Today I pulled my ugg boots out of the back of the closet and yanked them on to walk down to the nearest coffee shop. Under the lowered sky the world feels more like a cave than a palace of splendours. It is cold and what withers my heart is that it will now stay cold here for months. Flowers are still standing on people’s balconies but the sky behind the buildings has soured. My little blue mug marches with me every morning past the Turkish men playing backgammon and the local alcoholics gathering outside the convenience store to drink beer. The prospect of seeing no blue sky nor hearing birdsong til May or even June is so terribly daunting to a tropical heart. It is cold and dim and it’s going to get colder and darker; the ground will freeze solid; the rivers will freeze over; it is going to be cold and dark, always cold, colder and darker and dimmer til Spring.
The little cafe is brimming with people and music. I used to come in and write here, every day, back in 2012; that was six or seven sublets ago. I am aware as I move out of the way a third time, waiting for the Australian barista to pour, that my order, in Melbourne barista-speak, is a suburban why bother. A cafe owner in Northcote once translated the name to my face, jauntily, making rapid notes, then looked up and saw my eyes had filled with tears of mortification and exclusion. Poor guy. He spent the rest of the morning hustling my friend and me to ever choicer patches of dappled sun and offering us sample cakes and sandwiches. It’s just convenient, he lied, in a fluster. Extra hot is suburban. Decaf is why bother. In a culture which preens itself on hardiness and how many coffees everybody ‘needs’ to get through their demanding day, to drink caffeine free with a scalded milk froth is like walking unemployed into a cocktail party of the leisured, mannered, drunken wealthy and asking for a glass of milk.
I’ve done that too.
As the sky closes over our heads we turn within, I guess, a more meditative season. My heart aches after the email from my father today about the cosy family holiday they had, a farmstay with all the little children: like the childhoods we had, on our grandparents’ farm, a place now sold and probably built out. I’m in exile and I can’t go back. But as the natural landscape pleaches us in with its monotones of winter sleep, maybe that of the humans around me will brighten and deepen and welcome me in. The golden daytime candles are sat out on cafe tables already. The smooth endless music rolls forth. There’s the wintry rattle of cars over stones. The changing colours on the market, from bright summer fruits to rich, bruising plums and sprays of spinach, and beets. Two or three weeks ago we cycled miles out of town to a garden party, livid with lanterns. We swam in two lakes and ate breads and preserves our hosts had made, and felt sleepy at table. A large dog thumped her tail under the bench seat. At 2 o’clock in the morning on the quiet train home I lay huddled against the glass divider, replete. A woman got on and plumped herself against the opposite side of the glass. She dropped her head back and sighed. She had a glorious fall of long blonde hair, different colours of blonde, salon tipped, which flattened out against the glass as she took out her phone, compressing like a river of gemstones into one two-dimensional clotted sky after another as she turned her head. I lay sleepy with my face pressed into her hair, but for the glass, and I now recall it: and winter stings me, but there’s always the heaven of us.