After the worst summer of our lives comes autumn. The trees explode with color. You call me while I’m washing the dishes, and I pick up the phone with soapy hands, the water dripping down my arms to my elbows.
“Let’s go north,” you say, and I say yes before I can think about saying no.
We drive along highway 35 and reach the shores of Lake Superior as the sun is sinking into the water. The golden rays set the trees on fire.
“Wow,” you say. I nod. It’s the most we’ve spoken since we left the cities.
We drive up to the cabin in the dark, and it’s much colder than I anticipated. The door is stuck fast, and it takes both of us pushing against it before it finally scrapes back against the floorboards. I strike a match, and the room is illuminated for hot second, shadows jumping back against the log walls. The smell of dust and disuse rises out of the darkness. Everything is quiet.
Rather than attempt to make the main room livable, we drag blankets into the sunroom and curl up on the floor.
“Do you think there are rats in here?” I whisper fearfully.
“I’ll protect you.”
Across the lake, a loon calls out, the sound both eerie and comforting.
The morning sun wakes us a little before six. I rise from the floorboards and stretch, achy from sleeping on a hard surface without a pillow. You pull a blanket over your head and roll over, stubbornly resisting the day.
“Come on sleepyhead.” I nudge you with my foot. “Get up.”
We decide to drive into town for coffee. The morning air is chilly and smells like rotting leaves, and I inhale great deep breaths of it through the open window. Main Street is just as we remember, but we drive slowly anyways, pointing out familiar sights and reminiscing while the drivers behind us honk and curse. Finally we pull into the café long-known and well- loved. The world smells like bacon and coffee and burned toast. I sigh in anticipation.
After breakfast (you, buttermilk pancakes with extra syrup and coffee with cream, me, huevos rancheros and coffee, black) we stock up on groceries and head back to the cabin. I attack the dust and dirt that’s built up since May, and you chop wood, a task you secretly hate but pretend to love. It’s a man thing, I guess, and I feel pleasantly domestic as I sweep out the debris. No mice.
Dusk falls quickly, and we eat by candlelight at the table. Our voices no longer echo but fill the room, and I feel a great peace enter between us – the cabin has become home once more.
That night we make love like we haven’t in months. You slide your fingers through my hair and I allow myself to moan just once, a soft cry into the silence. We sleep wrapped around each other, and when I wake up in the morning, your arm still encircles my waist.
We stay a week, or a little less, and then we pack up the car and bolt the front door.
“Winter will come early this year,” you say as we drive the highway curves back towards civilization. I nod and lean my seat back as far as it will go, closing my eyes and letting part of me stay for just a little bit longer.
I’m washing dishes when you call, and I pick up the phone with soapy hands.
“Hello?” I say, and your voice is weaker than the last time we spoke.
“Let’s go north,” you say softly, and I feel my eyes fill with warm salt.
“I wish,” I said, envisioning driving along the shores of Lake Superior, the smell of the air in the autumn woods, the sound of a loon echoing across the water. “How are you feeling?”
You sigh, your breath a rush of crackly air against my ear. “I’ll be there this afternoon,” I promise. “I’ll bring you something to eat.”
I hang up the phone and finish the dishes. Dry my hands. Fold the banana bread in foil and drive out to the hospital. Hold your hand while you cough and spit mucus into a plastic dish.
“Tell me a story,” you say, leaning back against a stack of pillows. “About us.”
So I do.