There were only seven of us: Mike, Pete, Robin and Andrew, Gary, Laura, and I. We could have been called dreamers, or we could have been called misfits. But we bought a parcel of land that a tax dodger lost in foreclosure and we thought it would be better than mainstream society. Not Utopia, not even a commune; just an alternative to our old lives, our lives out there.
We were a diverse group. Robin, the vegetarian chef, grew fruit and vegetables and made sure we all ate healthy. As though a cheeseburger would send former club owner Andrew reeling back into his drug habit. I would have wondered why he put up with her if I hadn’t seen her in various yoga positions. Of course, he had business acumen that I knew could help the group in some way. Mike and Pete had experience in the construction industry. Gary, my best friend since high school, was an artist, as was Laura. Me? I had given up on fitting into society, so I was determined to make a society that fit me.
I knew Gary had been crushing hard on a librarian, and I wanted to help get his mind off her. So I tossed a few ideas around in my mind, and finally settled on building a better autumn. You might think it’s a simple task, but it’s really a complex operation. Perhaps that is why people don't try this at home.
Each of us had a role, a niche to fill in the project. Andrew used his business savvy to get the best deals on supplies. Robin was in charge of the food and other household chores – a bit like Donna Reed with a pierced navel. I was in charge of planning. Gary and Laura took care of the design and the aesthetics. Mike and Pete oversaw the actual building, which we all participated in, as there were only seven of us.
I admit I was reluctant at first, due to her hippy politics, but as the weeks passed I became closer and closer to Laura. Eventually, we gave up the pretense and shared a bungalow. She was a vocal lover, and Gary let it be known that the walls were thin. But on the whole, life was good between us. I didn’t even mind when I caught her masturbating to a photo of Eugene Debs.
I won't bore you with the technical details, but building a better autumn requires an obscene amount of widgets, sprockets, doodads, and gizmos. We worked from dawn to dusk, five days a week, on the project. After a hard day's work, we couldn't wait to wash the dirt, sweat, and paint from our bodies. But we could see the progress we were making and that drove us onward.
Eventually, our perseverance paid off and we accomplished our task. There were hugs and high fives and such. A few of us posed for pictures, in victorious stances. Then we took the rest of the day off - it just so happened to be a Friday. After dinner that night, I gifted my co-workers Toblerone bars and delivered a short thank you speech, ending it thusly:
“I hope everybody gets plenty of rest this weekend. Monday, we start building a better winter.”
Gary was not enthused. “I didn’t sign up for this, man.”
“Sign up for what? Look at our autumn. We nailed it.”
“Why does winter have to be better? Why can’t you just accept things as they are?”
Later that night, I stood at the window of my bungalow, watching Gary load his Prius with his few belongings. I wanted to go out and stop him, but I knew it was too late. Laura seemed to read my mind.
“Let him go.”
Things weren't the same after that night. The remaining six of us tried to repeat our success with winter, but it was clear our hearts weren't in it. Mike and Pete returned to the "real world". Robin and Andrew went wherever it is married couples go. Even Laura left. In time, I too will have to leave. But I'm enjoying my little corner of the world while I can: alone with my thoughts, the setting sun painting the sky red, orange, and pink each evening. I think about what could have been. But I know this: we built a better autumn.