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The Ghost of Autumn

It’s the dregs of the year once more, the windows beaded like beer bottles, the ground morosely gray and withered, the sky lying there in a vast dimension of inertia. I’m feeling a little creaky going up the steps to bed, having used up all the episodes of “Suits,” and without the consolation of “White Collar” to hunt down in the labyrinths of “You Tube.” I’m retiring to the cold comforts Robert Payne’s “The Life and Death of Adolph Hitler,” which now grinds along in the middle years of this monster’s career, with all those spasms of unbridled anger and outrage at imagined slights from underlings, and beginning to resemble the twisted character of Donald Trump. The lamp on my endtable throws out a pale, undernourished light as I heft my red-clothed tome and sink once more into the dreary rallies Hitler conducted in Munich and Berlin. I’m told Donald’s rallies are beginning to thin out as he attacks his enemies in the press and the government; he doesn’t quite inspire the empty laughter and cheers he once commanded from his stale jokes and send-ups. He is so buried in the ruts of his harangues that he can’t change his repertoire of spiteful stories meant to demean his antagonists. But since I know the end of the story of Hitler, I can turn the pages with a certain expectation that there will be justice where he lay half consumed in his ashes. 

We’re back from Martha’s Vineyard, my wife and I, after devouring the better part of an obese turkey and pouring enough wine down our gullets to keep Ahab’s crew of whalers groggy. It was crisp weather there, with a few biting gusts off the Atlantic to make you pull your scarf tight and soldier on down to the waterfront of Vineyard Haven. Lots of folks milling around, many lugging shopping bags bulging with overpriced Christmas cheer. As Fitzgerald once said to Hemingway, “The rich are different from you and me.” Out at Gay Head, I wandered into a craft shop run by heavy-set women from an indigenous tribe. They were charming and full of easy humor. I had chosen to buy a bright, well-shaped fish on a stand, a rare temptation for me. When I asked if they knew who had carved this piece of wood, they both hunched their shoulders and said “Someone in Indonesia.” It would cost three times what I paid if it had been from a tribesman, they added. So much for my native sympathies and desire to help. 

I didn’t venture down to the shore this time, and recalled a word I had run across some time back, “blather,” an old word for the kind of muddy slop that sucks at your s shoes along the sea coast. Nice word that got recycled to mean empty chitchat in our time. The big lumbering ferry for Nantucket swayed lugubriously alongside the Vineyard boat. The sea was gray and thick as pudding, and the crews of those fat-bodied tubs seemed a little down at the mouth. A few of the men came from Caribbean islands and spoke in a lilting English. Others migrated from Africa and were overly polite. The tourists who had come over with us a few days back were hauling massive suitcases stuffed with jars of home-made pickles and jams, and pies boxed up and taped against all the jiggling of travel. Kids stared down into their ipads and cell phones while the parents sipped at IPA ale, at nine dollars the can. 

I looked at my watch just now and it was only 3:30 in the afternoon. The tired old sun overhead had pretty much given up trying to chase away the shadows this time of year. Early in the morning I looked out of the bathroom window to the hill across the way and marveled at the thick fog that had covered the trees. They were no longer sugar maples drinking in the summer sun but had turned into forlorn ghosts barely able to remain visible. They were spirits in a lifeless expanse of windless calm. Scottish weather, the sort Sherlock Holmes might have to walk through as he tracked down the hounds of the Baskervilles, or the grotesque ghouls that were his stock in trade. 

In such ghostly weather, with the cemetery down the road appearing to drift out of its ancient moorings to ride on the back of low-lying clouds, I decided to pack a box of my earliest writings. I began to read a few of my poems and essays of that period long buried in amber, and was surprised to find myself making a bit of sense, even rising for a moment or two of clarity to express my feelings. Hmm. I had no idea I could muster such sobriety at the age of twenty-two and three. I was holding the ancient breath of youth in my hands, turning pages of a beating heart that had vanished into the back of memory. I felt compassionate for that flawed, erratic soul who used to belong to me. All my mistakes lay ahead, waiting to tempt me into action, to lie a bit, to deceive, to blur the edges of my desire and keep from being discovered. A bad first marriage, a road full of twists and turns carrying me forward to my murky future. I could hear my footsteps but I couldn’t direct them or steer my roving hunger from going down painful dead ends. I wanted to reach out and pat my back, to whisper that things would work out. I was eighty now and had made it through some pretty heart-stopping setbacks. I felt sorry for myself, and wanted to take me out to the nearest bar and buy him a drink, listen to his empty patter. His ignorance would have appalled me, made me eager to make my excuses to go home and put this kid behind me. But there he was, in my hands, and by the gift of reverie, I began to feel I could forgive him for all his excesses and errors. I felt a kind of detached affection for him, and regarded his fragile life as if it were a tree draped in the fog of lingering autumn. I was smitten by his moldy innocence and skinny arms and legs. He was my friend, and I couldn’t leave him there in the void, but I did and gazed out into the now settled night air with a feeling of reconciliation. I had Hitler to consider in the minutes I would read before going to sleep. 


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