III

Playgrounds change in November. No longer are they filled with September's idyllic sun, all the sandcastles turned to moats and the checkered picnic blankets rolled up in linen closets. October is decades gone, the candy wrappers buried under a mountain of Thanksgiving debris. December seems forever away and the sparkle-lights are just starting to sprout from store fronts. In this age of waiting for the start of carols and the end of scarves, playgrounds become the refuge of illicit lovers, shady people, shadows.

"You said there was a secret."

We're nestled on a merry-go-round next to an old swing set. There's a vase beside us, William grabbed it before we left the gallery. It's the one with me dancing in the garden. He kisses my nose and the paintbrush he has stuck behind his ear tickles my cheek. "I did, didn't I?"

"Why are the colors so vivid? That's why everyone loves them you know, your colors. Your model leaves much to be desired." I pick up the vase and watch the images swim in their bed of cream.

He shrugged. "Fog."

I blinked. "Fog?"

"Well, and mist. I paint with a palette of clouds. I collect them when they begin to gather in September and when I run out by May, I go to India and fire my work in ovens filled with sun flares."

"That's impossible."

"Stay here." He jumped to the ground and grabbed a handlebar and started to spin the merry-go-round. I stuck the vase under an arm and wove my fingers onto the metal as the speed picked up and my hair streamed around me. William jumped on. "Dance with me!"

"What?" I laughed, heart pounding as he pulled me up and we began to dance a drunken waltz on the wheeling world. He dipped me, my back arching over his open hand. The sky was cloudless and the stars all looked like they were falling, spiraling, I wondered if I should wish on all of them.

Suddenly, there was the sound of porcelain splitting open, chards hitting metal and making more chards, a whole becoming a fraction. The vase had slid out from under my arm. I looked at William in horror, but he just smiled and indicated that I should look again at the ruins.

The vase was melting! Like icing over a cake it dribbled, lost some of its substance, mixed with the air and mud. And then there was only mist and mud and then there was nothing and the merry-go-round stopped its crazy pace and William held me because I was too dizzy to stand.

The fact is that I will never really believe him about the vases. Oh, it's true that I have seen him many afternoons, as he sits in our kitchen, dipping his brush into a broth of storm clouds, stratus, sinuous cumulus. Those are nice names for colors, descriptive. It's true that occasionally Jason knocks the vases from their perches when we forget and set them on the TV or on one of his other favorite haunts. When this happens, there is never anything to clean up, which is good, I loathe cleaning. But I refuse to give up all my cynicism.

William left the second week of May. Jason and I have gone back to our old habits. He gets his scrambled eggs and I get my left overs. Sometimes, I buy a tabloid instead of the paper and give Dave a thrill. My bed is cold, but in the heat of June I don't need blankets to warm me anyway. He says he will come back when the fog rolls in and the season burnishes the leaves. This suits me fine. I don't understand people who fall in love during the summer. How can they manage it under all that harsh sun, short shadows, long afternoons? The summer is too clear cut for romance. It takes the magic of November to suspend realism awhile.

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