Autumn

I zipped the cold into my boots this morning and it’s lingered there all day. Thoughts of duty wander through my mind, never settling on an action enough to pull me off the couch. I nestle into my down-filled sofa, wrapped in a big quilt. The fall is domesticating. The fire-colored leaves remind me I’m not quite as wild as I used to be. I go on a fall-food hunt, analog style, ruffling through my grandmother’s cookbooks to find the her pumpkin muffin recipe. I’m in my tiny apartment. My space heater is close, oscillating, leaving me alternating between seeping chill and scratchy hot.

I think of my big, old house and wonder if I miss it. Thousands of square feet to roam, decorate, to vacuum...to insure. No, I guess not. Insurance...car insurance. I have to pay that today. Must get a car part. I sigh before I open the quilt and shut off the heater, grab my cold metal keys and head to the auto store.

It’s a manufactured cold in there and it smells like rubber. I researched what I needed before I came and it takes me a few minutes to find it. I only hesitate for a moment with my fingers resting on the orange bottle of dashboard cleaner, reminding myself I’ll never use it, and I walk away. I pick up the fuel injector flush and I get in line to pay. There is a younger girl in front of me. She is on her phone, talking about her evening plans, but she’s mostly playing to her audience in the store. The rest of us are silent. She gesticulates and a quarter drops from her hand, clinking and whirling on the linoleum. Bending to pick it up, her mini skirt gives everyone a glimpse of red floss disappearing between her round cheeks. The backs of her legs are dimple-free.

“Next.”

She’s next, but she’s making a show of picking up her money. Like a stripper, she arches her back and presses her ass into the air, fingers lingering in a clumsy fashion, scraping up the edge of the quarter. Her audience holds our breath until she straightens and walks forward. She elongates her stride and forces her quads to tighten, flex, and shine beneath the lacquer of lotion she’s rubbed into her legs. Leaning on the counter, she holds her head prettily. She glances at her reflection in a hubcap, then looks at herself on the closed circuit, anti-theft camera. She is still on the phone when she asks the cashier to install the part she’s just purchased in her car. Her pouty mouth rolls out in a childish gesture, and as I watch in the reflection of the hubcap, I see with smug satisfaction that her red bottom lip has left a half-crescent of color on her chin. The rest of the line rolls our eyes. I judge her and then I am embarrassed that I judged her, and then I am nostalgic:

Two in the morning at Wal-Mart, tired college eyes—Tova and I are picking out the best mascara, spending stupid money. Peppermint Chapstick swiped under my eyes at 9:37am on a Tuesday in Dr. Boar’s atmospheric science class—hoping the burning sensation will keep me awake. Up all night in young, anxious love, not daring to break conversation, but having to pee so badly. Stuccoed, whispered conversations, splayed on the hood of my car by the lakeside, looking at light pollution, swimming in humidity, pretending we don’t feel the mosquitos. Rivers of sweat on foreheads, embarrassed in front of crushes. Singular mind: trying to choose money and dreams. First cat, first mouth to feed, first benefactor’s anxiety. Putting down the second cookie for the first time. First bottle of wine purchased at the drugstore next to the art store where I picked up a canvas and some paints and a jazz cd: first content night alone. That shaded summer when he quit me, blue tar-ish feelings, then sludging to rebuild after.

“Next,” the cashier says, snapping me back. He’d just returned from helping the young girl while the line shifted from foot to foot, picking up and smelling the Christmas tree air fresheners, some huffing and leaving the store.

I walk forward and put the fuel cleaner on the checkout desk and I swipe my card. Gotta pay this bill.

As I drive home I listen to the radio and I don’t touch the dial to try and find the perfect song; I take what the DJ serves me. I don’t roll the windows down because I’m on the phone with potential clients while I sit in traffic.

As a child, being nervous was being called on in class. As a teen, being nervous was taking a last breath as he leaned in for the first kiss. As an adult, it’s called anxiety and it’s hiding behind every flashing dashboard light, indicating something expensive is wrong in the car, and it’s in every girl in line reminding me that I am getting older. But I am happier now, putting down work on a cold fall day to make tea and scavenge my kitchen for pumpkin muffin recipes.

When I get home, I take off my comfort-over-style boots and turn on the space heater, stretching my toes in their non-matching woolen socks I’ve knitted for myself. I don’t mind aging, I decide. At least I’m not in a miniskirt on a cold day.