If Jaya had been paying closer attention, the tea wouldn’t…
My daughter is working, early, in the yard. I hear her footsteps from my bedroom, my windows overlooking the teardrop of grass and the ring of hostas and ferns, the Japanese Maple on the very edge of my property. It’s been this way all summer. She’s left her job, moved home to be a gardener. My gardener. Soon, her shoveling will start and I will not be able to sleep again. The cleaving: it’s too much, too rhythmic. Thwack, thwack, thwack. I get up.
Peering out the window, I can see only the back of her: a grey T-shirt sweated through already in the shape of a racer back sports bra, the chicken breast curve of her shoulder blades, the slightly tilted bend of her spine—she has always favored her right for some reason. The nape of her neck is shaved clean; her hair is short. Her legs, bent now as she kneels in fragrant mulch bedding, are muscled and tanned. She wears hiking boots every day. There is a baseball cap resting backwards on her head and I can just make out the knitted design of her old hockey team logo. Underneath: her loose curls—which she gets from me—and underneath those curls she is a mystery.
My daughter quit her job. A good job in the city that paid her well, awarded benefits. My husband and I never thought she’d have insurance past the age of twenty-six—she studied writing in college—and then a newspaper of all places gave her a salary, health insurance, paid vacation. All of that gone now with the simplest of explanations: I just couldn’t do it anymore. She showed up two months ago with a duffle bag, a brown, open-faced box, her old Saab parked askew in my driveway. I didn’t say a word, just opened up the door, let her in, and helped her unpack her things into the spare room.
In the yard, the grass is soft beneath my feet and sinks a little. July has gone muggy with humidity; I understand why she starts her work so early. I just don’t understand the work itself. Years of writing late into the night, reading tirelessly through summer vacations, studying the classics, going to some small liberal college up north—my daughter wants to be a landscaper. I suppose there are worse things in the world than a lesbian landscaper.
“Morning,” I call, as my daughter’s shovel jabs the mulch. She leaves it there, the handle sticking up.
“Oh,” she says, turning. “Hey.”
Her work continues.
“What’s it today? Morning glories? Geraniums? Little spruce trees?”
My daughter sighs and leaves her shovel in the ground again. “What do you want, Mom?”
“Nothing, nothing,” I say, sounding light, I hope. “Just saying hello.”
I stand behind her, admiring the Japanese Maple. Its bark is shiny in a way that makes me want to slide my fingertips all over it. Its branches are delicate; it is young, new, planted by my daughter just this summer. She says it won’t get too much bigger. Still, it will give enough shade to the yard. I hear her grunt a little in the mulch bed; she works herself too hard.
“You need a drink or anything?”
“I’m fine,” she says.
“I have iced tea in the fridge, unsweetened. And there’s soda in the garage.”
“I know,” she says. “I’m fine, thanks.”
Her arms keep working. She is making a neat row of identical divots, aesthetically pleasing.
“I can make some coffee,” I say.
A forceful sigh, and she plants her shovel yet again in the mulch. “You want me to have a coffee with you?”
“Oh, no,” I say. “I was just saying. I can brew a pot. If you’ll have some, too.”
The length of her forearm runs across her forehead, nudging her baseball cap so I can see the light red spots left by the adjustable clasp. She really shouldn’t wear it like that.
“There’s always the Keurig, too,” I say. “If you don’t want any, I’ll just make a single in the Keurig. It’s really no issue.”
More digging. I notice now a small plastic skid of potted flowers sits beside her, just by her bended knee. Purple, gold, orange. They’re beautiful. My daughter wipes her face again, this time with her shirt pulled up and over her face. She rests back on her legs, breathing deeply.
“No, no,” she says. “I’ll have a coffee.”
In the kitchen, my daughter plates the meal with care. Two slices of golden brown toast with too much butter (the way I like it). A rugged terrain of scrambled eggs like a yellow mountain range. Two links of breakfast sausage—each. My daughter, so meticulous since birth. There is a smudge of dirt left on her cheek, her cheek pink from sun and work. I resist the urge to wipe it with a moist towel. In the cool of the central air, she wears an old hoodie from her high school field hockey team and there are holes in it. I have, too many times, offered to darn them. She has, each time, refused. Mothering, I have learned, is an exercise in restraint.
“Thank you for the breakfast,” I say and smile at her. I try not to show just how pleased I am. “It’s nice to have you home.”
Her smile falters and wanes. “Well,” she says. “It’s not forever, but—it is nice. Thanks, Mom.”
I smile, again. “What should we do?” I ask.
“We should eat,” she says simply.
And so, we do. We eat together on the porch. The dog settles in between us on the floor, panting. The dog, a rescue chestnut hound, loves to be outside. His name—enigmatically—is Cartridge, as in ink. We call him Cart. My daughter loves him without borders. She pets his head, caressing his slim face.
“Are you a good boy?” she asks. “Are you a handsome pup?”
I pile eggs on toast and take a bite: buttery, silky, nourishing. I watch my daughter and the dog. She sneaks him bits of people food, I know. I know she does this, even though I tell her not to. I tell her: you will make him into a bad dog. But my daughter’s love transcends—she will feed him bits of people food, she will pet his grumbling belly, she will kiss his velvet snout.
Privately, I want this kind of love from her. Her hands in my hair, her devotion. I want her to sneak me private things, small pieces of her meals. I want her to look at me and say, “Aren’t you beautiful? Haven’t you been good today? Aren’t you a good little mother?” I want—I don’t know what I want.
“Hey,” she says.
I look up, startled. “Huh?”
The look on her face is one of pain, concern. It is alarming.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” I ask.
“You’re crying,” she says, nodding in my direction, gesturing at me.
I brush a hand across my cheek and my fingers come away wet.
“Oh,” I say. “Oh, how silly.”
I wipe my face with the napkin in my lap. I smile, shrug, as if to suggest the tears are not my own, that I did not play a part in making them. Crazy, right? Where did these come from? I settle deeper in my wicker porch chair. Smile, always smile. There is a nice breeze now, though the air is getting hotter, heavy as a wetted blanket. I return to my plate. My daughter eats, slowly, in silence. At least, I think, she is feeding me, too.
At night, my daughter insists on sleeping in the upstairs guest room. She needs, she says, to be alone when she sleeps. I wonder at this—is it true? Is she hiding something? Is it me? In bed, I lay awake with Cart. He is thin and chilly in the cool, night air. I wrap my arms around him, but he does not feel satisfying. He is too thin, his ribs showing on the long, curved flat of his side. Still, I consider, in a way he is perfect—he’s my dog.
Cart and I found each other in tragic circumstance. My husband had been dead two weeks (car accident, drunk driver). I was not sleeping well. I was eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches to calm my stomach, not yet for hunger. One morning, the milk in our refrigerator had gone sour and clumped, so sludge-d and forgotten it brought fresh tears to my eyes. I am now a woman, I thought, who allows her milk to rot. I steeled myself. My daughter was not home with me. Alone, I got in the car. I drove.
On the way to the store I found an inlet for distraught vehicles and pulled over. I looked out. We lived and still live in a county so sparse and fielded it appears, at first glance, abandoned. Were it not for dots along the horizon—a far-off tractor tilling in the field, a silo filled with wheat, the single light gone on at dusk in a distant farmhouse—one might imagine this place a rolling expanse of emptiness.
I looked out the window and saw nothing but the cropped stalks of corn, their color waning from true green to an unattractive greyish brown. Slowly, my eyes dried. I felt the size and weight of myself at the sight of it all. These fields. Their width and breadth enveloped me; the color, washed of vibrancy, soothed my shaking hands; I became calm. In the distance, I saw a man and a dog trotting through the field. The man wore a rigidly brimmed straw hat, a solid purple button down, simple black pants—Amish. The dog, I could tell, was young. They were not working. They were out and enjoying each other’s company. It was, the two of them, the only living thing that marked the land.
I did not buy milk but kept on driving. Cartridge was the only dog left at the animal shelter. He came home with a leash and a thin winter dog jacket. Love is so easy to give to something that will surely love you back. That first night we played fetch all through the house with a pair of my husband’s old socks. I don’t think he would have minded.
I wrap my arms tighter around Cart’s body. He fidgets only once, then gives into my embrace. I picture my husband. Tall, rounded in the middle, like a baby whale made vertical, given legs to walk on. His hazel eyes and the soft red of his cheeks after a glass of wine with dinner. His hands large and decisive—tugging at my sleeve to get my attention, like a boy in the supermarket with his mother. His feet spread outward, flat and smooth—he had slipped so many times on our new hardwood floors. His shorts: cargo. His T-shirts: pocketed, Costco brand. His lips—they are my daughter’s lips. I hug Cart tighter. He is asleep already. We are, I remind myself, two living things that mark this space. Together, in my king-sized marriage bed, we sleep.
It is not the shovel but the mower that wakes me in the morning. It is so early my head hurts, protesting consciousness. Cart is curled under the covers; he will not budge. Reluctantly, I swing my legs over the edge of the bed. I stretch, arms up over my head. I yawn, eyes watering, spit sprayed. My feet just graze the floor and it is cold. Outside, I can see the sky is candy blue and wisps of cloud drift in and out of view. The edges of neighbors’ trees border my window. Leaning forward, I see her: my daughter, expertly operating the old hand mower she revived on her return.
I grumble down the stairs. I put the coffee on to brew. I check the dishwasher—I forgot to run it the night before. I purse my lips, roll my neck—remember to breathe. I breathe. I turn it on and go out on the porch where I can watch my daughter, her arms like chicken wings pushing the mower back and forth all through the yard. When she was little, my husband killed a cluster of baby rabbits this way. She had cried for weeks after. He had cried too, privately, only to me. He was soft, like a tender peach ripe for picking. But to our daughter, he showed only his solid, sturdy pit; he never wanted to bother her, to upset her with his sadness, his grief, his guilty feelings. And over time, I noticed she took to this, too, not allowing him to see her cry, only ever showing him a happy face, a playful nudge against his body. A couple of beers cracked open on the porch. Pistachios shelled for each other and popped, salty and dry into the mouth. They laughed a lot.
“Hey,” I call out, waving my arm to get her attention. She is wearing his old ear muffs. “Hey!”
Her face flickers. She looks around, then sees me standing there. A single finger raised: hold on a second. I sit down on the porch steps and stretch my legs out so my feet rest in the freshly cut lawn. The sun feels good so early in the morning. I let it soak my skin. I close my eyes. I am almost asleep again by the time I hear the mower sputter to a stop. I open my eyes to see my daughter—sweaty arms bared by rolled-up T-shirt sleeves, the flush of her cheeks (so like his cheeks), the bouncing gait of her stride. She takes the ear muffs off and lets them hang from the back of her neck.
“What’s up?” she asks.
“It’s seven o’clock in the morning,” I say. “Did you have to mow the lawn?”
“It needed it,” is all she says, shrugging a little.
I look up at her. She doesn’t quite meet my gaze. Two years on and there is still something dull in her expression. She is half dead or half stranger. She is not the lively self of yore—food fights in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies; heated arguments over the dinner table; the fire in her belly just after finishing a good book. You have to read this; now, now, now. She used to shove our hands full of battered paperbacks.
I slap my hands down on my legs and push myself up standing. “Okay,” I say. “Sorry, okay. Do you want breakfast?”
She looks at me, but this time I deny all eye contact. “Sure,” she says and drops her work gloves to the grass, wipes sweaty hands down the front of her shorts.
We go inside. I open up the fridge. I will make her breakfast today. My daughter will eat my food in my house. She will be the daughter. I will be the mother.
“What’s the plan today?” I ask.
My daughter sits at the counter and swivels on a bar stool, still panting from the work and the heat. “Not much, actually,” she says.
This is a turn. I extract the eggs from the fridge and start cracking them into a bowl. Usually, my daughter has a list a mile long of what she’ll do, excuses, I’m sure, should I ask her to do something with me. We live again in the same house, but there is distance. It is very hard to lose a parent young in life. I read that sometimes, children will turn sour, subconsciously blame the living parent for being alive.
“What are you up to?” my daughter asks, sipping orange juice.
Where did she get orange juice?
“Oh, nothing,” I say. “Just, hanging around. I’ll walk the dog later if it isn’t too hot on the paws.”
My daughter chokes on her juice, then, cup removed from her mouth, I see she is actually laughing.
“What?” I ask, hesitant, unsure if I’m allowed to laugh, too.
“I don’t know,” she says, coughing, smiling. “‘Hot on the paws.’ Made me laugh.”
“Well, I don’t know why. The pavement can burn the shit out dogs. You have to be careful.”
“I know,” she says, smile waning. “It just sounded funny, okay?”
She has that look about her, the one resembling exhaustion—is she exhausted with me?
“It is kind of funny,” I say, a sore attempt to save something happy between us.
We don’t talk about my husband anymore. We don’t talk about anything.
“I’m gonna go shower,” she says. “I’ll be down for breakfast, okay?”
She pecks me on the cheek, strides down the hallway; I hear her bounding up the stairs. And just like that she leaves me feeling like a failure, as if something I caught has been taken from me, as if an award has been stripped from my neck. Empty. I feel empty.
I whisk the eggs. They spit hot oil in the pan.
At the dog park, my daughter is chatting with the owner of a Boston Terrier, a man in his mid-thirties. I wonder if she is flirting. She wears loose-fitting cut-off canvas pants, hiking boots, the damn field hockey hoodie. On her head: the baseball cap. She looks like a lesbian. To me, she looks like herself, but when I push myself outside of motherhood, she looks so obviously like a lesbian it seems the look must be very carefully constructed and impossible to miss. It’s a little embarrassing.
But the owner of the Boston Terrier—bearded, broad-shouldered, taller-than-her—seems so intrigued their interaction cannot possibly be platonic, can it? I keep an eye on them. Could she, after all these years, be interested in a man? And what would that mean for us? I correct myself—for me. What would I do with a straight daughter? A vision of manicures and pedicures, a wedding in a church, a house with a yard and hedges, grandchildren. Grandchildren that look like us, like me. I turn to my side out of habit, but there is no one there. I clear my throat. It feels like I’ve missed a step down the stairs.
And just like that, Cart is nipping at a German Shepherd; they don’t know when to stop. I call my daughter over to help us tear the dogs apart. The owner of the Boston Terrier hovers close behind the mess, guarding his own dog and still feeling some need to engage with the situation. But my daughter doesn’t hesitate. She struggles in between the dogs, stumbling as their bodies swirl around her legs, fingering Cart’s collar. In the process of separation, her hand gets bit. Not badly, though there is blood. She tugs Cart roughly by his collar and clips him to his leash in one fluid motion. I am astounded by her, this master wrangler before me. I can never shake the feeling of my daughter as a child; she’s still so young.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
She sucks fresh blood from the wound on her hand and I wince.
“It’s fine,” she says, tone sharp. “It’s okay, but we should go.” She turns from me to face the dog. “Come on, Carty,” she says, patting his sun-warm ribcage. Her tone is soft with him.
I swallow hard and follow them.
In the car, I hesitate. I hold myself in. I am driving, steady and strong. I want to ask my daughter how she’s feeling. I want to ask if she is okay, again. On her hand, the bite is turning black and blue. I want to ask so many things. There is a silent waterfall between us made of questions.
Do you need money? How long will you stay with me? Why did you leave that job? Why did you run from the city? Was it the girl? The one you were seeing with the nose ring? Did she break your heart? Is your heart still broken? Are you missing your father? How often do you think of him? And what do you feel when you think of him? And is it strange for you to be here with me, only me? As it is strange for me to be here with you, only you? And where do you keep your urn and do you ever hold it? And did you love him more than you love me?
I settle at a red light. My daughter sighs. Cart is stretched across the seat behind us. The air is so impossibly still. The radio is on and quietly humming something I don’t know. My daughter lifts her feet to rest on the dashboard, leaving marks there. I say nothing. The light turns green. I pull forward. I think sometimes his death has cheated me. The suddenness of it has made it nearly inconsolable, as if we may never recover. It is so drastic a change. I do, I admit, feel cheated. Not merely by the loss of it myself. I feel cheated, too, by the way it has changed my child, how the loss has taken her from me. How she no longer thinks of me the way she used to. How she no longer sees me. My daughter, she is here with me. But she is guarded now, and strange. I want to shake her. I want to tell her I am still here. I may not be the one she is looking for, but I am now the only one she has. I feel, far more intensely now, the way I felt when she spoke her first words: Dada, instead of Mama. My husband, I remember, had gloated.
“How’s your hand?” I ask to break the silence.
“It’s okay,” she says.
She sighs. “It hurts.”
“We should go—”
“I’m not going to a doctor.”
My lips purse. Why are young people so averse to going to the doctor?
“Were you flirting with that man back there?” I ask, changing the subject.
“What,” she says, half laughing.
“It just looked like you two might be getting along.”
“I wasn’t flirting,” she says firmly.
“You were smiling a lot.”
“We were getting along. We were talking about dogs.”
“It looked like you were flirting.”
My daughter adjusts herself in her seat. At first, I think she might crawl into the back to get away from me. She seems genuinely annoyed now. Why can’t I ever let anything go?
“I don’t mind that you were flirting, you know.” I adjust my grip on the steering wheel and signal a left-hand turn. “It’s okay with me, if you—you know, many people date both genders.”
“Jesus Christ.” My daughter wraps her hand in tissues from the center console. “I wasn’t flirting with him. Full stop. Can we please stop talking about this?”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“You seem to be on a roll right now.”
I eat the pain she causes me. “Well—how are you?”
“I mean, really. How are you, really?”
The car is making a funny sound I have to call about. I will not bring it to the dealer this time. In my widowhood, I have learned the hard way. Too expensive. I turn again onto a road near home. We make it through a second light.
“Bad,” my daughter says, simply. The word is easy, redeeming as an exhale.
At our road, it occurs to me that in the car we cannot escape each other, so I keep driving.
“I’m bad, too,” I say.
“Of course, I know,” she says and still, I wonder how. My daughter settles deeper into the passenger seat, her feet propped up on the dash. She hugs her knees. “I worry about you.”
I keep on driving.
I want to tell her she doesn’t have to worry about me, but it feels like something too many people have said before. So much so that I end up saying nothing more at all. Instead, I keep on driving. Actions speak louder than words. Right now, I think, I am speaking with my actions: As long as I keep driving, that’s how long I want to be close to you, trapped with you. We are in the fields again. The fields, they soothe. Perhaps, I think, this is the reason for all her gardening. All that dirt under her fingernails. It’s like balm to a burn.
“Where are we going?” my daughter asks.
“I didn’t know you worried about me,” I say.
Her hand slides across the top spread of my back. A warm orange light spreads in through the windows, the sun a lowering blaze in the sky, the colors softer now like the smudges of an oil painting. My daughter’s palm, calloused from her working in the yard, moves again across my back until it is no longer touching me. Her hands return to her lap and she is picking at the callouses now, and I want to tell her to stop that because it’s really not good for the skin, to be picked at. At a fork in the road, I take the left-hand branch and the road carves a smooth slight curve through the sheep fields and we are in a one-lane covered bridge. It is dark inside the bridge, and you’re supposed to make a wish in the very middle part of it.
My daughter says, “I worry all the time.”
It’s the middle of the night. I wake up and realize I still have hours of sleep ahead of me. And yet, I am awake. Cart is curled against my legs. He will not budge. I extend my arm to the still-made side of the bed and feel like a widow in a movie. I think: my person is gone.
Quietly, I make my way down the hallway to the guest room. The floorboards creak a little under foot, but I leave the lights off. If only, I think, to look at her. I’ll be able to sleep again. At her bedroom door, I pause, lower the handle slowly, then push the door forward ever-so-slightly. It swings inward without complaint, no creaks, not a sound. It is a little frightening, actually, to know how easily and quietly someone could open this door. Would an intruder even wake us? I shiver. I enter the room on soft feet. If only to look at her.
But there is no one in the bed. I hear the shovel. Thwack, thwack, thwack.
n n n
“What the hell are you doing?”
My daughter is crouched, again in the bed of mulch that lines the edges of the yard. The yard, two months into her stay, is unrecognizable. Small flowers now line the curved edge of mulch. The green of the hostas and the ferns are black in the night, though some are illuminated by the moonlight, a glowing. The star-shaped leaves of the Japanese Maple cut dark shadows over the lawn. The grass is pristine, soft and buoyant. It is beautiful. In the middle of it all, my daughter crouches digging. She stops at my voice.
“Jesus fuck, you scared the hell out of me,” she says.
“It’s the middle of the night,” I snap. “What is this?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” she says, as if sufficient.
I gape at her. “Warm milk. Honey and tea. Television. Heating pads. Those things help you sleep. This?” I almost shriek the word, gesturing wildly to the lawn that is no longer my dopey little lawn, the one that came with the suburban house. “This is insane.”
“It helps me,” she says.
“Helps you what? Forget about Dad? Work through your shit? Get over the career you threw away? This isn’t you, Bug. This—this is insane. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t watch you do this.”
My daughter takes a deep breath, releases it out so slowly. She gets up and turns from me, strides slowly into the dark.
“Where are you going?”
“Just a minute,” she says.
I hear her crunch through sticks, dirt, gravel. She wraps around the house, disappearing for a moment. Then, suddenly, she re-emerges holding a small potted something. As she draws closer, I see it for what it is: a small tree in a small ceramic pot. She comes much closer to me than I expected her to; I nearly back away. She seems, in that moment, unrecognizable, as if I don’t know her at all. And then, I look at her: her eyes are his eyes, her lips his lips. Her ears are entirely her own: big but soft, a little pointed. She makes that odd, half-smile expression of hers. She is my daughter again. She has a farmer’s tan, I can see, just above her T-shirt sleeves. I shiver, thinking of the sun.
“It’s—here,” she says, handing me the pot and the small, particular tree.
The truth is that it is not quite a tree yet. It looks, to me, more like a single branch sprouted from the soil. Its trunk is curved like a snake and its leaves emerge in periodic clusters all along the irregular squiggle of “trunk.” In its meandering, it is both long and relatively squat. The leaves catch my eye perhaps the most of anything, so dark in the night they must be vibrantly green. It is roughly the height of a stepping stool you might use in a kitchen to retrieve a bag of sugar from a higher shelf.
My daughter pulls at the back of her neck. Her eyes are fixed on the tree with such deep care it scares me. Has she really gone insane? I have allowed her to stay here, indulged her garden—have I enabled this insanity? Have I been missing the signs of breakdown?
“Explain,” I say. “I don’t get it.”
“It’s called a bio urn,” she says, but her words are lost on me. “I took a small portion of the—remains,” she says, uncertain of herself. Her words sound and feel labored, as if she does not quite know how to speak. Finally, she says, “I made you a tree.”
We are quiet but for breathing.
“You made me a tree.”
She nods. We look at each other, directly at each other. Together, we return our steady gaze the tree between us. I am holding a pot. Inside the pot there is soil and through the soil weave roots and from the roots this beautiful, delicate tree that holds small pieces of my husband’s body. I think but do not say: it is a little bit like he’s alive again. I am starting to understand. I am cool in my summer pajamas.
“I like working with my hands,” she says, finally, breaking the silence. “It helps me. I miss him. I just couldn’t sit at a desk anymore.”
I think of sitting in my living room, the couch sagged on each end—mine and his. The empty place, the dent on his side of the armrest from where he pushed himself up each night for bed. It was too much, all that space. I got a dog to fill it in. My daughter built a garden.
My daughter clears her throat, sighs. “If you don’t like it, I can’t take it back.”
Surprising myself, I laugh. I am in awe of her. Looking down, I see the ground is dug up in the middle of her garden.
“Is it ready?” I ask.
She wipes her face on the shoulder of her T-shirt. She is still looking at the tree. Then, she crouches to the hole, rounding it out one last time with her dirty hands. I see only the back of her. Her shoulders are wide and strong. Her curls are untamed and bounce with her movements. She is taller than me now, which is strange—when your children surpass you—but kneeling there in the garden, she still looks very small to me. There is a childlike wonder to her. There is energy in her body. She moves quickly and her movements are forceful. It strikes me that she looks a little angry. I understand this, too. Who knew anger could make something beautiful?
“Okay,” she says, pushing herself up. “It’s ready.”
She takes the tree from me and I feel hollow in its absence, as if I might shatter at the slightest touch. And I watch as she carefully extracts it from its pot, placing it with the diligence of a new parent lowering a baby to a crib. When the tree is settled, she swaddles it in wet dirt and covers the patch with mulch. She stands and we admire her work.
“I kept it in my apartment,” she says. “Two years.”
I can’t stop looking at the tree, this gift I am receiving. She, however, is letting it go.
“Was it always for me?” I ask.
She smiles. “I told you. I worry.” She slaps her hand against her filthy shorts to get some of the dirt off. “Thought it might keep you company.”
Reaching down, I touch the tree for the first time. It’s a little rough. Carefully, I pluck a single leaf and hand it to my daughter. She takes it and places it in her pocket.
“You want some tea?” I ask.
My daughter laughs, rolls her eyes. “Okay,” she says. “Okay.”
Time, I learn, is endless. Time, I learn, is so close you cannot see it. And then, one day, something wrenches you backward. Everything unseen comes into focus. There it is, you think, this thing we call time. It is wide and flat and persistent as the fields. It is unmoving, and yet, still, it moves (tick, tick, tick). It is regular and strict, though it still manages to fluctuate (the darkness come at four p.m. all winter; the wash of sun at ten p.m. all summer). It is marked and felt differently depending on the person, and yet, we are all beholden to it.
I lie in my bed after the planting and my daughter—the smell of musty dirt and the sweetness of her sweat dried on her skin—sleeps next to me with Cart curled tightly by her feet. The sun is coming up outside my window, that pale orange light against the wall. Another day, another morning. I count my breaths, in and out, slow, unending. I fit my fingers in the notches of my ribs.
I have marked my time in varied units: how long has it been since we lost him? How long has my daughter chosen to been here with me, next to me, breathing slowly in and out? How many meals have I eaten alone in this house made strange in his absence? And how many sleeps with the dog in my bed?
I will mark my years with my husband tree. Every summer, I will measure him. I will count the curves in his trunk. I will survey each cluster of leafy greens, the waxy pads of green pinched lightly in between my fingers. And every week, I will prune his branches. I will give water to his soil. I will view him through the kitchen window, where, if I am so inclined, I might speak to him while I am doing the dishes. ■