She was in a post-Labor Day funk.
September, the killjoy, had stepped on her summer and squashed it on the sidewalk.
She was back from the country to the city. Back from vacation to reality. The summer days that had been stretched out like a long taffy pull were being chopped up again into bite-sized pieces. They were wrapped, labeled and ready for delivery.
Again her time belonged to other people.
In August, she had vacated all the premises on which she normally lived -- the minutes, the hours, the weekdays and weekends. The rhythms of the day had been dictated by the weather and daylight alone.
Now September had reappeared with its old efficiency, thrusting lists into her hand. Soon her head would be full of appointments and schedules and agendas. Soon the days would be manufactured as artificially as minutes on the digital clock.
Usually she didn't mind. Usually she felt sharpened by September like an Eberhard No. 6 being readied for the first day of school. Usually she thought of new shoes and New Year's resolutions.
She was, after all, a person who lived by and within routines. She regarded structure the way her grandmother had regarded a corset: as a kind of moral armor, without which she would be appallingly flabby.
But today she felt cranky. She wanted an extension, as if summer were a final paper. She wanted to tell someone, some teacher, that she simply wasn't ready to begin again processing through the days.
For one thing, the woman, a mother, wasn't quite up to becoming a nag again. She felt, for once, put upon by the schools, which appointed her their home monitor. She ran through her own ghastly morning dialogues with the small person in her life: "It's time to get up . . . Breakfast is ready . . . Do you have your homework? . . . It's five minutes of eight . . . You're going to be late . . . (and finally screamed down the street) You forgot your lunch money." She felt like an alarm-clock attachment.
Now was she up to the list of household items that were waiting to be raked up this fall like leaves. The paint was peeling. The fence was falling down. The refrigerator was empty, and also on the brink of breakdown.
"Time has no divisions to mark its passing," wrote Thomas Mann. "There is never a thunderstorm to announce the beginning of a new month or year." But, she thought, there is September, home from vacation September, back to school September, shifting gears September.
The woman, a confirmed New Englander, had always approved of the seasons, assuming that everyone needed weather to push him through each year. What on earth did they do in the tropics?
But during this short, short summer, she had slipped into neutral, as if it were a hammock. She liked it there. So, she was avoiding the moment when once again time would be something to get through, and each week would be an accomplishment.
She knew, rationally, that an endless summer would leave her longing for demands, for urgency, for pace, like a discontented retiree. But she wished there were some way to schedule less scheduling in their lives.
Wasn't it possible that parents and kids both needed more days to daydream and kick stones and be companions? Wasn't it possible that in the midst of routines -- 7 o'clock breakfasts and Grade A nutritional dinners and half-hour piano practices -- we needed more time not to worry about the time?
Soon, she knew, she would accept the new orders as crisply as they were given. She had already ordered a new academic year calendar and some fresh-lined paper for her lists and schedules.
But for the moment, just this brief threshold moment, she was wallowing in crankiness. She didn't want to let go of summer. She didn't want to let go of letting go.