The afternoons here are dead still, silent except for the chirping of the fat blackbirds, the constant drone of the dryer filtering through the open laundry room door, muffled and distant, white noise in this still afternoon. Sometimes the chatter of school children breaks the stillness and then dies away again as they scurry through town. I sit on the terrace, quite alone, for the terrace is quiet and still at this time of day, after the breakfast rush, before the drinks hour. I sit facing the sun and turn my body towards the heat like a sunflower.
My mind wanders, a rare pleasure and one that I only do when things are this still. Ideas push each other around like teens at a concert vying for space, memories elbow in sometimes disturbing the stillness, thoughts of my brother, cooking with him throughout the years. Chili for my sons and big pots of chicken soup, my very first Brussel sprouts, tasty and tender under his silent yet pointed guidance after the disease had taken away his voice, the kitchen still and much too silent. I cooked with him as I took care of him, ill yet my big brother still.
The loss of him is still with me, deeper than these memories. I think of him often in the stillness of day, in the still of the night.
Still Waters Run Deep
I wonder if I stand very still, if I still my breathing, my nose pressed to the warm oven door, will I be able to see the cake rise, the pudding set? Or does it happen suddenly without anyone noticing? Can one spot the moment water passes from still to bubbling?
I have always preferred still water to fizzy, sparkling, carbonated, effervescent. Flat water, they call it in Europe, as flat as a lake on a still summer day, no movement but the occasional, gentle flutter of water, as a dragonfly skimming the surface. Carbonated water tastes of Miami Beach old folks’ homes in the 1960’s all chilled gefilte fish and borscht, poppy seed Kaiser rolls and salty water reminding me of the beach. Sparkling water, as elegant as it is, has no charm for me, tickling my nose, making me burp, increasing my thirst for the saltiness.
Be Still My Heart
Hotel breakfasts. Breakfast is one reason that I have always liked sleeping in hotels. One walks into the dining room and is greeted by the heady scent, the marvelous earthy fragrance of coffee brewing. Somehow, hotel coffee smells differently than coffee prepared at home. Buffet tables with the perfect cornucopia of carbs, croissants or bagels, donuts galore, tiny bite-sized pains au chocolat! I order a coffee with hot milk, please, and savor the pleasure, the calm morning stretching out before me as I partake of that hotel breakfast, someone else serving me, someone else clearing up. Oblivious to all activity around me, I sit quite still and focus on what is in front of me, coffee and croissant and husband.
Now I am on the other side of the buffet, the one plugging in the coffee pot and placing baskets of croissants and brioche on the tables. Ten, twenty, thirty or twice that number arriving by ones, twos, threes, or fours, in droves, it seems, eyes searching for free seats. Guests such as I used to be breathing in the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee, gasping for coffee, asking for refills. Or pots of tea, pots and pots of tea, and baskets of bread in a constant flow. The rhythm of breakfast increases from slow dance to waltz to jazz, tempo upbeat. From stillness to swingtime.
And this is when I find myself on the edge of panic. Be still my heart.
Pause. I must remain still and calm for breakfast to pass smoothly, as smoothly as the thick, liquid honey that is drizzled over slices of goat cheese.
Breakfast is anything but still. I relish the moments before breakfast begins when the morning outside is still, no movement in any of the rooms, no lights lit, when the city around us is still, deathly still, the dawn creeping up over the buildings, the dining room dark and quiet but for the crackling fire. Stillness.
And breakfast will never be the same.
(I Love You) Still
I have great hopes that we shall love each other all our lives as much as if we had never married at all. - Lord Byron
It has been close to thirty years since we met and married and had a child. In that order. And we are still together. Funny, that. I look at him across the table, or across the room, or as he slips into sleep, keeping very, very still so he doesn’t perceive me studying him, and wonder at this togetherness. He once offered me a ring, a thin silver band that I still keep every single day and night on my finger nestled behind my wedding band that says “toujours”. Which translates as always, forever, or still. Toujours. Always, forever, still, as if these three words held the same meaning.
And my heart still beats the same for him. Together, still.
He sings to me:
Still as the stars
In the heavens above
And slowly blossoming
As a new found love
Still as the night
Still still the birds gently sing
And soft as the wind
That carries them on their wings
My uncle (I think) once told me that my grandmother made bathtub gin during prohibition. Not quite a still churning out moonshine but something like it. I am trying to imagine this, my grandma in her old house, old bathroom, making gin in that old claw-footed tub while my grandpa, learned man, oblivious to most things around him when focused on his books, studying. He probably so still and silent in one room of the house, she in the bathroom making hootch without the still.
Urban legend, family legends that still seem to stick around for generations, no one having had the gumption to ask grandma for the truth while she was still with us. But stories like this add spice to a family’s history.