The Heart Of It All


We sleep in the smaller bedroom on the second floor, the one just at the end of the staircase. The windows in the room face toward the east, and in the morning, unless the blinds are fully closed, the sun wakes us up. Almost always, but especially on cool springs mornings, one of us is usually cuddled up on top of the other.

Cornbeef, our orange fluff of a cat, trots into the room, the bell on her collar jingling, her steps as loud as a small child’s. She taps us urgently on the face or shoulder, demanding to be fed. The alarm sounds, and we submit to our obligations.

On the weekdays, we work. Sunday mornings are better. I’ll put on the gray flannel Ace Hotel robe Sam bought me for Christmas, make a cup of drip coffee with beans from Zeke’s or Rise Up (both Maryland companies), turn on Barclay’s English Premier League, hopefully a Liverpool game, and read the print copy of the Sunday New York Times.

After coffee, and maybe a piece of French bread and strawberry preserves, Sam will toil in the backyard. When she bought the house, there were two rose bushes already planted in the garden. The previous owner, whose family bought the house 95 years before, said the roses dated back to the 1920s, so we kept them. One bush towers over the yard, and produces pink flowers with delicate petals. On the other grows hardy, double-stuffed burgundy blooms.

Instead of grass, she’s cultivated a field of thyme, and when you step on it the back yards smells like lemon. There’s are also peonies, and a large purple lavender bush that Sam started from just an herb planting. Succulents and marigolds peek over the edges of clay pots. Tomatoes come in the summer, followed by cucumber and pumpkin vines that crawl their way up trestles made from old Baltimore storm doors that Sam painted crimson.

At night, the white Christmas lights strung along the trestles and stuffed into the lavender twinkle alive, as do the small outdoor artisanal light bulbs that dangle from the pantry. In the summer, fireflies flicker on and off in accompaniment. A neighbor once told Sam that her mother, who was sick at the time, loved nothing more than to look out her window and watch the backyard come alive in the night.

The house is simple enough inside. Sam and her parents, with a little help from myself, stripped four generations of wallpaper away from the plaster, then painted the rooms in various greens and golds. The hardwood floors still sparkle, though kitchen and bathroom work remain.

In the spring and summer, we’ll open our large front window, let the breeze drift in through the screen, and watch a robin build her a nest under our porch roof. Later, in the evening, we’ll listen to our vinyl records, or watch the Os game on mute, or read books and sip on whiskey and ice.

The is the core. The heart of it all. The bedroom. The cat. Coffee in the morning, and roses in the backyard. The walls painted in greens and golds, and the breeze off the porch. And Samantha, who built this, and in her wisdom shared it with me.

Author: Geoff Shannon

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