- False Sun
When we were little, our father helped draw plans for pathways up the side of one of the mountains that bordered our village, and then the other, so that those in good health could climb them in the winter to sun themselves, gather the warmth of that sun, and bring it back for the others, for themselves. He helped try to carve the paths, too, but after several years, he and the other men in the village halted the projects. They could not make any substantial progress, for in the winter, the nightly snowfall would undo their many hours of daily work, and in the spring, as the ice walls melted, the rush of the waterfalls was too heavy for us to navigate the steep paths. There were many landslides, near-death experiences. The torrential summer river that split our village in two was salty with their sweat, and later, when the men gave up on the projects for good, the tears of those in our village.
While we could see the sun perched above the snowy peaks during the few hours of winter daylight, it could not rise high enough over the two mountains between which our village was wedged for its rays to reach us. And so, we could not feel the sun on our faces for half of the year.
This fact never tormented me the way it did most people in our village, and my family in particular. I'd loved winter since I was old enough to decide what I loved. I loved the way the cold intruded on the body, how it did not beg or plead for welcome. I loved the way it followed both the moisture and the aridity, like an uninvited, obnoxious guest. I loved how it seeped through all the layers we piled on to brace against it; sunk beneath our skin, muscles, tissues; wrapped around our bones like armor we could not shake off. I loved the snow, how it coated everything, leveled everything, smoothed out the uneven terrain, stored what summer had abruptly left behind, put it off for a comfortable stretch of time. And I loved the dark. I loved that it did not ask us to face anything. So, I was the wrong person to try to understand my family's obsession with the light, the sun. [End Page 121]
Our mother had come from the desert. She knew the dangers of an over-generous sun and had passed them down to us not through her words but through the sagging flesh on her arms and calves, the deep wrinkles that framed her auburn eyes and small mouth. Still, it was the generosity of the sun she grew up under that eventually drove her from this place and pulled her back into the cooked heart of the desert. All my adult life, I consoled myself with the thought that she left my sister and me behind because we were children born and bred of winter, of snow, of frost, come to maturity below a weak, winter sun but never in it. Still, I wasn't certain that some part of her had not known, woman of the desert that she was, that she could only live in darkness and in winter for so long, and that bringing her children into this darkness and into this winter would inevitably mean leaving them there, once the desert called her back for good.
We had long forgotten about the days the men had foolishly tried to carve paths up the mountains by the time my sister worked her way up one with our father's ice axes and mounted three full-length mirrors to reflect the winter sun into the village. Where she got the idea, I did not know. We did not speak much before she left, though we never spoke much in the winter. Once, not long before she took all the mirrors off our walls, we crossed paths in the dark cavern of our kitchen one night after I came home from the pharmacy.
I'd taken off my coat and boots in the foyer, but the cold still clung...