In the Trunk
Every Beautiful Thing
photo by Tanner Woodford
In the morning, Bean's skin didn't fit, or her clothes, so she put a toothbrush in her backpack and drove out of the White Mountains, dark and crowded with pines, and into Connecticut which was brighter but not by much. She was hollow with not eating.
She pulled up the driveway and staggered naked across the lawn, glowing. Charlie saw her first and said "my God" in a voice I hadn't heard before. I looked up from the dining table in time to see her fall.
We carried her inside. Her skin was like hot paper. She convulsed and Charlie said "Jesus" in that voice. We held her until it was over, wrapped her in a sheet and carried her to the car. I drove with my hands shaking while Charlie whispered "hush baby" to her in the back seat.
They wheeled her away and Charlie gripped my arm and drew me over to a chair. He said "it's alright, Michael, she'll be alright" maybe a hundred times. I thought 'I wish he'd stop' and then I realized I must be crying. My face was wet and Charlie kept wiping it with his thumbs.
Bean and I go way back.
We took her home, quiet and pale and put her in a chair by the window where she could see the lake. Charlie made her tea and put one of the cats in her lap and it lay there kneading her borrowed pajama bottoms. We put her to bed that night and walked her to the chair in the morning. This went on for some time.
One day, she wasn't in the chair when I checked on her. She drifted back around lunchtime, in Charlie's jeans and one of my old Brooks Brothers shirts, and sat at the picnic table on the porch pulling leaves out of her hair. Charlie made omelets and we ate them looking out over the Rhododendrons to the lake, flat and green.
After lunch I went back to the computer and she lay down on the couch beside the desk and went to sleep. When she woke up she stretched and seemed better. She said "climb the tree with me" and I would have argued if it hadn't been the first thing she'd said in almost two weeks.
We went down the road to Boulders Inn, which was the same after all those years, but pricier. The tree was still there, but someone had taken down the boards we'd nailed to it for a ladder. I gave Bean a boost, said "here goes nothing" and scrambled up beside her. We let our shoes drop to the ground and swung our legs. We could see the lake through the willow's fringes. It was like being inside a bird cage.
"The baby died," Bean said.
"I know," I said.
"The kicking stopped." Bean's eyes were wide and dry. The wind picked up and the willow fronds shook. "It was a girl," she said and I nodded.
We watched a motor boat sketch smooth white curves on the water.
"I'm ready now," she said. "I just needed to say it."
"O.K.," I said and jumped down. She stayed there a few seconds longer, peering through the branches.
"I'll try again," she said.
"Maybe wait awhile," I said and she jumped.
We walked back to the house. Charlie was in the swing on the porch reading a paperback. I sat next to him wishing I could stop thinking about it. Bean went inside and came out with her backpack. She leaned over Charlie, holding back her hair, and kissed him. He stood up and walked her to the edge of the porch.
"Don't be a stranger," Charlie said. She waved and folded her long body into the car. She drove down the driveway and disappeared in the trees. Charlie came back and sat next to me. He rested his hand my thigh.
"O.K.?" he said and I nodded. "It could still work," he said.
"It could," I said.
"I think it will."
We don't talk about it, Charlie and I. Sometimes we do, but not often. We want it too much.
"There's you. You're trouble enough," Charlie said.
I pushed a lock of thin yellow hair out of his eyes and he smiled. I went back to my desk. I wondered if I could write about it and decided probably not right away. I closed my eyes. I tried not to, but I pictured her floating in darkness, my daughter: Bean's, mine and Charlie's. She was beautiful.