by Elizabeth Bedell
On this almost bitter-cold February morning, watching the world ripen into light, I shiver. I look around for the fuzzy blue-gray shawl, so old its neat weave has softened to a cloudy thickness. I imagine it draped across the ivory slipcovers, waiting for the next pair of hands to unfold it, spread it over shoulders, tuck it around a sleeping child. I wait for invisible hands to tuck it around me, for the whispered promises that all is well, will be well, that all manner of things shall be well.
The shawl disappeared in the move this past November, though I could have sworn I bundled it carefully around my mother’s tea pot and mugs, cushioning them from the brawny college kids lugging the boxes, from the upheaval itself. But when I finally unpacked that box, weeks later, bubble wrap enfolded the tea set. Effective enough, but soulless.
It’s a small grief, to be sure, amid the many larger ones, stacked into a chord. It’s become a cliché, and I flinch as I write each morning, “living in the key of grief.” But somehow it’s the only way I can conceptualize this stretch of my life, the world’s life.
Both because of the comforting structure of music theory, the way a few chicken-scratched sharps or flats cue a sound palette when I glance at a new score, preparing me for the notes to come. C minor. E major—that Chopin “tristesse” étude I keep playing these days.
And because I am Mary Lennox, alone and uncertain, seeking the old, rusted key that will unlock the door, unlock the promise of the sleeping, secret garden, enclosed and nearly forgotten. Convinced that there is, will be, some way to make meaning of all this.
Two nights ago I had such a clear dream of sitting in my favorite chair, wrapped up in that shawl, opening a book and getting lost in it again, as I haven’t in years. I miss disappearing into a book, so consumed by the unspooling story that I know when I close the volume all will again be well.
Mary had a helpful robin, leading her to that buried key. But I—well, the robins are weeks, months away, the polar vortex is what’s wrapping itself around us, and the shawl seems to have evaporated into thin air, lost in the translation between households, between before and now.
Elizabeth Bedell completed her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts in 2019. Elizabeth is a longtime high school English teacher, who finds herself querying her first novel. She lives in western Massachusetts.