Into the Wild
It was the brink of cherry season when Kaki and I arrived in town, exhausted from the drive but very excited and happy and feeling pleasant about the whole idea of Wisconsin. Had it not been cherry season we may have called the whole thing off that day, but it was indeed the season and the trees were very beautiful and everyone could smell the hope in the air and I looked at all the fruit on the ground below the trees and thought, well, we might as well throw a few in a glass of whiskey and see how it all plays out.
So I made us both a drink and we sat out on the patio on the western side of the peninsula and watched the sun go down over the trees across the bay. She looked very pretty with the wind coming through and her hair all around her ears and down to her shoulders and the corners of the napkins going along with it under the drink. It was a good whiskey and the cherry at the end was very soaked and very heavy, the kind that would make an impression had you not already been sold on the whiskey.
Later that night I stacked as many of them as I could into a jar and filled it with the whiskey, screwing the aluminum cap back on tightly and placing it on top of the fridge to soak. I did the same with vodka and another with gin. I put some of the leftover cherries into a glass and stacked ice on top, ensuring that they would be left to the very end after the ice had melted and they had soaked up as much whiskey as they could take. I poured the whiskey over the ice and saw it find its way down to the cherries. I was happy about that.
I grew to love cherries that summer, and I had grown to love Kaki as well. She liked her vodka just as I liked my whiskey, and we both liked the gin. We would sit out on the porch most evenings sipping our drinks, watching the light in the sky change and making small talk about the neighbors or the plants we had put in the yard. Sometimes we talked about getting a cherry tree of our own. But when you enjoy the trip down to the fields and gathering them up and bringing them home and washing them and putting the towel over them and letting them get cool in the fridge, a tree of your own seems like it would do more harm than good.
Before the winter set in we went down to one of the farms and stocked up. The man at the hardware store sold us a couple cases of jars, and Kaki and I spent a weekend canning all we could, making the preserves and the whiskey, vodka, and gin. I had grown to think very highly of Kaki during the warmer months. She had a way of dressing that always made me look twice, a blue dress to match the color in her eyes or a red dress to go along with her cheeks. She had hips that made the man in me very happy and very interested. We would often take our drinks to the nightstand and sit up in bed after it was all finished and catch our breath. I would reach for the drink and feel the wetness on the outside of the glass and see the cherries at the bottom and we both could feel the cool air of the fan coming down from the ceiling.
One morning I asked Kaki if she wanted to talk about it. I told her I was having a lovely time.
“Do you want to talk about it yet?”
During the winter it was much different because we did not sit outside at night. Kaki had come up with the idea of getting our hands on some split wood, and I told her that I would be more than happy to split it ourselves. As it turned out it was something we enjoyed doing together very much, splitting the wood during the final weeks of summer and during the winter I would get all bundled up to go out and get it when the stack inside was running low. I would come in and tap my boots on the mat and the snow would fall off and I would see Kaki sitting on the sofa in her knitted sweaters sipping the red wine or having a vodka with the cherries and I would think, my god, this woman is so beautiful and I am so lucky to have these details in my life. After the first few weeks of winter we had grown quite fond of hot drinks by the fire, and we would boil the water with cherries and add the gin once it was hot.
Kaki and I would stay up late many nights that winter talking about the way we felt about the whole thing. I was pretty convinced that this was the life for me. She told me she felt the same at times. I did not know how to take that, but when I looked at the fire and felt her under my arm I always seemed to be able to let it go. Whatever would come of it all would certainly happen and when it did I would see where it took us.
The dead of winter turned out to be an awfully good month. It was cold and frosty and you could not go out without boots, but it was exactly the life I was looking for. I remember once after we had finished we were sitting up in bed with the light on and Kaki’s cheeks were red and I laughed at it, and she started laughing herself. We were both into the feel of the covers on the cold nights. She would sit up with her back on the headboard and talk with me but it was never long before she wanted to slide back down into the covers. I liked to sit up and see her blonde hair against the darkness of the wood and see how comfortable she was with her clothes off, but I would join her under the covers whenever she was ready.
When spring came it took a few days for us to transition. The cuddling we had enjoyed so much during the colder months had suddenly turned sweaty, and Kaki will even tell you herself that it was a very sad couple of weeks as far as it went in the bedroom. But slowly we came out of it as the breezes picked up and before long we were back on the patio. We did not yet need the fan in the bedroom because of those great breezes that came through the windows and off the water at night.
A few weeks into the spring when it started to become hot we went down to pick up a load of cherries, and I asked Kaki if she would take a walk with me into the orchard. Kaki was always up for things like that. I had seen the clouds coming in and I will admit that I had a far off romantic plan of showing her shade in a wide-open field, walking under a cloud as it moved across the open sky. You can picture it in your head and it is very romantic and very special and Kaki was very pleased that I was willing to share it with her. It was a wonderful way to remind me of all that we had.
Not many nights after at dinner I started telling Kaki about how pleased I was about the past year, about the wonderful things I had grown to think of her and about how much I enjoyed walking with her under the cloud. I told her I didn’t think many people had done that. She was also happy about it. I kissed her that night and we made love under the fan that spun rapidly in the early summer’s heat. I told her I was very excited about doing it all over again in the coming year.
But the next day she told me that she wanted to talk about it and that she wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do. I asked her if she had grown tired of the cherries, but she just went on eating her breakfast, twirling the thick oatmeal around with the spoon. I asked her if she would prefer I go buy some beer, or if there was any other way that I could mix things up for her. She said nothing, and I got up from the table and went outside to water the plants.
Later she came out with a face full of tears. “What’s wrong?”
“I have to go.”
I had feared this from the very beginning and I needed to know, “What do you miss about it?”
“The whole damn thing. Every last bit of it. Everything.”
“I thought this could be everything.”
“Me too,” Kaki said, “I’m sorry, I thought I could.”
And that day Kaki packed up everything she had and put it into the back of the car. Originally she had been concerned about all the logistics and I told her she could take the car if she promised to drop it off in a few weeks, because I was going to stay. She said that she would and that she was sorry about how it had all worked out, and that she had a wonderful year. I think her exact words were, “It was everything that I thought it would be. I had thought about it so many times and I am so happy to say that I’ve done it.” It was something like that. Later that day I watched her pull out of the driveway down the county road and I saw the dust come up behind the car as she drove away with a slow, sad, solemn wave out the driver’s window.
That all occurred in the first year I moved from Chicago to Wisconsin.