as likely for so many who met her. And the curious woman behind them got hold of him. The intensity and intelligence lurking behind strange beauty. For a long time it kept him there; they were opposites that sparked.
She shrugged at his scientific explanation. “Such a technical person. All that isn’t the solution to our conflicts. I defend my own lifestyle by saying I’m nocturnal but so what? We still have to make it work in our shared reality. If we have love left.”
What did that mean, Ian wondered? They lived in conflicted realities, almost parallel, and it had become taxing. Love was by then a wrong perception, though he wished her no ill will. So not long after that conversation, he found the cottage. They bid one another good bye and fare well with very little rancor. He later wondered what she was up to after the pandemic hit but there was no urge to contact her. It had been an experience; he didn’t regret it or his leaving.
But this felt right, this cottage life, sitting here on Jupiter Hill. Away from much of what he felt was false for him. Away from the hard push and pull of things. Below the hill was a life he did not understand, even when he inhabited it for all those years. Here was a pensive watchfulness with the rhythm of nature, and he felt most as ease in an unfolding of dusk, the rhapsody of sunset putting on the cool elegance of fleeting blue hour, and the coming forth of stars in great violet-black skies. Creation demonstrating its theater of mystery and magic.
He sat very still, still as a rabbit outwitting a predator. He learned to spot elusive nightjars, owls, watched flurries of bats, and savored deer grazing at edge of the neighboring woods. Coyotes appeared, stared at him, slunk off on fast feet. He had a great fondness of birds ever since he’d dreamed of flying as a child. Once he felt certain there was a bear or a cougar rooting about at the edge of he woods and he stayed rooted, a jolt of excitement rushing through him. All creatures were welcome, as they had welcomed him. Even if a bit unlikely the possibility stayed with him, a promise of great things to come if he remained patient. Open.
Ian was in his element, no longer lonely. The solitary state was perfect–a relief. He raised his whiskery beard-adorned chin to the sky, breathed the green-laden air, closed his eyes in gratitude. Heard whirr and rush of wings overhead. Drifted.
There came the day when summer began to fade fast. Ian now kept a sweater on the back of his leather chair for cooler days. One afternoon he looked up from his computer. A twirling brown maple leaf had caught his attention. The another and another. He had noticed small groupings scattered on the yard recently, but had been too busy working to think on it. An architect, he’d been developing plans for a community of micro housing, a new contract with the city. As wind stirred chilly-edged air he realized it was time to add to the woodpile. His woodstove required constant feeding– though the cottage had only two narrow bedrooms, a tucked away bathroom and open living area with modest kitchen. It was an old place that creaked and moaned in winter as it hummed with warmth.
In the bottom right hand desk drawer, which he avoided opening more than once more, was an oversized postcard with a view of San Diego’s bright waterfront. He’d received it from Freida earlier in the day. She had been in the balmy city for six months fulfilling several good jobs, but work had dried up and it was not looking good. Ands she hoped he was doing well on on the hill and was content. She had signed it with her stylized cat motif and flourish of her name, underscored twice. As if he had forgotten her entirely.
Ian had been puzzled at first. They hadn’t communicated in two years; he hadn’t followed her on social media. He enjoyed such basic happiness it never occurred to him that she might return to sniff about the perimeter of his life. But, then, she was becoming financially unstable. Or perhaps unstable, in general, as happened when practical matters pressed too hard upon her. He didn’t want to expect the worst; life was hard for many these days.
But he pushed the good recollections of their old life aside. Ian finally had what he wanted, or most of it.
He wrapped up work later than planned, then made a salad topped with smoked salmon. He settled at his bench and ate with pleasure until satiated. The wind picked up. It carried the tantalizing scent of chilled rain, though it had been a long period of drought and few believed the great rains of the past would return soon. Ian enjoyed warmth of summer but his true nature was stirred by onset of autumn and winter. That long softening greyness, cloudiness creating barest shadow that easily sifted warmer light into a twilit time. And he longed for rain; his pores felt its absence, his skin tight and textured as parchment.
He took in the ribbons of luminosity rushing over hills and valley, melded into dimmer translucent rays, that distant horizon leeching color from autumn’s brilliant dome of blue. The sun had about left. His heart raced, breath became shallower. Time was suspended, as was he. Ian stood as the late September light transformed the body of land and the air blued; his eyes narrowed to focus on changing sky, saw moths flitting about, birds on sudden wing. He longed to be there, felt the magnitude of their labors and choreography of flight. He stood taller, reached up and up with hands to the infinite expanse.
Behind him there was a shock to the atmosphere when a low growl, insistent and pure went deep. He spun around to behold her, body lithe and streamlined, eyes afire in a rapid descent of evening as it began to cling to all life.
Freida, ready to pounce, black hair aloft behind her in the gusty night, arms lifting, her feet set to send her vaulting toward him. Her aim, her desire clear in the way she was. He felt the power of who they had been, once.
And then he turned, rose up. His feet left the good earth, he was fleeing gravity as surely as sunlight fled the end of day. His body lightened to a configuration of feathers, his eyes sharp as never before, and he felt the strong lift of the changing air currents. The baritone hoot of a barred owl floated near and vibrated in his cocked ears; the clear, stuttering call of the nightjar lulled and pierced as it passed, one eye on the man who would be bird, its powerful wing grazing his shoulder as it ascended in a twilit flash.
Ian followed, rid of all disbelief or fear–while below, Freida raced to the edge of Jupiter Hill, jumped higher than thinkable with a disgruntled cry. But her strong effort failed; she was gone, no more to be seen. And Ian flew on, the world below a whirl of troubles and triumphs. He might fall to ground as befitted common man, but he was certain he was on the verge of living as he had always imagined. He could fly between this and that, here and there. His own fine zone. And would be routed to new ones, passing through thin places, into greater wisdom. He was hovering on the cusp of creative abundance with the elusive nightjar at his side, was he not? For the time being, he was wholly free.