It’s raining, and I come out of sleep slowly, shaking off fragments of dream for the steady warmth of your body pressed against me and the pale light seeping through my eyelids. When I open my eyes the sky is the color of parchment , the rain rattling against the roof and whispering in long snaking whips against the window panes. Your arm lies draped over my hips, solid with the blood coursing through the slender blue veins; your skin is silky and dry, and you don’t stir when I stroke you with my fingertips. I stretch my legs out and the sweetness of it all, the comfort of the sheets wrapped around me, the secretive patter of the rain, your whole body soft and heavy with sleep curled round mine, the blue-grey light of a wet sun not yet risen, the knowledge that I can stay here as long as I like, envelops me like a down comforter, wrapping around me and tucking itself in comfortably at the edges of my consciousness. My eyes drift shut against the curve of your body and I lie for a long time on the edge of sleep, more perfectly comfortable than I can ever remember being. I’m growing impatient for you to wake up and share the dawn with me; I want you to hear the rain too, the way it murmurs to itself, sealing us off from the rest of the world. I feel that I’m in a nest somewhere on a mountainside in a storybook, where mice wear little hats and go sledding on beech leaves and drink elderberry wine out of acorn cups.
The rainy morning reminds me of my childhood, of being five years old and visiting my grandparents at Christmas in their house in England, a house with fields and woods behind it, where you couldn’t see cars or streets from the little winding lane, only the smoke rising from the chimneys and the horses blowing clouds of frosty breath in the cold air. In the mornings I would wake up before anyone else and look out the window and there would be snow muffling the quiet circle of houses, and I would bound silently out of bed into the kitchen, where my grandfather would be, eating his cereal in the misty light from the great glass windows. The kitchen was all warm brown wood and looked over an old-fashioned English garden with rosebushes and a long low lawn and pea plants and raspberry canes and an aviary full of lovebirds who twittered sleepily in the cold, and there was a little gate at the bottom of the garden – even the words are like a storybook – that led out into the little high-walled lane. My grandfather would pour me some cereal and I would eat it solemnly and he would take my hand and give me my red hat and take me walking in the snowy fields.
The fields were divided by long hawthorn and hazelnut hedges, and the horses would come and put their noses over the icy gates for a slice of apple, and the cardinals would fly down from the black branches and cock their scarlet heads at us, and sometimes we would see rabbits and once even a fox. The bare trees and the fields stretched as far as I could see, an untouched countryside with here and there a snowy roof with a trickle of smoke rising, and it was so timeless: it could have been 1914 for all the silence and the steaming flanks of the animals. We would go into the woods, not the ponderous, reverent forests we have back home but little, warm, merry woods, all full of oaks and beeches and holly and a little tinkling stream that ran through icy black banks and waterfalls spiky with icicles to a round pond like a picture postcard, just right for glowing, happy boys and girls to skate figure eights on. My grandfather told me that these were the real Hundred Acre Woods, where A. A. Milne came to write about Winnie the Pooh, and it turned out to be true, but mostly neither of us said much, just walked, my gloved hand clutched tight in his, and listened to the silent, muffled world, the tiny rustles and crackings the birds made in the bushes, the crunch of the frost under our feet. There was no one else about, and the world belonged entirely to us, a vast, secret world outside of time.
When we got back to the house, everyone else would be up and scrambling about, sliding down banisters and frying eggs and bacon; everything was noisy and alive and smelled wonderfully of breakfast, and the misty, snowy peace was shattered. But I didn’t really mind; it was good to come back to the warmth and the clatter of family with my cheeks pink, and they didn’t know about the secret world, anyway. It was still mine. I think about that now, looking at you, your lashes fluttering as you breathe. I want you awake but I don’t want to wake you; your sleep is part of my secret world, like the insinuating patter of the rain. I sit up and find that it’s chilly. My skin goes goosebumpy in the cold light but I get up anyway, careful to lay the covers back around you, and I go to the window naked and throw it open and lean my head out, breathing in the rich earthy smell of the rain on warm pavement. Nothing moves in the sodden dawn but the trees shaking off their loads of heavy drops. Across the garden I can see into someone’s kitchen. The light is on, a warm golden glow, and there is a woman moving about in her bathrobe making coffee. She’s part of the same secret world, just the two of alive in the silence, enjoying the rain and the gray-gold light, light the color of turtledoves. You sleep so deeply behind me, keeping the covers warm, and after a moment I pad back across the cool floorboards and crawl back into bed with you, snuggling myself against you as if you were a large sleepy pillow, and pull your arms around me like a blanket. Your fingers brush my breasts, wet from the rain, and you stir drowsily and nuzzle my neck, already asleep again.
He tells me his girlfriends are bitter, even now, if he ever shows the book to them. When I ask him why he doesn't seem to know.