The Trouble with Summer

Laura Wolf Benziker

October 09, 2022


“Well that’s just it, isn’t it?” she said to herself. It was not that the summer was long. By many reckonings it wasn’t. Not at all. But oh how long it seemed indeed when They wouldn’t give her a moment’s peace!

The woman made her trip down the hill to the ancient pump well and back every morning. Having bent perilously down to lace the narrow leather boots, despite the tremors, she cricked back up grimacing. An effort, even, to open the stone cottage’s oak door, half-rusted tin pail in hand. A warm breeze rustled the tall grass, and she sighed. A few moments’ pause, but there was no avoiding it. Nothing for it at all. She stepped cautiously onto the path. This path, which she had cleared only a day or so previous, was already half grown over again with new grass.

The green was not simply green. In the winter you forget, she thought. Every winter you forget. The green of mid-summer sprouted, propelled, exploded its hues into the humid air, slurping of it and growing even more rapidly before her eyes. Apple green, steeped olive, etched jade, purple black, iron-soaked scarlet. Flat emerald leaves formed of new clay. Thousands of viridian handprints weaving, twisting, spiraling, sprawling into the dense air. Thrusting into the path.

She treaded the flat summit meadow on which her house was perched, eventually finding some approximation of rhythm. Noting the heat of the already high sun.

The Lupines, bulbous and buoyant, spoke first:

“You know us!” they jeered. “Yes you do, don’t try to pretend! Your baby boy loved us most. His brown-eyed smile and fat reaching arms were the truest joys of your life. Nowhere was he happier than here among us, tramping his stocky legs and laughing wide and pure! Now he is grown, and far, and does not set foot on the wild path, not even to visit his poor old mother! He is stooped and bitter! Ha ha ha ha ha!”

The woman sighed. It was true.

She continued down the path uneager, and slowed to skirt a high-reaching ant hill. Looking back, she could see the stone cottage, half-way enveloped in ivy.

“You are old, you are old, you are old!” piped the tiny voices of red clover in unison. “As a freckled girl you sat among us. Yes you did! You plucked our petals, sucked down our sugar, crunched our sweet flesh in rapture. You soaked in the sunshine in very pace with us. This you did, and do not forget! You are old! You cannot sight well enough to pick us. You cannot taste our fresh clear nectar!”

They didn’t expect an answer, she had learned. They simply thrilled in tormenting her.

Most of the year she could manage. Most of the year they were frigid, dormant. Their dulled voices muffled, muted, slurred by frozen ground. Times like that one had space to think. Space to go about a simple life without the constant racket. But winter was not long enough, no indeed. Even her old friend the Pine, steady and calm, this turn of season sprouted genital bulbs that rained down chalky yellow spray. Though it had the decency not to go on about it.

The woman saw a smear of crimson adrape a low branch of the Pear tree in the meadow. She squinted. A carcass? A ravaged hare? No, no, it was her husband’s faded wool shirt. That was it. Of course. But wasn’t it hanging from the Apple tree yesterday? And how did They come to possess it in the first place? It was too much.

She progressed deliberately down the path, which went steeper now, with caution. Nearing the edge of the wood she was greeted by the golden Jewel-weed that was just beginning to mature.

“You know me!” it declared. “You whiled ripe hours ambling my rows, testing how lightly you could tap my seed pods to make them burst. We the prize! The rotund reward! In the days of no responsibility. In the unending childhood summers. I dare you! I dare you to pluck a pod and release the spring! Your fingers bony and brittle! They ache and they shake! You are old! You are old! You are old!”

She shifted her weight from one rheumatic hip to the other. She swung the half-rusted bucket to her other aching hand. Only a few more yards until the pump. She rolled her eyes in a slow arc across the blue sky, and took note of a lone rook reposing on a gust leagues above. But onward.

The lanky white Rose bush with its hooked thorns spoke deep and slow:

“Old one. You never paid me mind in your youth, did you? But in time I had my way. Yes. I made myself abundant the day you laid your husband in the ground. You remember, old one. On the suits, on the bower, my petals floating like snow into the damp grave. Now, when you espy my exquisite blossom, when you catch the scent of my perfume, you will see nothing but his cold face. You are old!”

The woman slouched under the weight, and walked on with drained steps. At least her husband didn’t have to listen to this nonsense. At length she arrived at the muddy furrow which encircled the pump. The shade of Aspen was welcome. She relinquished the bucket and flicked her wrist several times to get the blood moving in the veins. Grasping the heavy iron lever with both hands, she pressed it earthward with an earsplitting creak. Again she pumped, and the noise was more bearable. Again. It would require five pumps for water to flow. But she was at eight and not a drop. She pumped and pumped and the Aspen spoke, wiggling its copious fingers mockingly at her:

“Our many roots are but one root! Our family is our self. When one dies, we live on. When we die, we live ever! But you won’t! But you won’t!”

She released the pump handle; it was no use. And as for Them, it was no good trying to reason. In her younger days she would put up a fight. She had had a way with words then, and a fire in her belly.

“Death is but a passage!” she might have argued. “We are all part of the glorious cycle of life, you as well as I!”

Now she knew better. Now, she was weary. It was like finding that your one sharp knife has grown dull, and you have no means of sharpening it, nor will you.

“Pay them no mind,” spoke the ancient Yew in velvet timbre.

She turned and took in the gnarled warren of trunk and root. The oldest of Them. Old enough, finally, to be civilized.

“They are foolish,” crooned the Yew. “We both know that you know what to do. It could be in fall, when I bring my berries plump and glowing: gifts for you alone. It could be today. My needles are green fresh and tender. You know it makes no difference to me. Sweet one, pretty one, beloved one. Eat me!”

The woman peered up the hill to the cottage on the crest, the way she had come it seemed. Ivy now wholly encased it in its web. No more grey of the stones, no more red painted trim. Only brilliant, profane green. The peaked angle of roof was smoothed and rounded over by twisting vines. The sharp edge of the foundation obscured by running tendrils reaching out in all directions to twine and mingle with the tall grass. What was once her house now resembled nothing more than an irregular swell of the hillside.

She turned to the Yew, which of course she knew.

“Very well,” she replied.

Laura Wolf Benziker is a parent and business owner making a messy go of it in Portland Maine. She is inspired by the subtle horrors of everyday life, many of which go unnoticed. She treats writing like a puzzle to solve. Find her on Instagram @laura_wolf_benziker_