Overwintering by H.S Lyon
As the sun loses its strength and the days grow darker, so too do Lucy’s spirits. The equinoxes match her body’s rhythms as surely as midnight’s chime turned Cinderella’s coach back into a pumpkin and showed her sparkling gown and cloak for the mere rags they really were. In the absence of a fairy godmother to sprinkle magical dust, the shadows of winters past come creeping back. There is a name for this malaise, she knows, but in the long, lovely days of summer when she is as light as a dandelion seed, it seems fantastical, the stuff of stories.
She has tried to explain to others how it is. “I’m like a puppet with cut strings”, she says. “The alarm sounds while I’m deeply asleep. I drag myself from the bottom of the sea of my bed, but I stay half-drowned all day”. They nod, sympathetically, saying they find it hard to get up in the mornings too. She tries to say her feelings through song and poetry, “In the summer, I’m a lark ascending. In the autumn, I’m like Dylan Thomas, raging”. Her friends say they’re so sorry and offer her another cup of tea, suggest she goes for a walk. She does not blame them; raging is not right, anyway. It is more like watching herself fade as the leaves fall, leaving her as blank as a tree’s empty branches.
She tries to fight back to life, forcing herself to get up, to wash, to dress, to eat, to go out. But these everyday tasks seem relentless, each false peak of achievement revealing the next hill that must be climbed. The endless grey skies are the same every day, flattening what resolve she has for action. Twilight comes ever-earlier and begins to feel a relief as the battle can pause again until the morning. Eventually, her strength fails. She stays at home, eating when she must, her world contracting to a single room and a remote control. The images of glittering sequins and happy families are too harsh and too loud, so she turns the sound off and sleeps, her room lit by the flickering television screen.
But in this summer’s dancing months, she determines that her winter will be different. She writes in her diary, “Remember the pumpkin!” She lies in the grass with the sun on her face, as if she could store the warmth from the ground in her very cells. She buys bulbs, each planting an act of faith. In the autumn, she sows sweet-pea seeds into long training pods, imagining their tendril roots delving into the rich goodness of the compost, making sure foundations for the scented flowers to come. She sits and looks at the bare earth, imagining it as a blanket protecting the life that is sleeping. She spreads another layer of mulch over the beds, shielding her plants from frost and cold.
The light dwindles and the snow comes, but she watches the garden from her window, mug in her hands, seeing red berries against green leaves, winter birds flying. Her vigour dies back as it does every year and she naps on the sofa, the garden the last thing she sees as she closes her eyes. She drifts through days, but it is not the same as before. She remembers the pumpkin, the magical dust of summer on a warm breeze. She knows she will spring forward with colour and movement when the time comes to dance again. In this quiet, waiting time, she rests.