The narrow road turned to dirt and began climbing up along the brook, just flowing now in the spring thaw, into the Worcester Mountains. We hadn't been here for several years, and took a wrong turn before backtracking and heading up Mick's road, through the stand of tall bare-trunked pines still standing in deep snow, fast through the deep mud-season ruts where ice and earth fought for our lurching tires, up onto the flat by the garden and the barn where Beau and Belle, the pair of handsome Percherons, waited for their dinner. Cascading down from a spring near the woods, a smaller stream sang like glass bells as we walked in the warm sun up to the house, the last of two on this road.
We were late; all the other guests at the baby shower had eaten homemade gingerbread and cheesecake and ham and soft white rolls already and were seated in the living room around the black woodstove, watching the couple open presents. It had been eight or nine years since we'd last seen the mother-to-be, and almost thirty since I'd met her for the first time, being breast-fed at the kitchen table by her own mother, whose house this was now. Mother, two daughters, and a son all rose from their seats to put their arms around us, and the afternoon light poured onto the pasture outside the window and onto the wooden floor of the hand-built house, the back of the rocking chair, the braided rug, the quilt of colored squares on the kitchen wall. The guests, mostly unknown to me, were silhouettes against the bright white light, nearly strong enough to erase the memories of hardship and tragedy that filled my eyes over and over as I watched each card being carefully read, acknowledged, set on a table; the eyes cast around the room to search out and thank the generous giver; the rustlings of tissue paper as each gift was opened and appreciated. Afterward the other guests drifted away; we stood and talked in the kitchen while the mother kneaded the communion bread for the village church on a yellow-checked oilcloth, then sat with the children on the couch as they told us the latest stories of their lives: some happy, some a continuation of difficulties that began long ago.
We left while it was still light and drove south to our home. The snow was finally gone from the garden, and in the dusk I noticed the white heads of snowdrops pushing through the dry leaves. We unpacked, drank a glass of wine, ate a simple supper, slept.
In the night I woke, disturbed by dreams. There were stars, blurry to my nearsighted eyes, in a clear dark sky. I climbed back into bed, slept again, and in the morning woke utterly lost, heartbroken by the terrible relentless beauty of the spring: the ability of the grass to resurrect itself, the mating-calls of the cardinals, the sleek grey breasts of the pair of juncos hopping unscathed between the thorny red canes at the base of the wild roses. I rushed down the stairs, pulled a coat off the rack, flung myself into the garden and stood over the patch of snowdrops -- dug from my grandmother's garden where I had picked them as first bouquet of the year with my mother since I was old enough to walk -- and wept and wept as if over a grave.
So grief, as she will, had her way with me, like a rag flung up into the trees by the gusts of a sudden storm to be tossed and rent and then left limp and bleached and drying in the clean, calm sun of the morning. And then I floated down again, slow and spent, to where my legs and voice were waiting.