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All those summers ago, I hated those brown hills. I missed the mountains, the evergreens, the fish pond out back. God ripped the Cascades from my life, and it hurt like tearing out a tooth. I remember sitting on the dead grass, crying, trying to sing a hymn, not knowing that the drugs, the backstabbing, and the apathy that festered in that city in the mountains’ shadow would have hurt my soul more than the sight of brown hills.
Now I love those brown hills. When the dense ocean fog crouches on their crests on a still June morning, you can almost feel the water touch the dead grass and hear the water say, “Wait, wait, wait till winter.” And when the fog rolls into the valleys, you hear something more than birds or squirrels rustling among the dead leaves and the dry oak trees draped with dead moss. You can believe in nymphs on those mornings when the dry oak trees chant, “Wait, wait,” back to the water. When the summer sun strikes the fog with its rays and the fog retreats to the sea, those dry oak trees stand defiant on the brown hills, crying, “Wait, wait!”
November will bring rain. The dead grass will revive and the oak-nymphs will dance on the green hills, laughing at the shrouded sun. The new year will bring the poppies, wild mustard, and lilac into bloom, and the green hills will be dashed with yellow, orange, and purple.
Now I’ve left those brown hills. I won’t see the winter clouds pour out their verdant dye. I will wait, wait with the oak trees, but not for winter–for some distant summer, perhaps, when I can sit on the dead grass and cry.
I played: a slow waltz in D-major. As my fingers brushed the white and black keys, I could hear the melody ascend on a cello, then a violin. I felt the melody’s trail of rushing air and followed with my fingers, falling into formation, climbing upward, soaring southward. I felt the arpeggios rumbling from my soul to my fingertips as the melody dove to the sea and crashed in F-sharp- and E-minor chords. Firmly pressing the damper pedal, I let the dissonance linger, floating on the waves, and resolve before the melody burst from the surf with a resounding E-chord in the bass cleft. I followed. The air grew warmer; I could taste coconut on the breeze.
Sipping our decaf at the round oak table, my mother and I chatted about P. D. James’s stodgy early novels. The blue sea-turtle mug cradled in my hands shook when I laughed. I tried only halfheartedly not to spill. A spill is nothing when you’re laughing. It’d been a while since we’d laughed.
But then I spilled the conversation. She began lamenting the cool spring and her dismal garden, and I started fiddling with the Rummicub tiles we’d left scattered on the table after our last game. She kept talking, my neck muscles kept tightening, my fingers kept fiddling. When she squinted into her mug, I knew she had noticed my reticence; when she stood to refill her coffee, I knew she wouldn’t sit by me again.
Beep! Beep! Beep!
“Your phone,” I said, still stacking tiles.
She shuffled to the kitchen. I kept stacking.
Then, unaccountably, she settled into the wooden chair next to mine, holding out the phone. I took it skeptically. And then I grinned. My sister had sent a picture of her giggling three-year-old daughter, draped in a brown robe that matched her eyes and holding a red-capped marker above her head like a wand. “Abracadabra!” read the caption.
We both laughed.