I sometimes lie on a hammock in my garden. My “yard” I call it because I’m American now. And I look up at the trees above the hammock and at the house and the windows. I feel quite alone at these times. I mean not alone as in “lonely” but cut off from the world around me, in my own world. Undisturbed. And while lying there, I sometimes listen to an audio book. Today it was a book of short stories by an old friend, Christine Schutt. We haven’t been in touch for years. Two stories stayed with me. One was about a woman who lives in the suburbs with her husband and teenage son. At the beginning of the story, she has just come back from a day shopping in the city. She is waiting on the deserted station platform. It’s dark. But neither her son nor the husband is there to meet her and no one picks up the phone when she calls home. There are no taxis. So she decides to walk. Decides it really isn’t too far even though she is carrying bags full of clothes she bought for her husband’s birthday. The story is just about her walk. It ends before she arrives home.
In the winter, I often sit in the family room with the lights off listening to books. This winter, I listened to Maggie Gyllenhaal read Anna Karenina. Her voice is relaxing. Often so relaxing that it put me to sleep. I was sorry when it was over. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s face is familiar to me from films, so it was easy for me to picture her in her studio speaking into a microphone, the book open on a device like a kindle or on her computer screen. I imagined her leaning forward slightly.
A still life is a painting of things not people. But the term makes me think of people too. For instance, I think of myself as a still life because I’m still alive. Funny how the word “still” can mean different things.
Today, as I sit alone in a dark corner, I look out at the trees in my garden.
Nigel Paton is a teacher at a high school in New Jersey. Nigel’s writing has appeared in Tiferet: Journal – Fostering Peace Through Literature and Art. He can be seen and heard at poetryarchive.org. He spent part of this summer, 2022, at the Edinburgh Festival, happily revisiting the fringe where his play about Mervyn Peake was once performed.