day 18 without Abby
There’s a thud as her little body collides with the steel fender. No scream. Just a soft sigh, a surprised breath inhaled as she’s lifted from the ground only to be returned there. I hear it happen. I see it happen. And I wasn’t even there.
Like the other twelve mornings I’d driven Abby to preschool, she skipped out to the minivan. Her backpack slung over her shoulders. It was so wide her little head of curls stuck up like a turtle’s out of its shell. The only sound I heard that sun- drenched morning was her chirpy voice telling me to hurry. It was too early in the season to hear discarded leaves under her feet, though I wouldn’t have heard them anyway. She was wearing her new ballet slippers, the ones she’d worn every day since I’d bought them for back- to- school. The ride to Bright Futures Preschool was only seven minutes, and she talked the whole way, wondering whether they’d start the day indoors or out. Neither of us could’ve known that the light kiss and fleeting hug she gave me outside the gate of the playground would be our last.
I’ve gone over and over every detail of that morning, thinking if only I’d kept her home because of those sniffles, or if only it was my day to volunteer. Maybe if I had changed one single thing about that morning, life would be different now.
I can’t see how writing about it will help, but Celia says it will. My first therapy appointment was yesterday. I gripped the railing as I made my way down the steps of my farmer’s porch; it was my first time out in two weeks. In seconds, I realized my capri pants and flip- flops were geared to the weather before—not to the crisp fall air that hit me in the shins as I walked to my van. I didn’t have the energy to change.
I hoisted all 110 pounds of me into the driver’s seat, which was positioned too far back for my legs. The van was cleaner on the inside than it had been in months. Ethan must have been the last to drive my Voyager, which no longer has a car seat. I reached under the seat to pull it forward, and my hand felt the stiff body of a plastic ballerina, the one Abby had been looking for weeks ago.
I held the tiny dancer to my chest and drove one town over to talk to a stranger about my life without Abby. Ethan wants me to see Celia. He says it isn’t normal to sleep in Abby’s bed, to surround myself with her baby blanket and stuffed bunny. I don’t care what’s normal. It isn’t normal to lose the only child you have or ever will have. It isn’t normal for someone to run down a four-year- old outside her preschool and not stop to help her, or tell her mother why this had to happen.
My life won’t ever be normal again.
day 20 without Abby
Last night I slept more than two hours; I set a new record, three and a half. I wish I hadn’t slept that long because when I woke up in Abby’s bed, clutching Tootsie Rabbit, it took me a few seconds to remember. I wasn’t in her bed because I’d fallen asleep reading "Wynken, Blynken and Nod," or because I’d comforted her back to sleep after a bad dream. No, this was my nightmare.
I hate myself for forgetting for a single second. I’m afraid if I could forget for a few seconds, maybe someday I’ll forget for a few minutes, or even a few hours. I don’t want to forget.
I slipped out of her bed and smoothed the wrinkles I’d made. I tucked the sheets, blanket, and spread under the mattress, instead of letting them hang to the rug. The new way I made her bed didn’t look right. I was willing to make one small change in her room in hopes I could trap Abby’s smell between the covers.
At the second- floor landing, there was no need to peek into my bedroom. The hallway was filled with visible dust motes, and the smell of coffee brewing told me Ethan was already up. My choices were limited. I could creep back into Abby’s warm bed. There I could concentrate on the ache in my gut that came in waves every time I looked at the clouds I’d painted on her walls while pregnant. Or I could brave the frigid weather downstairs. I chose to drag myself down the uneven steps, trying to think of something to say to Ethan. In a matter of weeks, our conversations had gone from breezy to bleak.
He sat staring out the kitchen window, all expression washed from his face. He looked like a different person without the smile that reaches his eyes. After pouring myself a cup, I lightly brushed his dark curls with my hand to let him know I was there, and sat across from him.
"Do you ever forget, even for a minute?" I asked.
Now his eyes were deep in the bottom of his cup. "Not yet." He took a sip and put it down.
I didn’t ask him if he wants to. I think he does. I’ll never forget. I’d rather be pierced by the sword at the sound of her name than forget. Abigail Anna Gray.
"Did you sleep?" he asked. He reached one hand over to my side of the table. "I missed you in bed."
I brought my cup to my lips, desperate to avoid his touch. "A little. Aren’t you going to work?" Dressed in navy pinstripes, I knew he was. I thought I could sidestep our new sleeping arrangement by changing the subject.
"I’m going to the police station first," he said. "Do you want to come with me? I could drop you back here before I head to work." His irresistible blue eyes begged me.
I sat up. "Did Caulfield call? I didn’t hear the phone ring." Ethan leaned back hard against his chair. His shoulder slump told me what I was sick to death of hearing.
"No, Detective Caulfield didn’t call," he said. "The last time I talked to him he said he was going to finish the interviews with the people on Beach Rose and the teachers, and then call us. That was four days ago."
I didn’t miss Ethan correcting me for leaving out the word detective—as if I considered the one we got assigned anything but another stroke of unlucky.
I’d met Detective Hollis Caulfield only once, but once was enough to know I didn’t like him. His ju nior officers beat him to our house to tell us an investigation into Abby’s death was under way. Caulfield’s arrogance beat him to my kitchen on his one- and-only visit. One that had to be protocol, since he had nothing to add to what we already knew before he got here.
No one saw what happened.
Three days after Abby died, Caulfield, in a blazer that didn’t cover even a third of his bulk, hauled himself through my antique Cape. My house that had once been a home was filled with the sights, sounds, and smells of tragedy. Teary neighbors holding apple squares and crumpled tissues crowded our family room and kitchen. He gave them sideways glances, right and then left, over a pair of half- moon glasses parked low on his nose, as if he’d expected them to clear a path for him without even the hint of a polite excuse me. The din fell to a hush as everyone realized he wasn’t a prince of a guy. Caulfield was police. I knew right then that he was a royal pain.
Ethan topped off my coffee, still waiting for my answer about going with him to the station.
"No, you go without me. I didn’t sleep so much that I have the energy to shower, get dressed, and deal with him. If it’s okay with you, I’ll stay here. He doesn’t tick you off like he does me, and he’ll probably tell you more. He strikes me as a lady hater."
"I hate when you do that." Ethan turned his back on me, putting the pot back on the burner.
"What?" I asked. "Come on, you can tell inside of five seconds he’s a man’s man. He doesn’t look me in the eyes when he’s talking, and he directed all the answers to my questions to you. He called me the wife, for God’s sake."
"So he’s tough, you don’t have to assume the worst. You’re not going to help this thing one bit if you alienate him." Back when we finished each other’s sentences, one of us would’ve rounded out the conversation with a joke. Some kind of you know how Tessa can be remark. Instead Ethan, the diplomat, finished it with, "Okay?"
I didn’t like Caulfield. I wasn’t going to promise not to provoke him. I would if I had to. All I was willing to agree to was a cease- fire with Ethan. "That’s why it’s better if I stay home. You go. Come back here and tell me what he says—if you want." It was the best I had to offer.
Our eyes were drawn to the movement outside the kitchen window. A squirrel pranced along the long limb of our maple tree. When he got to the rope that held Abby’s tire swing, he jumped to avoid its knot.
Ethan leaned over to kiss my cheek. "I will."
Two hours later, he found me in the same place he’d left me. I was drinking cold coffee.
"You really should eat something, you’re going to get an ulcer." He opened one of the four bakery boxes on the counter and handed me a day- old muffin with a paper napkin covered with smiley faces.
"Caulfield pushed me off again. I can’t believe this is taking so long. He said the interviews aren’t done. He’s waiting for the crime scene evidence to be processed." Ethan swallowed. "And the autopsy results."
The one- two punch made by the three words crime scene evidence paled in comparison to the single blow that came with the word autopsy.
"I know. Wenonah Falls is hardly Boston." I started talking because thinking about a monster in a sedan was preferable to seeing Abby on a cold metal table.
"He should’ve solved this in a couple of days, whether someone saw something or not." I was pulling at a thread hanging from the oversize pajama top of Ethan’s I was wearing.
"There wouldn’t be anything to solve if it weren’t for Abby’s teacher," he said. "I still can’t wrap my mind around the fact that she didn’t count the kids on the way back from the playground." He tried to beat the wrinkles out of his suit coat with his hand.
I pictured Miss Janie with her perfect posture and her indoor voice saying it was only a matter of minutes between the time she came inside Bright Futures and the time she went back out and found Abby in the street.
Abby must have been dawdling, getting farther from the rest of the kids. She was probably humming and didn’t hear her teacher say it was time to go back in. She must’ve seen a flower she wanted, or maybe she found a blue jay’s feather. She always collected things, and she treated each thing like treasure. It’s hard to believe it only took a few minutes to destroy my family. Abby doesn’t have a bright future. I don’t have a bright future.
"Tessa, honey, are you okay?" Ethan removed my fingers one by one from the muffin I crumbled into smaller and smaller pieces. He brought me back to the kitchen, where we hadn’t had an uninterrupted cup of coffee in four years.
"So what else did Caulfield say? Don’t tell me that’s it."
"He said he’ll call us when all the evidence is processed, and he’ll respond to anything new that comes in, but for now this is where things stand. He told me we have to be patient. We just have to wait."
Even as I did it, I knew I shouldn’t be yelling at Ethan. He should’ve known the words patient and wait are sticks of chalk squealing down the length of a blackboard.
"That’s easy for him to say, she’s not his child. What good is waiting going to do? I want him to check every car in town. I want him to get out there and find who drove a three- thousand-pound weapon over my thirty- two- pound daughter."
In two staccato beats, Ethan put his elbows up on the table and rested his head in his hands.
day 22 without Abby
Rosemary and Matthew came over this morning. She knows Wednesdays are the hardest day of the week. It’s been three weeks since Abby took her last breath.
I was in Abby’s room replaying different scenarios in my mind, still trying to figure out how the accident really happened. I hate the word, accident. An accident is when you drop a plate or glass, not kill a child. I spend most of every day sitting in the rocking chair by her window. From there, just about everything is the same. When I get tired of sitting, I walk around and touch her things, and hold them. I smell her sweet little girl scent. Part No More Tangles, part Country Apple body lotion. Her dresses hang in her closet ready to wear. Today, I would’ve chosen the indigo jersey dress with the little daisies because the three- quarter-length sleeves keep her warm on cool days. I picture myself slipping it over her curly head, and then down over her bony shoulders and slim waist. I’d insist on tights. She’d fuss over the seams. Then we’d head down to the kitchen where she’d eat her Rice Krispies with three blackberries, while I’d drink my coffee and read The Runaway Bunny.
Rosemary tried to pull me out of my trance with her cheery mood and fresh blueberry bread. She wore pencil thin slacks, without a single wrinkle, and an electric blue V-neck, off the rack at Lord & Taylor. Rosemary is slightly taller than me, as dark as I am light. Her neat outfit the opposite of my stained sweatpants and sweatshirt. We’ve been compared for our contrasting looks all our lives. A comparison this morning would have been cruel. Rosemary looked just right, like always, and I looked like something was dreadfully wrong.
I never used to mind her dropping by. Now I’m sick of her pushing me to eat and get dressed, two of a million things I don’t feel like doing.
"Come on, Snow. You’ll feel better if you take a tub and change. I’ll run your bath, and lay out some clean clothes. Okay?"
Really reaching, she dug up my childhood nickname. The only thing Daddy left behind. He called me Snow White and her Rose Red, his way of identifying his daughters born two years apart.
Rosemary looked around, her eyes settled on the miniature stroller that held Dolly. "I don’t think you should spend so much time in here." The still life of my daughter’s room pulled tears from her lids. "Why don’t we go for a walk?" She wiped one eye with an index finger. "It would do you good to get out in the fresh air."
"Stop it," I said. "A bath and a walk aren’t going to make everything all better. It doesn’t matter what I eat, or what I wear." I wanted to shout, she’s dead, but I saw Matthew playing on the floor with one of Abby’s horses.
I love Rosemary, but when she’s over I’m always on the verge of screaming. She treats me like a fragile heirloom. Doesn’t she know I am the delicate vase that has already fallen off the mantel into a million pieces on the floor? I can’t break any more. I hate the look on her face that says, thank God this didn’t happen to me. She doesn’t know I see it. She keeps it hard to find. I’ve seen it so blatantly on every other mother’s face that I could recognize it through any mask a mother chooses to wear.
On the subject of things I hate: I hate when she brings Matthew, and I hate when she leaves him at home. When he’s here, I’m mad because her baby’s alive. When she doesn’t bring him, I’m angry because she doesn’t think I can handle seeing a mother with her child. Perfect Rosemary with her perfect Matthew.
Matthew didn’t mind spending time with me in Abby’s room. He patted the mane of one of her horses, as he crawled into my lap. "Auntie Tessa, where’s Abby? I want her to come home."
Rosemary sat down on the end of Abby’s bed, still holding her stupid bread. I buried my face in Matthew’s neck. My skin tingled all over from the pressure of holding on to a real child. I was proud of Matthew for asking about his cousin, for saying how he felt, right out loud. He wasn’t tiptoeing around it. He misses her and wants her back. Like me.
Excerpted from Life Without Summer by Lynne Griffin.Copyright © 2009 by Lynne Griffin.Published in April 2009 by St. Martin’s Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.