Mud and Bloom

By Elisabeth Denison

In spring I always feel like the hyacinth girl.

It’s the most romanticized season. People talk about it like it’s summer. It’s not summer; it’s the grace period between winter and summer. Everything in nature is in flux, is fickle, is rough-edged and a little mean.

There are books I first read in springtime and I can never forget it, the way I never forget the movies I saw in theatres: when I read this first, it was spring. I think there are certain books that I’ll never be able to read in other seasons. Gatsby during my last English classes of high school — but under the table because it was not the assigned text. Atonement in that same class — not under the table, because mercifully it was. To the Lighthouse, and Field Work, and Much Ado About Nothing in eighth grade, interactively, al fresco.

A row of Edinburgh townhouses at sunset, before the music started.

The spring is a loud sound muffled. A party is happening, but in the other room. Outside, on the grass. Through a window, through a screen. You can hear it still; you only left for a moment.

People start saying the things they’ve meant all year. They start getting confessional.

If by renewal or birth or life or thriving is meant COMBUSTION, then yes, I would agree. If by these things is meant a habitual wildness of the mind — habitual like dogs shedding fur, dogs pawing at the back door to get outside and tear up the earth and run around and fall down — absolutely, that’s what I’m talking about. But I’m pretty sure this is not what people mean.

     ‘You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;

     ‘They called me the hyacinth girl.’

     –Yet when we came back, late, from the hyacinth


                  T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land

The things you understood in autumn, let sleep all winter, come ripping through the ground with the new shoots. The things you understood are so much worse for wear now.

Last week on High Street Kensington I inadvertently picked out hyacinths at a flower stall.

Spring is the season of unravelings. It undoes me. One night it was my friend’s birthday. I was in his garden with another of our friends, arguing. Half arguing. It was like a fighting commiseration. We had gone out there in high spirits (“to explore!”), but suddenly, as in a dream, the conversation pivoted from whimsy to discord. And when this happened I was almost not surprised. Almost.

I think I started it; I asked a question for which this was not the time. I had only wanted to peaceably and casually and concisely elucidate my feelings about the ongoing and unfortunately timed tides of dissonance among everyone we knew!

But spring, if you didn’t know, is no time for the peaceable or casual or concise. The ground is less thawed than you think; the ground is turned liquid with mud. The ground is never the same as the last time you took notice. Besides, we’d had a lot of gin and intermittent swigs from a very tall bottle someone brought back from Argentina. It was really a great party, but this — outside — is what stays with me.

I remember not being able to hold onto my thoughts long enough to deliver them, intact, to her. Forget the gin; it was the smell of dirt again, greens emerging, nature not asking permission. It was an affront, and it was distracting.

I remember remembering other, earlier twenty-fifths of April, when no one was arguing.

I remember mostly we were silent. That we spoke in turns, only as and when one of us had landed on how to articulate some clause of our personal take on the tides. My friend saw us all in our own little logistical minefields: the future is vast and the subsequent steps, the steps out of this season and into the next, need all our attention right now; we each must do what we must, we’ll play later, everything is fine. I saw us all wasting time, having fights now that we should have had years ago, when there were days enough for fighting, days on days for settling again.

Our voices would climb and scale, we would interject and INTERJECT, until we were almost shouting at one another, saying variations on a theme, a same common theme, and then we’d trail off having conveyed…nothing really at all. Fatigued and deflated and bewildered anew. Then moments. Then one of us would start in again.

I remember that as we walked back inside, semi-reconciled, she turned back to me on the staircase and said, “Please don’t be mad.” And I: “I’m not MAD! I’m so sad this is–”

The thing is, I even miss that night. It stuck to my bones for its intangibility, of all things. The classically, maddeningly ethereal. Spring as it is, not how it promises to be.

The hyacinths you were given? It was a year ago. They cannot be given again.

Nothing is repeatable, so why do the other seasons permit me to think otherwise? That the snow in December around the house I grew up in might be the same snow that was there in 1997. It really might! Might as well be. But spring feels irretrievable. It feels familiar in a translucent way, this season. This season of acutest memories and gauziest haze. I see the light on those buildings but I cannot get back to that night. I can’t even pretend.

You gave me hyacinths first a year ago. It keeps me up at night.

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