How delicious it must have felt to them, when they left their beautiful but oven-hot homes for the summer, and boarded the trains by the river. When they returned from the mountains in September, the morning air would have finally started to cool, and the evenings would smell again of apples and roses and clean things. The heat must have felt like a snarling sort of beast, with nothing to tame it with but small electric fans placed near open windows to churn a breeze. The children kept cool by sneaking chunks of ice from the icebox, moments after the iceman delivered the square block from his truck. They would chisel away great bits of ice with hammers pilfered from toolboxes, sucking on the cleanest pieces and placing the dripping remnants down the backs of one another’s shirts.
Their mothers would pack carefully for their summer away. In their large bedrooms, they would spread their entire summer wardrobe over their large beds, open the french doors wide (look at the white curtains flutter like butterflies, smell the almost erotic scent of the roses in the garden), and let the errant breezes float over the fabric to air the clothes out. They wouldn’t need so many clothes in their cabin on the river; just a few frocks in white cotton that weren’t ruined if drenched. In the city they had to keep their ankles covered and their hair in an upsweep. In the mountains their hair (still rich and honey blonde, no streaks of wiry grey yet) could tumble around their bare shoulders. Their children could run around in their loose underthings. Their husbands could roll up their pantlegs and fish for rainbow trout for hours, returning at sunset with sunburned foreheads and wicker creels full of the evening’s dinner.
When the families left, their large houses would be quiet except for scurrying of grey tomcats, left at home to catch any mice that might sneak in through the crawlspace or boldly scuttle to the cool downstairs from the hot attic.
The tomcats are fed and cared for by the families’ gardeners, who carries galvanized watering cans and pours out metallic and warm water over the cracked clay earth. They shoo away crows who’ve come to pick at the blueberries that the families left behind, and scare off the thin and tattered looking rabbits who dig up the lettuce. This is what they’re paid for, and they enjoy the hot toiling work and the quiet that the families have left behind. Their job is to keep the gardens and the homes from growing wild and feral, to keep the elements from destroying the quiet civilization that holds on so tenuously.
I have a small tomato plant, just a scraggly little one really, that’s yielded a few perfect and red fruits so far this summer. I’ve not been able to try a bite, due to my new dietary restrictions (tomatoes of course are full of acid, which is a no-no for my troublesome digestive system), but my husband said they tasted just lovely.*
There was one tomato this weekend, slowly ripening but still mainly green. We had a few days of intense heat and two weeks of no rain, so even with my diligent watering the plant was shriveling in its pot. On Sunday night, it finally rained, and as I was outside listening to thunder and moving some of the plants out from underneath the eaves of the house I noticed a caterpillar eating the tomato. He was as big as my index finger and the same shade of green as the tomato. I called Xander out to look, and he wanted to touch it. I wouldn’t let him because the caterpillar looked so busy eating. I didn’t want to spook him.
I wonder what would happen if we just left the world to the wolves? If we stopped culling the smaller living things off of our plants and land, and learned only to pick off the tiniest bits of meat and fruit to survive. If we became like vultures, scavenging and swooping up what’s freely available to us. What would happen if we entered the woods like bears, picking off berries and bathing in waterfalls?
There are too many of us. Something bigger would eventually come along and pick us off one by one, trying to protect their valuable crop.
*He did not say just lovely, he probably said “good”, but I am in the writer in the house so I can literally put words in his mouth.