When my wife and I marry in autumn, the seasons are all wrong. On our Philadelphia rooftop, spinach sprouts in the heat of late September and in early October, basil flourishes in pots. Summer flowers—petunias, fuchsias, geraniums—gush from other people’s window ledges. Tomatoes, fat and misshapen, line the counter of the vegetable shop across the street.
On the island in Scotland, where I am from, at this time of year I sleep under one, two, thick quilts, and rain slants sideways across the windows. The shops are void of all summer fruit. There, it is the season I gather mushrooms from the woods, when the cool wet weather pulses black trumpets from the loam. Horn of plenty, birch bolete, chicken of the woods, cep.
But in Philadelphia, the days are a humid stench that won’t let up. The woods, though I scour them, give up nothing to me.
The night before our City Hall wedding, we sleep with the windows thrown open. At 5 a.m., the bin lorry wakes us as it thunders past our bedroom. My wife, to-be, throws a leg into my sprawled crook, insists her body into the shape of mine so that her beating heart, tiny, hot, thrums against my scapula. I know I should use the American terms for things—trash, truck, fall—but it isn’t a reflex yet. Only my wife understands me in this new strange country where I didn’t mean to end up.
I hadn’t dreamed of getting married either—I had watched my parents suffer their own twenty-four years before divorcing—and by the morning of our wedding I am forty. N., a poet, and I met in a writing program at grad school two years before, and were within days talking of a life together. She captivated me, the way she seemed to be one thing, but also another. She was brought to tears by blossoming trees, and by Marx. She complained of feeling cold, but her body burned with a heat that felt electric to touch. She had spent two years researching in a military special-forces training site, but she only wore cowboy boots, didn’t own a rain jacket. She had published two books of poetry, but her poem tattoo had a punctuation error, something she showed me the first time we met, both of us laughing as she pulled up her T-shirt to show me her slender naked back. She didn’t give a damn for convention, actively sought out the other. I had spent my life being bored by people, but of N., I never tired.
In time, I noticed that a change had come over me, a softness that grew as she burrowed into my life. People said I was nicer when I was with N. I started to like dogs, and children. I began to believe in myself, I wrote more. I learned to fight away the harsh words I had always tormented myself with.
At City Hall, my details are in the groom column, though we are to each other wives. A judge has us repeat the vows, to have, to hold, till death, the end.
In Scotland, my succulents sit on the windowsill of the flat I bought five years before. They overlook the bay, the boats, the seals slathered across the rocks. These plants that I grew from cuttings taken from friends around the island, brought to maturity from the smallest of snips: a leaf, a tiny bloom pinched from its host. The plants that now tumble in giant fat thumbs down the side of terracotta pots and beyond, below the windowsills: bear’s paw, pork and beans, princess pine…<strong>Continue reading “Little Starts”</strong>
Originally published in Ecotone Magazine.
Rose Skelton is an award-winning writer, reporter, and editor from Scotland. She is currently working on her first book, Homescar, a collection of short stories set on an island in the Inner Hebrides, which won the Larry Levis Fellowship for Fiction in 2017 and an Elizabeth George Foundation grant. Her fiction has been published in Four Way Review and Waxwing, and her recent non-fiction essay, “Little Starts” (Ecotone 2021) was a Pushcart Special Mention. She is the co-founder of Field Studio, a place for writers Online and on the Isle of Mull. Previously a reporter in west Africa, and a member of an ocean search and rescue crew on the Isle of Mull, she now lives and gardens in Texas.