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Dark is the night

by Eric Ginsburg

In the clamor of summer, I await the witching hour. Thick humidity clears, allowing breathing room as ice cubes sway between whiskey and ginger ale. I bend at the waist and climb, one leg at a time, onto my roof and watch the rhythmic change of traffic lights. In the hot months, dusk signals the beginning of the second act.

The fireworks from the baseball stadium two streets over are spasmodic, like a child sitting down at a drum set for the first time. Sometimes the sound ripples, like a lo-fi recording of rain coating a rooftop.

It starts slowly, like a bag of popcorn, a few initial pops like warning shots. Conversation halts, differing to the louder medium, but grows impatient with the length of the sonata. Inevitably after exchange resumes, the fireworks crescendo like violently boiling water.

Eventually summer falters, staggering like a battered boxer before crashing to the mat, or sometimes it crumples silently to the ground.

Autumn steps effortlessly into the ring.

The temperature stabilizes. Days and nights distinguish themselves by light instead, the night no longer conjuring the same enchantment it held. The honeymoon period begins to fade.

On warmer fall nights, sounds from neighbor’s porches occasionally avail themselves like water dripping out of a colander. The conversation is usually inaudible, but the babble is enough to betray their music preferences. Flickering candles peer out from shielding branches.

The final hours of the day still retain some of their magnetism.

EVENTUALLY SUMMER FALTERS, STAGGERING LIKE A BATTERED BOXER BEFORE CRASHING TO THE MAT, OR SOMETIMES IT CRUMPLES SILENTLY TO THE GROUND. AUTUMN STEPS EFFORTLESSLY INTO THE RING.

Even after the thermostat plunges the first few times, the bats cutting low lines against the sky persist. Soon they’ll be gone, possibly seeking solace in the eaves of my attic. I lock the windows, and the roof is left to its own devices, discarded cigarette butts its only hope for company for a while.

Life remains, but the rabbits that used to greet me as my car crackled up the gravel driveway are nowhere to be found. A neighborhood cat hunkers down by a vent on the side of the house. People find excuses not to walk their dogs.

In the summer the possums seemed to linger longer. One clung to the top of a chain-link fence around a fallow lot around the corner, and I think we nicknamed him Tom Brokaw.

I like to think every time I see a possum a few yards from my girlfriend’s door, one neighborhood to the north, that it’s the same one. I named him Puffy. Some pretty embarrassing squeals emanate unwillingly when I see him.

When we crossed paths this week, we locked eyes as Puffy paused at the crook of a sapling before he scrambled upwards, as if to say it is too cold to dawdle. I ducked my head, instinctually protecting my chin and neck from the wind as I pulled my hood up and surged towards my car.

Leaves skydive to the ground, but their attempts to blanket the earth won’t stop it from hardening. The road through the cemetery a block away looks as if it is covered with a yellow carpet. Like a chameleon, the grass in my’ ‘  sprawling backyard morphs into a tan shade to mirror the impending seasonal shift.

The nights are quieter, longer, seeping into the day. The only constant noise is the gentle purr of the heater and people slipping by in their cars. Windows are up now, no longer divulging excitement from blaring radios. As salads give way to soups, pre-gaming pump-up jams fall away, leaving the blues in their place.

Yet winter is non-committal this year. The warmth keeps returning from its vacation — first it forgot its keys, then its phone charger and just when I grow used to its absence, I step outside and realize I can leave my coat at home as I meander to the neighborhood bar.

Despite fall’s every attempt to alleviate the distasteful, confining nature of its successor, glimpses of the haunting season burgeon and become more lucid. Those days foreshadow the inevitable, like when a firefly flickers before the sun sets. It’s coming, and I partially surrender to it.

It’s Saturday, three hours before midnight, and no matter how many times my phone buzzes with invitations, nothing will convince me to put my pants back on. I do not thrive when scarves and gloves are mandatory, so nightfall becomes curtain call. I double up on blankets and let BB King lull me into acceptance of the season.

Let me put my arms around you baby, so my nights won’t be dark no more.

The most cogent way to combat the depth of the barren night may be to wait it out. In the meantime, I’m searching for internal compan- ionship somewhere in the tranquility of these frigid hours before dawn. !

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