At the market, the dark-haired farmer's son has bagged my ugly tomatoes and Winesap apples for more than a dozen years. He's a husband now, a father, and he's still there, still smiling, still flapping the brown bag open whenever I sidle in with the morning crowd.
"Apples?" he'll say.
"Yes," I'll say. "Apples. Tomatoes, too."
At the post office, our favorite clerk, Bill, will slip the new stamps into their wax-paper sleeve, weigh the media mail, wonder out loud if I've been writing lately, then ask about our son, who moved away 10 years ago. He will remember him.
Out on the neighborhood streets, meanwhile, Betty will be taking her midmorning walk as she has always taken her midmorning walk — her long arms swinging, her athletic stride gaining on the asphalt, her indefatigable determination at every bend.
"Hello," she will say when she sees me.
"Hello," I'll say.
Not far from here the loose hair of the willow trees is mirrored by the pond, as it long has been. Up above, the geese are slicing the sky, as they (in this season) do. On the roof the squirrels are up to no good — up to their mad, walnut-hoarding scramble, again. When I lift my eyes from this page that I am writing and look out onto the yard, the peeling birch tree stands precisely where it has stood since its hole was dug, and the old detached garage splinters as it always will, and a ceramics mobile, brought here from El Salvador, still hangs from a maple-tree limb, a survivor of infinite storms.
Soon the neighborhood church bells will ring as, every Sunday, they ring — always the same hour.
It is ticking toward the dark part of the year — the cold-weather months, the monolithic chill. There will be holidays for family and holidays for shopping and holidays for friends, but there will also be (inevitably) hours as still and self-contained as a glass jar. The phone won't ring when we hope it will. The news we want (and desperately need) won't come. The people we have lost will remain gone. Some meals will not be ours to share. Some parties will go on without us. Long lines of cars will park in the street and we'll watch the invited come and go.
At times like these it can seem (no one could blame us for imagining) that the advertised cheer is not our cheer, and that there are no more extra chairs to be pulled to the mythic holiday table, and that what is left of all those many pies is only crumbs, and that other people's stories don't include us, and that the world, this world, is passing us by.
I find it helps, in times like these, to remember the ongoingness of simple things — to catalog the constant. The mirroring pond. The ambitious geese. The madcap squirrels. The peeling birch. The tolling bells. The apples somebody chooses for us. The goodwill of the postal clerk. The raised hand of the solitary walker.
We stand among the ongoing. We are, in fact, the ongoing. It is finally impossible to live apart from the world. We are buttoned into every season.