IT RAINED THE NIGHT RANDY DIED—scattered spring storms that left shimmering puddles on the pavement under the streetlight outside the house. They swirled with surreal, iridescent color as Kate opened the door with one hand and clutched her robe closed at her throat with the other.
There were two of them, their uniforms dark with rain, eyes dark with fatigue. They spoke with gently dispassionate voices as they delivered the news. Single car accident… Only occupant… They asked if she understood. Yes, she said. Yes. Was she alone? No. Would she like a drink of water? No. No, thank you. She didn’t want them in her home, didn’t want them searching for a clean cup in her kitchen, compassionately detached as they watched her and waited for her to fall apart.
After they left, she stared at the wet boot-prints on the living room carpet and wondered what she should do or whom she should call. Her limbs felt strangely heavy as she wandered through the house to her room, too stunned to cry, looking around for traces of him, but, of course, she’d already packed away the pictures and mementos of their life together. All that remained of their ten-year marriage sat in a small bowl on her dresser.
She picked up the ring, her breath held tight in her chest, and slid it back on her finger—as if, somehow, by putting it on, she might magically go back in time and make things turn out differently.
But the miracle never happened, and then Liam woke up. She assured him everything was all right—even though it wasn’t—and curled up with him on his small bed, in the dark, trying not to hug him too tight.
She didn’t sleep.
She didn’t weep.
She simply stared at the plain gold band on her finger as the pre-dawn hours slid into day.
Time. They talk about it flying, as if it were a child’s kite, but as I get ready for Liam’s third birthday party today, it occurs to me that for every year of his life, I’ve lived TEN. That’s not flying, that’s careening. Just sayin’.
Seven weeks later…
“MY GOD, KATE—I THINK I’D die if I were you.”
Kate Mitchell’s hand froze in mid-air, a mini wiener inches from her lips as she tried to think of an appropriate reply. Granted, wieners weren’t considered top-drawer fancy fare, but Liam loved them, and it was his day. She lowered her hand to her plate and forced a smile.
It was stunning how tactless people could be when expressing their condolences. Here they were, surrounded by streamers and giddy children, and yet Betsy’s china-doll blue eyes blinked earnestly as if they were standing next to Randy’s casket instead of eating finger foods at a three year-old’s birthday party.
Kate cleared her throat. “Yes, well, you know what they say about not being given more than you can handle.”
“Still, you’re so brave. I mean, how will you get by? I heard Randy didn’t even have life insurance!” Betsy finished sotto voce, her china-blues blinking back compassionate tears.
“Well, under the circumstances...”
“I know,” Betsy touched Kate’s arm meaningfully. “I heard about the DUI.”
She pronounced it ‘dee-wee’ as if it were some child’s game and not a misdemeanor crime. Kate fought the urge to stuff her mini wiener up Betsy’s pert, surgery-enhanced nose. She pasted what she hoped was a suitably neutral expression on her face. “Oh?”
Lord, she hated this. Hated, especially, feeling like she still had to defend Randy even though he’d been days away from being her ex-husband, even though—ironically—he hadn’t actually been drinking the night he’d plowed his Lexus into a tree. No, it was enough he had the reputation of drinking and driving. It was enough he’d still, technically, been her husband.
Betsy gave her hand another pat. “I understand,” she said.
Kate stifled a bubble of hysterical laughter. How could Betsy possibly understand something she couldn’t understand herself? She couldn’t explain why Randy had run off the road that night any more than she could explain the wild mood swings that had plagued her the last few weeks, her gut turning over itself like she’d eaten bad chicken salad or something. Grief, the counselor had told her. But, it didn’t feel like grief. It felt like fear.
Kate glanced around for escape from Betsy’s glistening eyeballs and spied Nana—dear Nana!—in the corner with elderly Mrs. Pemborly who lived next door at the end of their southern Connecticut cul-de-sac. It was a quiet neighborhood, picturesque, with forsythia bushes and mature trees shading small, well-tended yards. Just the place to raise a family. Or at least, that’s what Nana had insisted nearly three years ago when she’d offered to rent the house to Kate and Randy after Poppy died. Nana had decided to move back to her hometown of Sugar Falls, New Hampshire. She’d said she didn’t have the heart to sell the house in Connecticut but didn’t want to rent to strangers, either.