From a young age, she worked with her father on weekends at a community garden halfway between his home and her mother’s. The relationship developed slowly, the way carrots do. The woman did well in school and married, expecting a happily ever after.
On her son’s fifth birthday, her father collapsed while frosting a superhero cake. The cake was perfect. The party was not. Winter set in, hardening the ground.
In the spring, her mother dragged her daughter to the old garden plot. “It’s yours now.” Sifting the soil, she and her children planted seeds for future remembering.
Theodore grew up in a family that was asset rich, but empathy poor. He dreamed of escape. Filling panniers with snacks and casual clothes, he biked inland, towards Fresno, meaning to sample cappuccino in every coffeehouse in every California town of fewer than 500 people.
Ted, his road name, was shocked that people in some places hadn’t tasted espresso. In one cafe, they percolated coffee on a stovetop using Folgers regular grind from the can. A dark brown, it smelled burnt. The waitress said, “Folks here like this brand.” It broke his heart. He married her. Then, she changed his life.
The law degree did him no good. The teaching position tied her down. Free spirits, Alice and Steven couldn’t bring themselves to follow a conventional path any longer. They had some savings. They sold the condo and bought a shack in the woods.
After Eden, the arguments about money started. He found a side gig writing briefs. She asked her father for a book advance. If it hadn’t been for that, they might have starved. Settled in and surprised at the ways their paths diverged, each found happiness elsewhere. Ten years on, at the station, they didn’t recognize one another.
He takes stock of himself, answering questions about love, work, and money from an online survey. He’d expected something to be off. He’d hoped it wasn’t him. No such luck. Noting the site is ad-free, he trusts the advice.
Find your strengths, your weaknesses. Stop coasting. Clean up, make food and share it. Dig deep if you want to find fulfillment.
He’s at a loss. He goes to the pound. Gets a dog. A sweet pit bull, one whose ears were never clipped. She sleeps under his desk at work. Tummy up, vulnerable, a support animal. Co-workers stop to pat her.
There’s less light in the morning, more days when you pile on sweaters, two maybe three in lieu of turning up the thermostat. A chill in the air. Literally and figuratively. Bread dough rises slower than in summer. Tempers flare. Violence on the border, in the embassies, in my kitchen where I shout, “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” at the suggestion that we must come together today.
Why today? Why not two years ago? For what? So Lucy can pull the football away again? All of us, Charlie Browns. Decent folk. Taken advantage of once too often. Now go vote.
The trees stay green for a short time after the apples come in. The orchard smells like fall and looks like Christmas. Orbs, ranging the rainbow almost to blue, taste like tart flowing saliva sparks in your mouth. Fruit hangs on gnarly boughs and sometimes ripens to the soft stage because the leaves hide it, the two elements conspiring to stay joined, maybe for dark purposes.
By November, it’s time to end things. Maybe they have an argument. The tree strips naked in the space of less than a month. Bruised yellow apples, good for applesauce, wait for Hanukkah harvest.
I hold my five year old’s hand and say, “Surprise me.” Eyes closed, remembering a stubbed toe, my bare feet inch forward expecting Matchbox cars left on the carpet.
Though I can’t see, I can feel the closeness of a hall. Maybe it leads to the playroom where the floor is littered with Legos, Brios, and baby dolls having tea next to stuffed bears. “You can open your eyes, Mama.” The space is neat, the blocks stacked in their chest, the animals lounging on shelves. Picnic’s black button nose glints white. Jaimie holds him tight and says, “We cleaned up.”