Hilary Thayer Hamann is the author of the novel Anthropology of an American Girl, available now in paperback.
My summer house has floors of iridescent green and ceilings of moveable blue.
There are papered walls—willowy panels of lavender and lilacs, and curtains of roses, imperfect and heavily hanging. There are tapestries of wisteria with threads that wend their way through decaying trellis. Feelers probing, twisting, vining, making their escape, strangling to survive.
I have carpets of sand, swells of sand, rolling, diving—when you go low, you see the surface, how it makes architecture, a city of rooftops.
In my house the lights are stars.
My living room shifts shape. It is a park, a lawn, a porch, a garden. A dune, a deck, a boat. No—a rooftop with tar that melts beneath my feet. A fire escape abandoned by the midday sun. Now an air conditioned café. Now a European train station, A mosque, a church, a synagogue, a shrine—a shrine.
In inclement weather, my roof is a tent, a shop awning, a boardwalk overhang, a screened porch, an antique carousel, a potting shed built of boards that meet only in part, finished with paint that does not fully cover. Through the gaps I watch the world. Little me, little you.
My furniture is the best that money can provide. There is a hammock, a folding chair, a wrinkled blanket, a damp towel, a rolled sweatshirt, a front stoop, a picnic bench. Yesterday’s newspaper. The bleachers at a softball field, the warm hood of a car, the shelter of his arms. The stereo plays just one song, again and again—Ella Fitzgerald singing “Do Nothin’ Til You Hear From Me.”
I live near water. I swim in a pool, paddle on the bay, surf in the ocean. I walk the banks of a rushing river. I sail on a lake of glass. I ride ferries; I like ferries. Standing beneath waterfalls, I pretend the sky is falling—the entire galaxy crashing down. When I want to be wet, the water is there. I am grateful. The sea spreading out before me—taunting, teasing, grinding, unfolding. Giving and taking. They say that seals are the souls of dead sailors. I like that they say that. It needs to be said. After all, we are not merely human; we are humane.
I live far from water. In the desert, beneath the rain shadow, within a mountain cave, tucked inside a windowless railroad apartment of a tenement building. I stare into fountains, count the cubes in my drink. I contemplate fish as they tour their tanks. I knock on the aquarium glass, whisper through the bubbles on top. I establish eye contact, reminding them of how fortunate they are to be wet, and also, to come in colors, for fish are truly miracles. I long for rain. I clench my fists and shout to the heavens. I make pleas and promises, then dance when my prayers are answered. I walk through neighborhoods—your neighborhood—and listen like a Ninja for the tick-thuck tick-thuck of a garden sprinkler. I dart past the spray remembering what it once was to dart past the spray. I am amazed to find that what it once was is what it always will be. Here, I am sustained by memories of all the waters I have ever known. Here, there is always the possibility of a shower. No lights, no towels, a whole new naked. Stepping into my own private ice, I become more wet than ever before. Reanimated, rebaptized. Relief is so much sweeter when we need it that much.
In summer, my days are long and unsupervised. If there is work: I avoid it. If there is fun, it comes in unfortunate clusters of twos and threes. Rather than try to be everywhere at once, I remain no place at all times. In such freedom I am attended by my sole companion—my soul companion—my lover, my friend, my partner in crime—my book. If in winter there is a book to escape to, in summer there is one to escape with. If it feels safe in a blizzard to remain reading in a window seat, snug in a quilted bed, curled on a cushion near a hearth, in a heat wave, there is safety in the elements, comfort in the unknown. You will find me there, in the light, in the air. Book in hand, mind wide open. Ready for change, awaiting epiphanies. I travel—we travel—me and my book. Edinburgh, Toronto, Sydney, Sao Paolo, Hong Kong, Hamburg, Vienna, Paris, New Orleans. I am a Mexican, a Turk, a Czech, Swede. I am a queen, a peasant, a physician, a student, a hustler, a vandal, a thief. An heiress, an orphan. A philosopher, a fool. I live high, I live low. I pace castle walls, assessing my dominion. I slither through grass, lying in wait. I am loose, I am chaste. Animal, intellectual, everything rising up—all the snakes set free. I am a child. Every child. I am so ancient that I am new, and it hurts sometimes to see.
In the summer, the world is my home, my home the world. Come visit me, and bring something to read. God be praised, books are portable, little kingdoms in hand.
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