I wear my husband’s denim work-shirt to pick through the blackberry thicket. Thin thorns carve hairline scratches into my forearms. There are not enough ripe berries to make a pie, but I fill a small bowl. A surprise for when he gets home later. I pace the lawn and identify wildflowers: Sourgrass. Moth mullein. His car rolls up the driveway after sunset. The dog and I run as fast as we can to greet him – the ghost of him.
“You look like hell.”
The next day he tells me about a girl who looks at him like I used to- with adoration.
He’s often late that summer. I wait up for him after a gig in Buffalo. Dinner sits untasted in the kitchen. I try to picture reasonable scenarios for the delay. He eventually calls near midnight, stalled in his friend’s car, on 90 West, not too far away. I leave the house fast – lights on, doors unlocked. I load a fuel can from the garage into my hatchback. I feel sick from the fumes, even with the windows rolled down. I wonder if he told his friends about the girl. If they condone it.
She pulls behind the stalled car and maintains a helpful, wifely veneer. “Don’t get out.” Her husband says as he pops the hatch. I peek my head into her passenger window to chat while he refuels. “Hey, thank you so much! We tried to fill up but the station was closed! ” “You’re welcome.” She says “There’s a lot of food waiting at the house, if you’re hungry.” He puts the gas-can back into her trunk with a firm “Let’s go!”
My husband schleps his music shit through the front door. His friend follows me into the fluorescent blaze of the garage. I set the empty fuel can on a shelf and try to read his eyes. Dark, wide-set – kind as always. No trace of my pain, no weight of witnessing a failed partnership.
“What’s happenin’?” he drawls, opening his arms wide. “It’s so good to see you!” I step across the garage and allow myself this comfort, resting my head against his neck. He smells sweet of sweat, cigarettes, ferns. Blackberry leaves steeping in the hot decline of summer. I hold him and try not to cry.
I follow her through the side door, where the dog loudly wags his tail against the washing machine. “There’s lots of food in the kitchen!” She says, as we kick off our shoes. The dog brings us gifts: old blankets, discarded paper towel rolls, cereal boxes. We gather them graciously and make a fuss, laughing at his simple self-satisfaction.
I want to keep her laughing. I want her to stop searching my face with pleading, fearful eyes.
My husband must’ve told him about the girl. Our friend is too conversational, too animated. Excited about the food, praising the blackberry crumble pie, describing people he met over the weekend. The three of us stay up late at the kitchen table, talking.
“I realize now that I want this someday. Marriage, a stable home. I admire you both!”
Shit, he doesn’t know. I get sick for a second, force a smile. “Oh, honey, no. This is so much work!”
I flash my eyes towards my husband. “Did you have any epiphanies in Buffalo?”
“I think, I finally got the hang of dancing this weekend. Can you two-step?” I gently lift her hands and lead her from the table. I patiently teach her, while the husband stares in disbelief. She’s clumsy at first, then delighted.
We skitter fast across the surface of her grief – an impossible, weightless freedom. The dog paces back and forth with endless offerings, scattering cardboard tubes at our feet like roses.