On Friday Amy Glaston left the house for a drive. It was the time of day which sat right between rush hours, but when she reached the freeway the onramp was crowded with a three car pile-up and a row of rubberneckers that set her back. For the past nine months on Fridays she had done this like clockwork—leaving some odd minutes past midday and driving the same route south on the interstate. The first three months there had been a purpose, and everything about her glowed even when the Southwest sun had been obscured behind mist and marine layer; now she made the drive for the sake of it—a routine pinning her to the past. In more recent months Amy imagined that she would stop when she reached the hospital, get out of the car, and slowly pad her swollen body up to the maternity ward. But she was thinner than ever and she never did. She would only pull into the parking lot, make two or three laps, then merge onto the northbound lanes.
One time towards the beginning, around when the act had become a pointless one, she stopped on the shoulder and cried uncontrollably. What would have been another twenty minutes’ drive back became nearly an hour—and she decided never again to make such a stop. From then on she drove straight up the freeway, save for a quick stop at the local liquor store.
Amy soon arrived at the gate of her suburban neighborhood. She pulled into the driveway and clicked the remote to open the garage door. For a moment it hesitated; then it lurched upward with a screech like an old castle drawbridge. She slammed the car door and rushed into the house. Once in the kitchen she set down the handle of vodka she had purchased and, standing on tiptoes, reached into the overhead cabinet. Almost as soon as she had touched it, the chosen highball glass slipped from her fingers and came crashing down on the edge of the countertop. Broken fragments scattered across the marble surface and spilled onto the hardwood floor.
“God dammit,” she muttered. She pressed her shaking palms to either of her temples and inhaled deeply. When she had composed herself enough she opened her eyes and spotted her phone beside the spice rack. She picked it up. A post-it note attached spelled out a message in scraggly letters: went to Home Depot, be back soon. Amy scoffed and crumpled it up.
The screen showed two missed calls and a text message from Michelle Lutte: Your voicemail is full. Call me when you can. Amy pushed the glass shards into a pile on the floor with her shoe and reached for another. She filled it almost halfway with vodka and topped it off with cranberry juice. She swirled the concoction before picking up the phone and liquor bottle and leaving the kitchen. At the foot of the stairs she kicked off her shoes and plodded up the carpeted steps.
Amy opened the door to the master bedroom and settled down in the window seat. She looked out over the front yard. Her eyes fell on an egg-shaped island of dry dirt in the middle of an otherwise pristine emerald lawn. She took a deep drink and shuddered as the lukewarm alcohol trickled down her throat. Turning her gaze back to the room, she lifted the phone and dialed. It rang only once before being picked up.
“Hey you,” the voice on the other end said. “I wasn’t expecting a call back so soon!”
“Sorry I missed you,” Amy said.
“Is it a good time? I can always call back later if it’s not.”
“It’s fine, Mom. I just came in and Matt is out.” Amy twisted the glass a few times and drank. “So, what’s up?”
“Oh, nothing,” her mother said. “I miss you is all. It feels like we never talk anymore.”
“We just talked last weekend. I remember because it was exactly like it is today—sunny and I was sitting right here where I am now.”
“That was three weeks ago, honey.”
Amy rolled her eyes around the open room. “Maybe it was,” she said.
“Well anyway, how have you been?”
“Okay,” she sighed. “Just okay. Nothing new since last time.”
“How’s work going?”
“Well, they’ve finally stopped treating me like some sort of freak. I swear it’s like they all were walking on eggshells around me.”
“Well, that’s good,” her mother said. “And Matt?”
“Oh, he’s fine,” Amy started. “Peachy. I want to punch him sometimes is all.” She balled her free hand into a tight fist and slowly released. She reached for her glass but did not drink from it. “I really don’t understand how he can be so happy after everything.”
“Amy…” Her mother trailed off, letting her daughter’s name hang in the air. “It’s been six months. I understand it’s difficult, but don’t you think it’s time to—”
“Two weeks,” Amy said. “He was over it in two weeks. You can’t imagine how alone I’ve felt.”
“Everyone has their own ways, my love. Some people need to put on a face. Do you want to see him miserable?”
“Yes,” Amy spat. “That would be great, actually. Just a little emotion. Anything. All he talks about nowadays is planting a stupid garden in the yard, as if that’s what’s going to make things all right.”
“I know it’s hard on you. I get that. I know—”
“You don’t know anything about it. You know what he said last night?” Amy allowed a half second of rhetorical silence to sit before continuing. “He was away all week for a work conference, and the first thing he says to me—one of the first things he tells me as he’s unpacking his suitcase is that there was this little girl in the plane the seat in front of him. She kept turning around to play peek-a-boo. She even called him daddy. Daddy. I guess his glasses looked the same as her father and she couldn’t tell the difference. Who in their right mind would think that is an okay thing to tell me about? Honestly, he should have stayed in Seattle.”
“I think it’s kind of sweet,” her mother said. “Maybe it’s time you two started trying again. I remember how happy you were—you especially—when you found out. Don’t you want to?”
“No.” Amy paused. “I don’t know. I couldn’t go through this again. It would literally kill me.”
“You can’t let that fear stop you, honey. You just can’t. Having a child is the most wonderful—”
“And finding out you’ve been carrying a dead one for over a week is the most terrible thing.” She brought the glass up but stopped before it touched her lips. “This week,” she sighed.
“This week what?”
“The doctors thought it would be late in May. It could have been this week. It could have been today, Mom. I could have met my daughter today.” Amy tilted back the glass and drained it. She shivered. A sputtering cough escaped her throat.
On the other end her mother was silent. She weighed her words carefully, then delicately asked what she had wanted to since before the call. “Are you drinking again?”
“Maybe I am, maybe I’m not.” Amy was feeling the alcohol and her head spun lightly. “So what if I am?”
“You know it won’t help you. If anything you’ll be worse off. You know that.”
“I know nothing.”
“You weren’t,” her mother started, “When you were pregnant?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” She stood up from the window seat and began pacing the length of the room. “Was I drinking while I was pregnant? For god’s sake, Mom. How dare you ask me that?”
“I just thought—”
“I stopped the second we started trying to have a baby. Not a drop of anything. I can’t believe you’d even suggest that!”
“I’m sorry,” her mother said. “I love you and I only want to help. I want to understand. You don’t tell me anything anymore. You need to let me in.”
“No.” Amy stopped. “Every time we talk it goes like this, or something like it. Why don’t you understand that I just don’t want to talk about this anymore. It’s done. Let me do what I need to do, okay?” A crow had landed on the roof ahead of the window and began to cry. Amy walked over and slid the window shut.
“Okay, fine,” her mother stammered. There was a considerable pause before she spoke again. “Is there anything you do want to talk about?”
Amy had stopped in front of the vanity. She examined her profile in the mirror, remembering when she had worn this shirt and thought maybe it was time for her to size up. Now it skimmed her chest and billowed over her stomach. She picked up a picture frame from the counter and held it up to her face.
“I’m still here,” she said. “I’m going to go now.”
“Okay,” her mother said, a hint of resignation in her voice. “I’m sorry for stirring things up.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine. I just can’t stand talking about it.”
“I hope your afternoon turns around. I love you.”
“You too.” Amy set the phone down and gripped the frame with both hands.
The photo showed an Amy almost a year younger, Matt by her right side, in the yard of their new home. His arm draped over her shoulders and the two of them beamed at the camera. He towered over her. The angle it was taken from placed Matt’s head right next to the master bedroom window. Amy considered every detail. In late summer, the sky was an azure quilt dotted with sun-brightened clouds. There was a splash of yellow on Amy’s shirt. They had painted the nursery that day. The house then wore a cracked coat of peeling paint; the lawn was a mess of crabgrass and weeds, some of the rooftop shingles were either dangling or missing entirely. She held the photo to the window and felt a flicker of admiration for the smooth beige of the outer walls and fresh verdure that splayed out before the house. None of it seemed real to her.
Amy laid the frame face-down on the windowsill and retook her position in the window seat. She picked up the empty highball glass and briefly examined it. Suddenly Matt’s voice called out from downstairs, cutting off her concentration.
Amy did not respond. She angled the glass and tried to polish off the renegade drops, but they would not budge.
“Honey?” Matt called out again. “You home?” His words rose gently.
Amy stood up. She hid the vodka behind the window seat pillows and continued silently to the stairs. She steadied herself on the railing before going down to the kitchen.
“There you are!” Matt was crouching beside the pile of broken glass. He stood up and kissed the top of her head. “What happened?” he asked, unassuming.
“I didn’t hear you come in.” Amy directed her eyes to the pile.
“I think you left the garage door open.” Matt threw his left hand over his shoulder, motioning backwards with his thumb. “By the way, we should really do something about that door. I’m pretty sure the whole neighborhood can hear it opening up.”
“We can see about doing it this weekend, if you want,” Amy said. She opened the cabinet beneath the sink and took out a small dustpan and broom. She began to sweep up the glass when Matt put his hand on her shoulder.
“I can do it,” he said. He reached for the dustpan, but Amy twisted away.
“No,” she said. “I’ve got it. I don’t know why I didn’t just take care of it when I dropped it. I’m sorry.”
“It happens,” Matt said.
“But you could’ve cut yourself and it would’ve been all my fault.” Amy dumped the pieces into the trash can. “Mom called,” she said.
“Oh? How’s she doing?”
“Who knows with her.” Amy continued sweeping the scattered shards.
“What’d you talk about?”
“Not much of anything,” she said. “You know how she goes around in circles.” She emptied the dustpan again and sighed. “I should really get the vacuum in here. There’s probably a bunch of little pieces all over that we can’t see. And maybe we should wear shoes in here for the next couple days, just in case.”
“Let’s worry about it later,” Matt said. “Come outside with me. There’s something I want to show you.”
“Can I just finish?”
“It’ll be fine,” he said impatiently. “We can do it later.” He placed his hand on her waist and gently nudged her away from the kitchen counter. She jerked away but followed him anyway. “Wait,” Matt said when they reached the door. “Close your eyes.”
“What?” Amy said. “Why?”
“Just do it,” he said. “Please?” He took her hand. Amy allowed herself to be led outside.
“What’s this all about?” she asked. “You’re being really weird all of a sudden.” A warm sunbeam caressed her face as they stepped into the driveway.
“Well,” Matt started. “I was driving to Home Depot and decided I didn’t want to take the freeway. I pulled off and started following some side streets. I got a little lost and was about to turn back when I passed by this plant nursery on the side of the road. I couldn’t not stop.”
Amy opened her eyes. She squinted in the bright afternoon light. “Are you kidding me?” she said when her eyes had adjusted.
“What do you think?”
In the bed of their pickup truck stood a shivering sapling. It swayed in the soft spring breeze. At the top of the frail trunk was a nest of wispy green leaves; a couple of them came free and drifted to the hot sidewalk, twisting in the air as they fell.
“This was the last one they had left, and when I saw it I knew that I had to bring it home.” Matt climbed into the bed and hugged the pot. He slid it to the edge and smoothly lowered it to the ground. “Eh?” He smiled at her.
“I don’t know what to say,” Amy started. “It’s…”
“Do you love it or what?”
“I really hope they take returns.” Amy cocked her head and glared at Matt.
“What do you mean?”
“When you said you wanted to plant a garden out front, I thought you had something else in mind. Like flowers? Maybe a rosebush or something.” She raised both of her arms and bunched up a handful of her own hair.
“You had one growing up, didn’t you? You used to tell me all about it. I thought you loved these trees.”
“Sure, we had one at the old house,” Amy said. “And probably the worst day of my childhood was when they cut it down. These things are hell on a house. The roots spread out and get into the pipes. Ours was starting to tear up the driveway. We had no other choice but to get rid of it. That’s just going to happen all over again.
Matt’s forehead was scrunched and wrinkled. “Sure,” he said. “Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but—”
“It will,” Amy said. “And I really don’t want to deal with it.”
“Hear me out,” Matt said. He grabbed her arms and looked at her straight. It was the first time they had made real eye contact all week. He was sincere and confident. “Whatever it is that’s going on—whatever happens—we can get through it. I promise.”
Tears began to form in her eyes. She wanted to turn away, but there was something in the way he was looking at her that made her freeze. “I don’t…” she said. “I don’t know.”
“Whatever happens.” Matt pulled her closer and held her tightly. Amy buried her face in his chest and dried her eyes on his shirt. For a long time they said nothing, they just stood there embracing each other. Down the street a lawnmower droned.
“I want to put time in a jar, seal it up and forget about it.”
“You’d probably just break the damn thing and we’d be back where we started,” he joked.
It was soft and brief, but for the first time in months Amy laughed. She pulled away and caught his eyes again. She was smiling. “You’re right,” she said. “I feel like I’ve gone insane.”
“You and me both,” Matt said. “What do you say? Should we give it a shot or what?”
Amy glanced at the barren island in the yard, then at her husband. Matt was biting his bottom lip, his teeth gnawing back and forth in quiet apprehension. She realized that this had been there on his face all along. She suddenly became conscious of how young he was—how young they were. It was clear to her that as much as she had felt lost and alone, it did not mean that Matt had found a roadmap either.
“Sure.” She squeezed his hand and just as quickly let it go. “Bring the tree,” she said. “I’ll get some water. I’m pretty sure there’s a shovel somewhere in the garage.”
Amy came back with a full bucket in one hand and a spade in the other. Matt had not moved from his place next to the truck. Both arms hung limp at his side. He was staring at the house, through the bedroom window.
“Come on already!” Amy said. She set down the bucket and beckoned for him to come nearer. “I can’t do this by myself.” She extended the spade.
Down the street the lawnmower had stopped. The neighborhood was silent except for the bright, repetitive sound of metal clinking against dirt.