Ma hangs the wash on the long clothesline in the backyard of our butter-yellow house. The sea rolls in the distance. I watch from my window.
When the heat of high summer is a skin and the sea breathes from its deep belly, in the midst of that season heavy with close dreams, she crosses the warm grass, barefoot, laundry basket lopping against her hip. She sets it down and stretches to see the dull blue of the water, the languid gulls. From the basket she pulls curtains of rain and lays them, smooth and silvered, over the line. Her hands are dark against their shimmer. A wind builds, sweeps, drops across the yard, bending tired petals, washing dull leaves, pittering against my window as I draw it closed.
At summer’s end, Ma reaches into her great deep basket and pulls out a sheet of heavy fog. She snaps it straight and pins it to the clothesline. It blocks the sea, the trees, muzzles the sound. The air sweats diamonds that cling to the green of the grass at the cliff’s edge, the spider’s web in my window.
One brittle morning she picks a heavy shawl of snow from the basket; white, edges as sharp as ice. Watching her pin it to the line, my breath frosts my window. Outside all turns grey and white; air as cold as steel, sea as cold as iron.
When the winter starts to ease, I watch Ma, wearing her red rubber boots, carrying a crisp new laundry basket, round and deep. She sets it down on the softening snow by the clothesline. She cracks her wintry back and smiles at the sea, up at the bluing sky. Digging into her basket, she pulls out a jacket of fresh grass, embroidered with tulips, lilacs, daffodils; its buttons: spring buds. She takes two wooden clothespins from her pocket and clips the jacket to the line. She walks to the shore, her path traced by the yellow, pink, the purple of flowers of make-you-weep beauty.
When the sky is high blue, I open the window and the dust winks in the sunlight. The air breathes against my cheek.
One morning I hear the creak of the screen door opening below and I watch Ma carry the laundry basket snug against her belly. She is wearing a white dress with fuchsia buttons and a whirl of butterflies across its back. I see the sun catch the down on her arms. Her hair curls against her pinking cheek.
She sets the basket down and reaches into it to pull out a blanket of frost-edged air, clear and knife-sharp. Carefully, she lays it over the clothesline and steps back, warming her hands under her arms. The wind rocks stray leaves to the ground where, unseeing, she crunches them underfoot.
The breeze turns chill. Ma catches her breath, picks up the basket and hurries indoors.
Below me, the door closes tight.
I draw my window down, noticing
jeweled leaves on the trees
deep blue of the sea
sharpening of the sky.
The early fall of night.