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October 2013, vol 9, no 3

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Glenn G. Coats

The Time Between Fires

It is late September. Snow turns to rain on the lake, rain leaks through the roof of the cottage and falls like tears down the walls. Wind shakes a section of the tin roof and it rattles like a chest, a child burning with fever. There are no boats on the water and docks lie beached on the shore. I boil water from the well and drink tea while willows and pines shed branches. At night, I curl close to the hearth, toss and turn with the waves, all my dreams of broken things.

I return in the spring before the ice goes out. Easter. The cottage is full of voices. I lean over the couch and study my new grandson's face. Children climb up and down rocks on the hill, poke in the mud with sticks and piss in the wind. The cottage is damp and smells of old books. It warms to the smells of food and the sounds of laughter. At night, the fire in the hearth is the only source of heat. All of the bedroom doors are left open and children lie under layers of blankets in the warmth of many breaths.

shoreline shadows—
among the fallen branches
a lone antler

Years pass. My grandsons move farther and farther away. They never come back to the lake. My wife and I return only in late spring and stay through mid-summer. It is lonely at the cottage except for the busy robins, the turtles that lay eggs in patches of soft soil, and turkeys that strut past the windows. There is birdsong where once there was the chatter of children.

wet leaves
what I can no longer
shake off

Today rain pounds the lake. Wind blows the waves across from Mackay Island then suddenly changes direction and sends them back the way they came. The temperature drops and it is cold for May. In the evening, I light the pilot on the gas fireplace—first time in ten years. Light from the flames flickers in photographs of a house boat and a young fisherman who holds a silver fish. It shines on the faces of animals carved from stone. The rooms warm once again and I begin to expect the crunch of gravel, a car, the movement of a boat, lights across the water, quick steps, a knock on the door.

honks of geese
I begin
to mark the time

rambling roses
summer dusk and a voice
calling me home