“Once something dies, it’s dead,” said Lena. She left the room quietly, not before stopping near the stairs and turning her head to look at me. It was a short moment. Last week she didn’t answer my calls, a few days ago she laid in bed for hours, and today… She stood there as one stands before a wide valley, wondering if crossing the divide was worth the effort and the risk of being completely vulnerable. She was stopping herself from making a mistake, stopping words from coming into existence, or at least I guessed. She turned again and walked upstairs, leaving me in the living room. Light pushed past the curtains and through the sliding doors leading to the garden.
Outside, it was warm. The buttons of my shirt-sleeves came undone easily, and I repeated her words to myself, softly as I walked across the yard. She had scolded me again, and I had nothing to say, as usual. Today, I thought she’d want to talk about it, but there was nothing to talk about. My shirt rolled nicely up to my elbows as I fixed it into place. There’s something soothing about rolling up shirt-sleeves and working. I dug my hands into the cold earth, loosening the soil and making room.
Had it come to this already? Another year since the last time I found myself outside, pushing my fingers into the earth, planting bulbs, spacing them apart so they grew over each other. Last year, the garden yielded beautiful results, but the year before, it had been disorderly. Lena had that look on her face, the one where her forehead crinkles lightly. I knew that our conversation was over. She didn’t even need to say, “step outside.” I just did it anyway.
I understood why she was angry; she didn’t like to remember. When it had happened, years ago, she had cried every day for weeks. I worked the earth again. I remember the doctor looking at us oddly, holding what should have been a child full of life. Lena wouldn’t even look at her, and I ran through all the possibilities of what I could say.
Maybe I could have told her that I loved her, or that everything would be fine, and we could have had another child. Each word of each line proved more and more complex. In our lives, a light had gone out, one that was promised to permanently change the world that we lived in – and in some ways it had by never having a chance. Saying nothing would have been a better choice, rather than “I’m sure it doesn’t happen often.” Both the doctor and my wife looked up at me with concern, as if I had said something meant to harm, or meant to criticize, so I turned my eyes to the floor. I just wanted to fill the space with something meaningful.
I hosed my palms off before sitting down and waited. The wind rushed through the grass and through the branches of our tree. She was probably upstairs, probably sleeping. What did I know? There was no way of reaching her, even if I were in the same room. Every year it was the same, and each time I tried, I pushed her further away. Maybe it was my impatience with her to grow, to move on, to live, or even the fact that by habit I always assumed I knew what she was thinking. Of course, I didn’t. I waited longer, restlessness moving through my body, pacing through the garden, and I began feeling guilty for my impatience.
I worked again in the garden, weeding here and there, rearranging the leaves, laying down stones with the promise that something beautiful would bloom. In the end, none of it would matter, of course. The seasons would take away anything we planted, but just the same, I worked until she came outside. The sun was barely a slit of light above the horizon.
Lena looked at me as she leaned back on the wall of her home, holding her hand just below her navel. She looked like a statue from a world long gone. The wind flit through the grass again. I crouched near the cold earth, shaking the dirt from my palms. We could have no more of this. She had made her decision, and I had made mine.