I found the yellow house by the rocks. It was sitting alone, waiting for me. The marks from the crashing waves and storms were naturally camouflaged by overgrown yellow and purple wild flowers. It was even brighter than it looked in the picture; more yellow than the flower head of a daisy.
I rented the guest house next to the yellow house. It is plain, but has what I need, even a table outside.
It is the same sun and the same sky but everything else is different here. Even time is measured differently. People go around from sunrise to sunset.
I walked towards the hill behind the house the other day. The meadow was filled with daisies – the type of daisies that you like most – the tiniest ones. I made a crown for you. I imagined you putting it on right away and smiling. The daisy crown lived for two days on the only window sill that I have in the guest house until the petals started to fall out. I didn’t touch it for days after it turned into a bare interwoven series of brown saps. One day it just disappeared.
She turned the card: a small house, framed by rocks on the right side, dwarf trees and a distant house on the left side, more rocks in the front before a brief view of the sea. She saw the hill behind the house. She thought it was strange to sketch the house in black and white while writing about it with vivid colors.
Her name is not Cate. She did not recall anybody named Pete who could make a card like that. She rummaged through the recycle bin to find the envelope in which the card arrived. It was for Cate, for Cate S. with a different address but forwarded to her address with the red post office forward stamp without an explanation. The post stamp was international. The sender was Pete Cole.
She moved aside her notepad and pencils on her desk and placed the card in front of her. She wanted to forget about the card but it kept bothering her. She didn’t want to invade the privacy of Cate and Pete – as if privacy could exist with the Internet. She didn’t google them. She didn’t call the post office either.
A week later she received another envelope with the same addresses for both sender and receiver, and the forward stamp to her address.
Life is slower and deeper here. I stopped keeping a to-do list as I could hardly cross off any items. I am immersed in activities I have not planned to do; things that I didn’t even know that I could do. I helped fix the neighbor’s fruit cart the other day.
It was Tuesday morning. My neighbor was supposed to sell the fruits from his garden at the outdoor farmer’s market in the city center like he does every Tuesday. I came across him sweating, not from heat, but from despair, next to his colorful fruit cart on my way up the hill. He was figuring out the problem with the wheels as they refused to go. I didn’t know if I could help him but he definitely needed somebody at least to keep the fruits in place while he was fixing the wheels.
I don’t know for how long I struggled with keeping the fruits in the cart without them falling onto the ground, and fastening the metals connecting the wheels to the cart. When he offered me an apple, my neck was already numb from sunburn. I also knew that the apple was the prize. I could not understand a word he said, but understood that he was asking me if I wanted to join him. I spent the whole day at the market with him. He sold almost all the fruits in the cart. We ate the rest. I probably didn’t do more than smiling and nodding. I was surprised that he thanked me in English on our way back as I thought that I should have thanked him for the experience.
Yesterday I painted the daisy meadow for you.
It was a water color painting with bursting bright yellow flower heads of daisies.
She thought about calling the post office to find out why Cate’s post was being forwarded to her address. If it were a mistake, she would stop receiving the correspondence. She didn’t call the post office.
Within a week another letter arrived.
I hadn’t walked to the other side of the island until today. The dark gray clouds were hovering above the hill when I headed out. I saw my neighbor on my way. Do you remember Spiro? I wrote to you about him before. He is the neighbor who had his fruit cart broken. He handed me his umbrella without a word. If he tried to talk to me, I would not understand anyway. Before I crossed the hill, the rain started. I was in my sneakers and a shirt. My rain boots and raincoat were miles away. I realized that I didn’t even pack the necessities. The squishy wet sneakers and dripping rain on my skin were annoying.
When I finally reached the waves across the hill, the rain got heavier. I heard something I was not expecting. It was not the sound of the waves or rain. It was the sound of a spring. A stream powered by the rain cascaded down through the rocks.
I stepped on a large rock in the sea where the stream ceased to exist and looked at the cascade. The water was spouting at the top and falling down on a slope. In one spot the spout was much more pronounced, as if there were an extra source of water.
I must have laughed aloud; a stork perching on a nearby tree took off. I put down the umbrella to see the stork. I felt the rain on my face. The sound of the spring became louder. I smelled the rain deeper. When you told me that it was called ‘petrichor’, I was surprised that there was a name for the earthy smell produced by rainfall on dry earth. I finally understood why the pleasant smell of rain deserved a name.
I also remembered that you never had an umbrella, a raincoat or rain boots. You didn’t mind being drenched. Even though you got cold, you never blamed yourself for not taking precautions. It still puzzles me how comfortably you managed to ignore inconveniences.
I folded the umbrella and walked along the sea on the rocky coast. It continued to rain. It felt good. When the rain finally stopped, the earthy aroma filled my lungs. I remembered you inhaling the smell of rain. You closed your eyes and relaxed your face muscles to form the expression I thought your face was designed to be in – your faint smile was always natural. Sometimes I thought that you moved to different dimensions without me. I felt jealous. But this time, to prove me wrong, you grabbed my hands and held them tight in the rain.
10 days later another letter arrived. Her hands were shaking while tearing the envelope open.
Everybody is a half carpenter and a half farmer here. The owner and the only occupant of the yellow house, whom everybody calls G, has the longest name and the shortest nickname in town. He built the yellow house with his father-in-law against the consent of the town. The town council didn’t approve of buildings on the coast because of natural disasters. When the foundation was finished, the town thought that the house would not survive for even a year.
An earthquake cracked the walls of the house in the first year, storms left marks on the façade no paint could conceal but the house survived. Over the years, more houses were built by the shore.
Even though this earth is not very fertile, each house has a vegetable garden in the backyard towards the hill and the fronts are decorated by daisies. They don’t have grass lawns like the front yards we are familiar with. They have weeds, wild flowers, rocks, giant jugs and pots of flowers in their gardens that express the taste and personality of the residents.
G built a bird house for his daughter’s fifth birthday. She liked it but he didn’t see what he was expecting to see in her eyes. He took down the bird house that night and added a balcony for the birds, a circular wooden disc attached to the pole above the ground, at his daughter’s eye level. He painted the disc in blue, and the pole in white. He made the house blue as well, and its roof white. He painted the balcony in red. He let it dry overnight and put it up before sunrise. She woke up and went outside. He was waiting in the kitchen. She ran inside jumping and giggling, and grabbed his hand. “Daddy, my wish came true. I asked the fairy last night to make my bird house fancier. See! Daddy!!!!”
She pulled him outside. He lifted her up so that she could see the red balcony better. She was still jumping in his arms.
“Oh! Look, the fairy even added a balcony. She knows that you love red.”
His granddaughter was five years old last summer. His daughter brought Maya to the old man’s house. Maya was mesmerized by the loose boundaries of the old man’s house and the world outside. She didn’t experience that in the city where she had a strict boundary of the main door – she could not go outside without her mother.
Maya knew the story of the bird house G built and the fairy perfecting it for her mother even before the visit. The bird house was the first thing she asked G for.
Maya swirled around the bird house in her red plaid dress. He re-painted the balcony that afternoon with her in fresh red.
I water-colored the bird house for you. The balcony still has traces of the red paint but I painted it green.
With the card in her hand, staring at the water-colored bird house, she walked to the bookcase and grabbed the two wooden numbers in imperfect shapes and imprecise colors: 8 and 6. Eighty-six was the door number of her childhood house. She carved these numbers with her father, and nailed them to the front door of the
house. When they moved out, she took the wooden numbers with her.
In the guest house there was a small table that I was using for writing, painting and dining. G offered me help with building my own desk. He had everything I needed to compensate for my primitive carpentry skills. We built a table with a flat top and four legs that don’t wobble. He asked if I wanted to reinforce the legs with a frame parallel to the top and just below it. I thought I didn’t need it but he insisted that it would make my table sturdy and would give me an opportunity to beautify my table.
He was talking about carving the frame or painting on it. I found a plank of wood and a knife and started carving waves on the plank. When I was almost done, I cut my finger. Not deep but deep enough to make the plank red. You know how I am sensitive to blood, unlike you. When you cut your finger while cooking, I could not even look at your cut. Your indifference to cuts, blood or pain made me more sensitive to them subconsciously to balance our collective feelings, though I never complained about that.
I sat down with my finger wrapped in a handkerchief and looked at it. You were not with me. I had to endure the pain like you always do. I sat there for some time, then resumed my work. I am writing now on my new white desk surrounded by blue waves.
I have your hospital wristband from last year on my new desk. Age: 28. I wanted to give it to you for your 29th birthday but kept it with me and carried it in my wallet. Here it is, in front of me on my new desk, reminding me of the slippery slope we climb every day. I miss you.
On the card she found waves in blue and still water in gray pastel.
Nights here have different meanings. G, Spiro and I have a ritual almost every night. We have a long dinner in the garden while drinking a traditional colorless liquor that I hadn’t tasted before. I add ice water to it, they just add ice. The drink gets cloudy with added water. Three of us finish half a bottle every night. They call it ‘half bottle’ but it is a small bottle – 0.5 liters. We purchase a small bottle every night from the nearby bodega.
We don’t purchase a bottle of 1 liter even though it is okay to keep the rest in the fridge. They don’t keep leftovers. I found this habit fascinating – never shop for tomorrow. When Spiro joins us, G translates his stories. I don’t talk much but enjoy listening to them. Over three or four hours around our small wooden table outside I listen to their stories in a language I cannot make any sense of. Sometimes I dream under the millions of stars, I don’t even pay attention to the spoken words. They are not so much different than a bird’s song sometimes. Fireflies like tiny lanterns brighten up the faces and darken the night.
We got a full bottle instead of a half one last night. We were five instead of three around the same small table. Spiro’s sons visited him and the grave of their mother for a week. Dennis came from somewhere close to us. Egan moved to the city, two hours away. He must have thought the distance was good enough between his childhood and adult life. They left their adult lives packed in their suitcases when they arrived at their childhood home. I could tell they were weightless, free from the accumulated life on their shoulders over forty years and free from the responsibilities of their own families. All they talked about was childhood memories; the life that they left behind when their parents decided to move the family to the city. After his wife died, Spiro didn’t find any reason to continue living in the city and he came back.
I wondered if Spiro would have preferred listening to the stories of his sons’ current lives. He probably knows the facts about their families and jobs from regular phone conversations. Could he picture their lives though? I am not sure if his sons made a conscious decision not to talk about their lives because they didn’t want Spiro to feel alienated or because they just didn’t want to be reminded that they were not kids anymore. Either way, I had not seen Spiro happier.
Thinking of you…
The other side of the card had a sketch of a glass and a bottle with two old men behind staring far away.
The next day, instead of going to a typical grocery store, she went to the international one which has food from all over the world and bought the colorless liquor Pete wrote about. She could not take more than one sip of the cloudy drink after adding ice water that night, but she finished a glass the following day.
I miss your deep sad look pulling me through an invisible rope to jump over the border that we circumvent without fear.
He had sketched a wide eye looking at the unknown; something far and unreachable. It must be Cate’s eye. She felt jealous.
It has been three months since I listened to music, even our play list. I’m enchanted by the songs of the birds. I cannot locate which birds make which sounds most of the time. I don’t know what types of birds they are, but I know what they look like. The ones that look like sparrows, but have blue and brown wings and a white body talk in different notes. Gray birds with blue and green wings whistle the same notes intermittently.
There are crows, lots of crows here. Their cries scare me. Their cries remind me why the group of crows is called ‘murder’.
The large birds are louder but subtle. They talk slowly; their pauses are filled with vivid chirps. If I were a composer, I would compose a polyphony choral music for them. Without a conductor they would perform in unison but improvise every time they perform.
Sometimes I ride G’s bicycle if I need to go to the town center. Climbing the steep hill reminds me that I haven’t worked out for a long time; I have done nothing beyond lifting boxes and stretching to reach tree branches.
You would tell me that I could have kept on living the same routine. I didn’t have to come here. I don’t regret my decision. What I found is not ordinary. Going down the hill on the way back home reminds me of that. The smell of the mixture of salt and fish hits me first. Then, the reflection of the glittering water strikes my eyes. I hear the crashing waves and songs of the birds. I stop and put my feet on the ground to feel the earth. I close my eyes until I hear clearer and smell deeper. I open my eyes to be immersed in the vastness of blue. I cannot close my eyes again. It is too beautiful not to look at.
I cannot send you the smell or sound but perhaps I can paint what I see. My senses blended.
She placed the water color of the sea with glitter, framed at the bottom with rocks and at the top with a clear sky, on her desk next to the others from Pete. She listened to Choral Fantasy by Beethoven that night.
We have massive amounts of land and water in between us; we don’t even see the sun at the same time, but I feel close to you—more than ever. I remember you said that you may not write me, but I hoped that you would. I still hope.
Pete didn’t sketch or paint the other side of the card. She wished she could reply.
I am productive most of the time, but once a week or so I have the blues. Don’t worry, I am not depressed. I can function, but don’t have the energy or desire to do anything while everything inside me is swirling non-stop. I avoid G, Spiro, other neighbors and dogs on those days. I cannot tolerate small talk or even ‘hi’s. I feel pain all over. I don’t know if I should fight it or just live with it.
She turned the page. It was a solid dark gray pastel color. She turned it again. Her finger tips left her finger prints on the edges.
She could not go on like this any longer. She went to the local post office with the last envelope she received. The officer said that they forward the post if the current address is not valid or mail could not be delivered to the last valid address. He called the post office of the address on the envelope. She could hear the solemn tone in his intermittent ‘okays’ and ‘understoods’. He hung up and came back with the envelope in his hand to the window where she was waiting. She knew that he didn’t want to deliver the message to her.
“Ma’am, the local post office found Cate S. She is deceased. She died five months ago. Her last valid address was your address, which was last updated five years ago. That is why her post was forwarded to you. I’m sorry, Ma’am.”
She saw two black dots dancing on his face, and her arms got heavier.
“Is it possible to find who was living at my address five years ago?”
“Yes, it is. It will be in the public records. You need to go to the City Hall in the town center.”
She was in the waiting room of the City Hall; the same black dots were dancing on the old town black and white map hung on the wall she was facing. Her legs got heavier. She was waiting for her queue number to flash on the screen. When it happened, she didn’t want to move. The screen flashed again with an annoying ring. She dragged herself to the window.
The family name was S., and they were living in her address long before she moved in. Their daughter was Cate, who was in her early twenties when they moved out. There was no record of the family in the country since then, but Cate had moved to the address where her life ended.