I saw you at the bus shelter and for an instant I couldn’t breathe. You said
Oh… Um, hi.
I wasn’t… I wasn’t expecting to see you. Here, I mean. I wasn’t expecting that.
You took my umbrella from me and shook it out. Closed it carefully. Gave it back to me handle first, your fist around the wet part. Dripping on your shoes.
Did you move…?
Yes. Last week. Up the street? Near the bakery.
Then a silence that felt like drowning.
No, no, you go ahead.
Sorry. This is awkward. Not bad or anything. Just… awkward.
I saw your ring, a thin gold band that almost covered the dent around your finger.
Yes. We bought the house together after the wedding.
I nodded. Looked down at my own hand before I could stop myself.
Not married. But we own the house. Bought it together.
You smiled but it didn’t reach your eyes. Just a tilt of mouth corners and a collection of wrinkles.
I couldn’t stay anymore. I just couldn’t.
It wasn’t you—
You let out a breath you didn’t realize you were holding. A trail of steam that disappeared.
I carry it around with me all the time. I wanted it to stop. Even a little. Just stop.
It never does. It just… you kind of forget for a bit is all.
A passing car hit a puddle, spraying water against the shelter window. We watched it drip down the glass. I said
You had to go. I get it now. I do.
But I left you. Alone, I mean. And then I couldn’t be alone.
I’m not mad. I didn’t have any room left to be mad.
I reached out to touch your arm and you let me. You said
I look back sometimes—
It’s OK. I promise, really. It’s OK.
And it was. I could see you believed me. Believed beyond the words and down into the space that haunts you. Haunts us. You said
So, have you had any, um… did you…?
No, no kids.
Me either. No kids. No.
I rocked on my heels. You rummaged through your pockets.
Does your wife—?
No. I mean, we talked about it. But she, uh, understands.
I thought you wouldn’t say more, but you said
Once she brought home this—like a little hat?
A small one. Knit. A baby hat. It was green, I think. She had, um, tears in her eyes.
She said she couldn’t resist. Like a puppy, I guess. Or maybe more like an empty leash.
You met my eyes and knew. You knew that I knew. You said
Sometimes it’s the smallest thing.
Yes. I saw a crow on the grass soon after. Just sitting there, digging. Remember?
She thought she could find worms, too.
I held back tears, a practice I’d almost perfected. You said
I often think about that song. You know, with the rabbit?
With the hand gestures. Hopping. Like this.
In a cabin in the woods!
A little old man at the window stood.
Saw a rabbit hopping by—
Knocking at my door.
Help me, help me the rabbit said…
And it hit me and I gasped, and you looked panicked, and we stood for a moment with our hot, shattered breath fogging the windows. I wanted a hole to open up. I wanted to dig my way away. You said
I’m sorry. I’m sorry. What was I thinking?
It’s always there. You think you’re OK, and then you’re not.
The rain fell harder. Drops angling into the shelter, bouncing off your shoes. I said
I’ve been dreaming a lot lately. The cottage, our car. That vacation we took to the beach.
That was good. It was fun.
Except in my dream the water is black. It’s not night or anything. The water’s like ink.
And she’s way out in the waves. But my feet are stuck in the sand. Not even deep. Just stuck.
Your pause was long, far away.
Some days it plays on a loop. It never stops starting over.
I traced a circle in the foggy window, round and round and round. I said
Sometimes I can feel her. The sleeve of her sweater. It was red, with little ducks on it. Your mother made it, I think.
With the big round buttons down the front.
It was so wet from the water. Wet wool, with that smell.
Like a barn. A lamb in the rain. You said
You didn’t mean to—
It was just a minute. I just stepped inside…
I was standing in a puddle now. Water pooling around my boots. You said
It wasn’t your fault. You know that?
I wouldn’t have blamed you if you blamed me.
No. How could I? How can I?
I plucked at my sleeve. Pulled a loose thread through the stitching until it came free.
I picked her up and she was so heavy. So heavy.
She’d been so light.
I reached for her and grabbed her sweater instead. Now it’s sewn into my own skin. The wet wool of it. It just keeps slipping away.
You stepped forward and for a moment I felt it again. The sphere of us. Our loop. A circle that, for a while, had been perfectly complete.
You were a good mom. I knew it. I’ll always know.
Your bus pulled to the curb, then, scattering puddles in an arc. Breaking the surface. You said
It’s still pouring out there. That rain’s pretty unforgiving.
Then you stepped onto the bus and paid your fare. Made your way to a seat by the window and didn’t look back.
And I said—
to the years that had sat between us, the ache that split everything, the weight that had held us underwater for so long, so long—
Oh, I don’t know. I think it’s finally letting up.
Tina Wayland is a freelance copywriter by day and a fiction writer when the stars align. She has had pieces published in such spaces as The Foundling Review, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, carte blanche, and Every Day Fiction. When she’s not trying to hold down the fort, she can be found in some corner of the world or other, probably eating something new.