The warm crackle of the power lines above the cornfields, up the himmelsleiter to the vineyards. Unscrewing a tight grape from its cluster, spitting the seeds out on the grass. Bathing myself in this new form of decadence sans alcohol, a kind of learned privilege from my long deceased English stepdad John, lounging on my back in the living room for long afternoons waiting for the heat to recede, replaying the same Belle and Sebastian records from the late 90s, that fey Scottish pop music wrapped tight as a Christmas present. Soft plucking strings, a little trickle of the piano, the jingle-jangle harmonies and jolly horns, woesome words. The long, slow fade-out like the sound of summer fading too…
Shimmery pretty ways to live now returned to orbit post Corona (in medias Corona), strolling with mom up the trails making small talk in battered Deutsch with passers by. My Mann ist tott, 69, she says. And I recite the age of our kids, 15 and 17. The left-behind foam in my beer glass could be a Rorschach, and what do I see? The tricolor leaves beneath our feet—lime green, yellow, and brown—the rustling that presages fall. And as the sun filters through the trees so do these memories: bygone times. What’s similar feels familiar, though rearranged.
It’s revealed that Eberhard’s mother isn’t as you’d expect an elderly mother to be, not warm, welcoming or kind—and though not physically well, she’s not showing any signs of shuffling off soon. And the way to her house through the country is not what you’d call direct, made worse by way of summer repaving projects announced on signs with taped X marks and umleitungs redirecting traffic through ever deeper folds of German countryside, past gemüse stands with cartoon root vegetables cheerily waving, past expressionless locals aging right before your face. No Wi-Fi, not a chance. No air conditioning or ice, no brandy or schnapps, just cigarettes.
But I have volunteered for all this out of love for Eberhard, my mom’s partner and John’s old friend. Eberhard, who learned to play the guitar as a teenager watching John play on TV and to whom I give this hip flask and belated Christmas gift, a flannel shirt from Orvis, the hip flask from John, his initials right there on the side. And would Eberhard take it please, as I no longer drink, and no one would care so much to have it as he, nor think of John as I once did each time I’d take a pull from it and retighten the lid. Please, take it Eberhard. For the German word for gift is the same as poison I’m told.
It is the time of year we have had so much of summer we are almost relieved to see it go, for too much of anything is still too much, zu viel, and there is some grace in the letting go.
Let go of me now, too. For I am more myself unimpaired by these things that would appear to offer me comfort but only haunt me over time. As memories can if you don’t take care, as can the past. Anything that hangs on for too long, be gone.