|Photo by Lisabet Sarai|
Today is the autumnal equinox, the first day of fall. Here in the perpetually steamy tropics where I live now, it doesn’t feel much like the cool, crisp, luminous autumns I remember. However, just the word “autumn” brings back vivid memories of my years in New England, where the season can take your breath away with its beauty.
In celebration of the day, I’ve got a snippet from my short story “Making Memory” which captures some of the glory of the northeast (Maine, in this particular case) during the fall. You can read the full story in my F/F collection Her Own Devices.
I looked up and down the two lane road, thinking to hitch a ride to the next town. The cracked tarmac was empty. All I could hear was bird-song and the breeze, whispering of the evening to come.
With a sigh, I retrieved my overnight bag from the trunk, locked the car, and began walking in the direction I had been headed. I hoped that I would come upon civilization before my flimsy Italian heels disintegrated.
Late afternoon sun slanted across the fields lining the road. The crisped remains of summer tangled in the steel safety cables: Queen Anne's lace curled into brittle fists, shaking themselves at me; milkweed spilling silk into the mild October air; tall grasses heavy with seed. The breeze was fragrant with the sun-baked, browning vegetation. And the sea was not far off. Mixed with the field smells, I caught the faint tang of salt and seaweed.
The beauty of Indian summer penetrated my distraction, soothed my irritation just a bit, eased the tight knot of unshed tears. A whippoorwill called, prematurely. Ten minutes into my walk, I entered the village of Spruce Point.
It was not much of a town: a grocery, a gas station, a store advertising ‘Antiques’, and a white-spired church, grouped around a miniature green. At six thirty PM on an October Sunday, all the commercial establishments were shut tight. I was newly disheartened by the ‘Closed’ sign on ‘Ray's Auto Service’. How in the world would I get my car fixed? I had to get home. I had a critical meeting first thing Monday morning.
Behind the gas station, sharing a drive, there was a white clapboard house with green shutters. Bold in my desperation, I knocked on the door. It was answered after a moment by a gnarled, skinny figure. His chin bristled with stubble, but his eyes twinkled in his furrowed face as he gave me a warm smile.
"Good evening, young lady. Can I help you?"
"Are you Ray?" His oil-stained work clothes strongly suggested that he was.
"Yes, ma'am. Thirty years experience, at your service."
"I'm sorry to bother you, but I blew out a tire about half a mile up the road. The thing totally burst. I really need to get back to Boston tonight. Can you replace the tire for me? I know that you're closed for the evening, but it's an emergency. I'll be happy to pay you extra."
Ray looked me over. I could imagine what he saw: a slender, athletic woman with short, dark hair, designer suit and chocolate silk blouse, Gucci bag, impractical shoes. City folk. He grinned. "What kind of car?" he asked.
"Miss, I'd love to help. But I don't generally stock tires for little foreign cars. 'Round here, folks seem to prefer full-size Ford station wagons, or Chevy pickups. I can get you a new tire from Thomaston, but not until tomorrow."
He must have seen the dismay in my face, because he patted my shoulder kindly. "Look, I was just fixing my supper, but if you'd like, I can go out now and tow your vehicle back here to the garage. That way, it'll be safe, and ready to be worked on as soon as I can get hold of the replacement."
I began to protest that this was unacceptable. I had to get back to Boston. Then I realized that it was futile. I could take a bus, perhaps, if I could get this man to drive me to Portland, but then my car would be stranded.
With a sigh of resignation, I nodded. "I'd be very grateful for your help. But please, finish your dinner first." I suddenly realized that I was ravenous. I had taken lunch with Dad in the nursing home dining room, but although he ate heartily, I had no appetite. "Is there a hotel anywhere around here?"
Ray considered the question. "Well, there's Maggie's place, the Bellweather Inn, down at the point. She's closed for the season, but I expect she wouldn't mind airing out a room for you. I can run you down there before I head over to get your car."
"What about your dinner?" I said, eager to find bed and food, but not wanting to seem impolite.
"Just franks and beans," he said with a grin. "I can heat it up again."
We piled into his tow truck and he headed south through the town. Soon the peaked roofs, shutters and picket fences gave way again to autumn-burnished fields. He turned east onto a dirt road marked with a weathered signboard.
Up ahead I saw a building, silhouetted against the fast-darkening sky, flanked by two tall evergreens. "Them's the spruces that gave our town its name," Ray commented.
We pulled up outside the inn. It was as weathered as the sign, but despite the graying shingles, it gave an overwhelming impression of solidity. Perched right on the rocky point, it had a wraparound porch that overlooked the surf-splashed cliffs on one side, a gently sloping lawn on the other. To the left of the driveway, I saw a well-tended garden, still bright with drooping sunflowers and brilliant purple chard. Lights shone in the ground floor windows, welcoming me.