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The Fall Wall
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Yes, it has been too long, and speaking of time that's what I wrote about in the latest Orphan Scrivener newsletter.

Mary also wrote about time, in a sense, in her essay about our cat's 21st birthday.

Here's my essay. Click on the newsletter link to read Mary's, along with our usual B.S.P. (Blatant Self Promotion) Oh wait...we didn't have any BSP this issue. Sorry!

The Fall Wall

Mary and I have begun writing our ninth Byzantine mystery. We're a hundred pages in, but the book doesn't yet have a name. The story revolves around the death of Empress Theodora in late June, 548 AD.

It surely was hot in mid-summer in Constantinople. So while John carries out his investigation in sweltering streets and forums and the stifling corridors of the Great Palace the temperatures here continue to fall. By the time we finish snow will likely be piled up outside our office window while the cobblestones in the alley running behind the Baths of Zeuxippos will be almost too hot for the city's stray dogs to lie upon.

We have not been ordered by the emperor to solve a seemingly impossible crime. Nothing that dramatic goes on in our household. We are stocking the shelves for the coming winter, for the weeks when we will be snowed in.

Winter appears to be advancing more rapidly in town than it is in our back yard. The trees surrounding the clearing in which our house sits drop their leaves late. We're still in an oasis of green but when I drive to the grocery store, as soon as I reach the highway, I am propelled weeks forward in time, into the later autumn where trees have turned brilliant reds and yellows or already display their bare branches to a sky that looks more distant to me than the skies of summer.

In the stores the calendar has been turned even further forward as evidenced by shelves decorated not only with Halloween bats and pumpkins but with the jolly Santas and snowmen of Christmas.

I drive all the way from September to Christmas to pick up some tins of sliced beets and carrots.

My grandmother canned for the winter. This time of year she would still be laboring over the coal stove in a steamy kitchen, the table covered with jars. Every wall of the basement was lined with shelves and every shelf would be filled with canned beets, corn, rhubarb, jelly, jam. She made a dozen sorts of pickle relish. There were big clay tubs in the basement where gherkins brewed. Squash, potatoes, rutabagas, and turnips were spread out on newspapers.

I trundle my bags of tins out to the car. I guess I'm not as ambitious as my grandparents. My grandfather dug out a cellar by hand before I was born. It is family history, not anything I witnessed.

Once the groceries are put away, I look over what we have written so far about the summer of 548. A fictional summer, although based on what historians know about the real weather.

Like Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Christian in Slaughterhouse Five, we are all unstuck in time. Within a couple hours I move from the 6th century to this coming Christmas. We are equally adrift in the real, the imagined, the recalled, and the misremembered.

Our physical selves are carried forward inexorably by time, like the brown leaves skidding across the roof outside our office window. But our minds occupy their own worlds, which become more layered and complicated the older we get. So often the present is overlaid by a ghostly image from the past, or a fictional image from a book.

Perhaps fiction has such a hold on us because our minds are not tightly bound to the here and the now and what really is. The stories we read, while we are reading them, can easily hold their own, and appear just as real as all those jumbled memories and imaginings we live amidst.

The sun has gone in now. The space heater is whirring, but the office still feels cold. The last page I wrote the sun was beating down on the dome of the Great Church in Constantinople and waves of heat were rising from the pavement so that the great square before the church looked as if it was underwater. I think I need to put on a sweater before getting back to that scene.

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