Sarah spent hours on the concrete patio that jutted from her seventh floor apartment, as a patio did from each apartment on all of the floors, making a stack like jagged Legos in grays and whites. Occasional blasts of color appeared as rugs were hung over the edge of of someone’s railing to dry in the sun. Over another railing, piles of sweaters accumulated as a cluster of people meeted-and-greeted on that patio, sharing tall drinks in narrow glasses. Sarah was prisoner to the dull confines and hard surfaces of these city retreats. They were uninspiring and cold. She found that she always threw a sweater over her shoulders, even in the summer heat. The stones were that cold to her, that bleak.
She didn’t entertain there, even when new visitors to her some seemed surprised and somewhat elated to see it: “Oh look, you have a patio!” It seemed a special blessing. A city indulgence, a sign of opulence and success. But Sarah kept her friends corralled in the sunny living room that boasted the framed watercolors she had collected in her summer in Providence. They were light and airy and smelled of the sea. The yellow throw over her white couch added a pleasing brightness to the room; it was there that she would serve tall glasses of iced tea with bright green sprigs of mint. She never fretted over watermarks on the table or the piles of coats left on her bed. She was comfortable with the ebb and flow of visitors about her apartment, picking up a piece of cheese with a toothpick at one place, inadvertently dropping a cracker to the floor somewhere else.
But she did stand guard before the framed glass door that opened onto the patio. She did deny access, if only subtly, by what might appear a natural and unintentional leaning against the door. The patio, with its stony edifice and stark demeanor, appeared to embody some shadow-side of her – somewhere inside her that was cold and judgmental, that swam far away from her feelings, so that she could not summon a name for them, a taste of them. She became afraid that this stony inferior might surface even in her sunny room, even among dear friends. She began to fear allowing herself to go onto the patio even to enjoy her morning coffee as she used to. She looked out on it through the glass panes, standing there with the white mug in her hand, the morning paper tucked under her arm. She took to surveying the patio from those windows, then to occasionally casting an oblique glance that way, then to turning her back on it altogether, trying to assure herself that there was no patio, that in fact hers was the only apartment in that line that had no patio.
Somehow, though, the draft from cold stones found its way under the door, or through the tiny cracks in the frames. She could smell the concrete, taste its dust, as though chiseled from its hard surface. The place of coldness within her was fueled by the movement of stone drafts around her. She had no one come to visit anymore. She found herself abrupt, almost rude in phone conversations, the frequency of which decreased. She moved from one room to the other wrapping about her the yellow throw, which seemed to have lost its brilliance, dulled to a matte tan. She could find no warmth. She grew increasingly angry and fearful. She attempted in vain to suppress this side of her which seemed, once it was tapped into, to grow uncontrollably, to now be her. The confusion left her dizzy and tearful. With no caring left within her for anyone or anyone, she found she detested even herself. Especially herself.
It was some weeks later that her doorbell rang. She waited for the sound of feet to depart and then opened the door just a bit. A note clung to a small plant. It was from a neighbor she hardly knew. “Hi – noticed your patio was kind of bare – thought you might like this for it. Beth.”
Sarah picked up the bright yellow tulip and carried it carefully to the glass door. She hesitated, then cautiously opened the door and placed the flower in the center of the patio, thinking she might sit there just for a minute.