The beginning of spring looks like circles in the road, and ours is a mess of them. Iâ€™ve always wondered about this: how potholes form, always round like bowls, instead of square or jagged. The car groans going over the bumps. The tires gather mud, and getting in and out every day my jeans are graffitied across the calves with the tell-tale marks of rural living: mud. I walk out to the upper meadow. The snow is hard beneath my boots, and I barely break through the surface crust of ice crystals. Below I imagine nematodes and newts and other small crawly things hibernating in quiet coils waiting for the sun to make their blood stir.
I always feel like I blink, and spring has blossomed. Itâ€™s the shortest of seasonâ€™s here; with everything bursting into bloom urgently, the growing season so short, autumn already nipping at summerâ€™s heels by mid September. So I walk out to the edge of the woods along the meadow where the limbs have falling during the recent ice storms and the ground is a patchwork of melted places and white, and I sit and listen for spring.
Even before the snow melts, or any blade of green pokes up anywhere, the birds come back, and hearing them I feel like helium is being pumped into my lungs. Like my feet might just lift off the ground with the promise of someday wild strawberries and late warm evenings and supple grass.
Sometimes in the car I tune the radio to a station from Montreal, just to hear the lilt of French and listening to the birds feels like this to my untrained ear. Ornithology would give me the proper nouns and verbs for all the twittering: the ruckus chatter of a flock of dark winged birds sitting high in the branches of a tree at the opposite edge of the meadow; the repeated trilling of others. I know enough to know these birds arenâ€™t here in winter. Not chickadees or the red sparks of cardinals that dart through the snow to the bird feeder, but birds with songs that come from the south, where the sun has already warmed the ground and the daffodils are up.
Itâ€™s a long month, March. It tries my patience, and I feel myself picking fights simply because Iâ€™m restless. In bed I canâ€™t sleep and I canâ€™t shake the off-kilter feeling of whatever weâ€™ve left unsaid. I sigh in the darkness, â€œIâ€™m sad,â€ I murmur.
Heâ€™s asleep, barely, almost, and is annoyed. He was annoyed before bed tooâ€”at the cat for dogging him around the house, meowing, wanting something, catnip maybe or fresh water... spring.
â€œShut the hell up,â€ he growled, turning on her abruptly. Her tail twitched like rope. She backed up to a safe distance. I backed up too, still as permeable as Iâ€™ve always been. I canâ€™t seem to stop him from soaking into my pores. Even when itâ€™s not a big deal like tonight, when he wasnâ€™t even talking to me, just somewhere near me, blowing off steam.
In bed Iâ€™m still percolating and I can feel him sigh, the covers shifting slightly. â€œWhat?â€ he says. â€œWhatâ€™s wrong?â€
But what I want arenâ€™t words now, this late. Really, Iâ€™m not sure what I want, more than spring, more than warmth, more than maybe his arms around me unbidden, reassuring.
â€œCan you tell me whatâ€™s wrong?â€
The room is dark. So dark I cannot see the opposite wall. The wooden shades are turned so the moonlight is blocked, and under the flannel I feel my heart beating. My mouth is hot. â€œNo.â€
I really want to be tucked up against him and I know Iâ€™m the one who started this. Iâ€™m like those damn dime store carnations that soak up dye, turning unnaturally bright blue or fuchsia at the slightest suggestion. I canâ€™t shake the feeling somethingâ€™s off. It could be anything. A hundred things. Likely nothing. I do this, waiting for spring; waiting to be able to inhale air that doesnâ€™t cling in my lungs, thermal and dry.
â€œI felt like you were mad at me before we came to bed. We didnâ€™t spend any time together today. I feel like we never got a chance to talk, and now you just turned away from me, pulled the covers and went to sleep.â€
In the hall the cat moves towards our room on silent paws, her purring announcing her approach. She chirps, an eccentric little meow of greeting, then circles the bed, purring, wide eyed in the dark, tail jerking back and forth.
I lunge for her just as sheâ€™s slinking under my side of the bed. My fingers graze her fur. Sheâ€™s doing this on purpose. The cat should have been named Loki. I bite my lip. I want her out, to fix whatever angst is zinging back and forth between us like static, making the hairs on my arms stand up.
It takes both of us hurling things under the bed for her to give up her antagonizing perch just out of reach and make a run for the door.
Heâ€™s impatient with me and itâ€™s past midnight. I follow the cat out the door and slip into my small boyâ€™s double bed, but cannot sleep. Before I left he said, â€œWhy do you always have to drag things out?â€ Like I am doing it all on purpose, this restlessness, this sabotage of sleep and tenderness.
I had no answer and so I went, but craved his arms even while smelling the sleep-sweet scent of my three year old, arms flung wide across the bed.
His room is filled with light when I come in, bare feet crossing the wood floor, avoiding the places that creak. I switch off the starshaped light above him, then lie in the semi dark, the moon flooding his un-curtained windows, and wait for sleep.
But it doesnâ€™t come. Illusive, like the first weeks of spring, sleep hovers at the periphery of my senses. I feel myself slipping towards it, but am yanked back, again and again until I get up once more and trundle back to his warmth. Heâ€™s moved to my side, and is asleep, holding the covers where my body would be. I nose my way in, pressing my lips against the heat of his chest, and he wraps his arms around me fiercely until I can feel the outline of every muscle in his back. And as weâ€™re lying this way, the heat between us making the windows fog so that in the morning weâ€™ll find condensation in upturned moons at the bottom of each pane of window glass, we hear the coyotes.
First one, a long low howl that makes my spine prickle and my eyes widen in the dark. Then many. They are running up the ravine along the edge of the lower meadow and the woods. I picture their tracks on the snow, a pack chasing the moon, chasing a buck, hungry like we both are for a riper season.