THE LAST DANDELION ON THE BLOCK
Their life had settled into a routine again, and although it was not the routine Gretchen wanted, there was still some trace amount of comfort in it.
She woke up first in the morning – she left earlier for work – and started a pot of coffee for herself. While she checked the news online and ate her bowl of Special K, she heard Jake stirring upstairs, taking a shower. He would mumble a good morning to her when he came down, got his coffee, give her a peck on the cheek as she went out the door.
In the evening, she came home first, changed, went to the gym. Yoga on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; treadmill on Tuesday and Thursday. When she came home, dinner would be on a plate, ready to be re-heated for her, and Jake would be in his office.
Across from the office was their daughter’s room – what had been their daughter’s room – and she wondered if that bothered him. He came to bed after she did, kissed her, as clumsily in the morning, before he fell asleep. She was always awake. Her cheeks were almost always damp, and the kisses felt odd against the wet.
The weekends were harder, finding ways to tactfully avoid each other. She usually escaped to her sister’s house, although seeing the new swelling of Anna’s baby bump each week made it seem like less and less of a safe place.
“He’s always been taciturn,” Anna reminded her, coming back from the kitchen with turkey sandwiches for lunch. They sat in the sunroom, Gretchen’s favorite place in the small cottage, with its expansive windows and collection of green plants.
“Not like this,” Gretchen said. “It’s like he doesn’t feel anything at all. I don’t think I can live like this.”
“It’s just his way of coping.”
“I know.” Anna reached out and took her hand. There were four years between them, but their hands, at least, were twins, narrow-fingered and freckled. “It isn’t good enough. I wish you two would go back to therapy.”
“It’s not worth sixty dollars an hour for Jake not to talk to me,” Gretchen said. “He can be taciturn for free at home.”
“Well, if he won’t open up for trained professionals, what are you going to do?”
“I don’t know. If I had more energy, I might leave.”
“Oh, sweetie,” Anna said. “You’ve both been through so much since the accident. You just have to hang in there.”
“Sometimes there’s nothing left to hang onto.”
Anna sent her home with a plate of cookies and a bag of apples – Anna always expressed her love through food – and Gretchen reached out to steady them on the passenger seat as she took the sharp turn onto their street. It was the same way she would have reached to protect Laura, as if seatbelts and airbags didn’t do enough to protect her but her mother’s arms could. But she hadn’t been the one driving when the drunk ran the red light, and Laura had been in the back seat, where small girls were supposed to be safest.
When she turned into the driveway, Jake was bringing the mower out of the garage. It was if he had a sixth sense for when she was re-entering the house. She waved hello to him as she entered the house, gave him a tight smile.
An hour later, she carried the bills and checks in their neatly addressed envelopes out to the mailbox, before she could miss the post. Jake was in the backyard by then, but she could still hear the dull roar of the mower. She frowned at the spotty job she had done, so unlike him; the lawn mower had meandered across the yard, instead of criss-crossing in even rows of grass.
Then she noticed the little clumps of grass he had left standing, surrounding pockets of dandelions.
Laura had been convinced that dandelions were legitimate flowers, not weeds, and she had often run across the yard as he mowed, picking enough dandelions to fill every vase she could find in the house. Don’t mow the pretty flowers, Daddy!
Gretchen’s eyes filled, as they seemed to every other hour these days. Through the blur of her tears, she put the envelopes in the mailbox, and then picked a few dandelions to put in Laura’s favorite red vase on the kitchen counter. She hadn't had flowers in this room since the last ones died six months before, and they made the kitchen look brighter.
When Jake came in, she came up to him. “What?” he asked, clearly startled. She slid her arms around him, laid her head on his chest.
“Nothing,” she said. “I just love you.”
“Love you too,” he said. Uncertainly, he hugged her back.