November 17, 2023
By Jack Silberberg
His cheek still stinging, Cole popped the hood and stepped out of the SUV. Engine smoke mixed with the summer haze as he rolled up his sleeves and lifted the cover.
“Shoot,” he muttered. He looked away across the yellowed sea of wheat on the opposite side of the road. Wind ran through his hair and for a moment, sentiments of communion filled his bones. The child caught up in his mother’s arms.
“What’s wrong with it?” Chrys asked. She’d gotten out of the truck and stood beside him, her black dress whirling around her legs.
“I don’t know.” He sighed. “They didn’t say anything at the dealership when we took it in. I can get out the book and take a look."
“I’ll get it,” Chrys said.
“Okay,” Cole said. While she rummaged around in the glove compartment, Rosemary got out of the backseat and walked over to him, tapping her notebook against her thigh. Taller by the day.
“I’m going to hang out by the creek,” she said, pointing to the gravel bank and the shallow water beyond.
“Okay, sweetheart. Don’t wander too far. We should get this fixed soon.”
Chrys returned, book in hand and they stood puzzling over metal and smoke, Chrys’s eyes flicking from the pages to the block and Cole studying her hands, the twitch of her eyelids, anything that might betray her mood. Steadfast wardens all. Chrys closed the book, looked at Cole.
“I can’t tell.” She offered the book, but Cole waved it away. “I’ll call for help. Check on Rose?
“Sure,” he said.
“Hold on.” Chrys examined Cole’s cheek, went back to the truck, and returned with the first aid kit. She pulled out an alcohol wipe and dabbed his cheek, her eyes like muddy water, promising so much beneath the swirling dirt. Finally she set down the wipe and selected a bandage, pressed it gently against his skin. She held her hand to his cheek for a moment, then packed up the kit and returned it to the glove box. She pulled out her phone and called for help and Cole took off down the gravel bank.
Rosemary was sitting at the edge, dress shoes by her side, toes in the mud. He sat and took his shoes off too, letting the water lap against his crossed legs.
“Your pants are getting wet,” his daughter commented.
“That’s fine,” Cole said. “I’m finished with them for today, anyway.”
“I guess so.”
“At least we got most of the way home.”
“Yeah.” She picked up a pebble and skipped it twice across the water. “Are you okay?”
“Your mom needs to trim her nails a bit,” he said with a laugh that made her smile in spite of herself, “but yes, I’m A-OK.”
“That was scary.”
Cole put his hand on her hair. “Your mom’s been going through a lot lately. She and I still love you, though. No matter what.”
“Okay,” the girl said. She looked over her shoulder and jerked to her feet. “I’m going over there.” She pointed downstream at a gnarled old tree and started off in that direction.
“Don’t go too far,” he said as he looked over his shoulder and saw Chrys walking down the bank. His wife sat down next to him, hands splayed behind her. They both watched their daughter climb the tree for a few moments in silence.
“How is she?” Chrys asked.
“She’s all right,” he said. “Long day.” Chrys nodded once, twice.
“Someone should be here in twenty minutes,” she said.
“That’s good. Not too long.”
“Not too long.” She put her right hand on top of his. “I was thinking, after we get back, I don’t want to cook. Want to eat out somewhere?”
“We might have to take your car but sounds good to me. I don’t feel much like cooking either.” They watched the sun yellow the water, the clouds pass each other by like ships.
“Do you remember our fourth date?” she suddenly asked. “We went on that hike, the one where it was raining at the start? We almost bailed but decided to head out anyway in the drizzle. When we finally reached the top of that bluff, it had cleared up. We just sat and looked out over the lake below. Watched the clouds dance along, just like this. Remember?”
Cole intertwined his fingers with hers.
“Yes,” he said. “I do.”
“Why don’t we do things like that anymore? That was fun.”
Rosemary was sitting atop a confluence of branches near the top of the tree, swinging her legs as she wrote in her notebook. Perhaps she was writing poetry about the barbed wire that streaked across the top of the cliffs on the opposite shore. It would be, he reflected, a very Rosemary thing to do.
“She hates me, I think,” Chrys said.
“She doesn’t hate you.”
“She’s been avoiding me for months, ever since that thing with the dog.”
“She’s a teenager now. Teenagers sulk. And you don’t know that she saw that.”
Chrys pulled her hand away from his.
“I think she did,” she said.
“Her eyes,” she said. “The way she looks, like she’s afraid of me. And even if she wasn’t before, she is now.”
“She’ll get over it,” he said after a moment. “She loves you. You know that.”
“I don’t know.” She looked at him. “Cole, what the hell is wrong with me?”
“It’s not all you.”
“Too much of it is.”
“You’ve been under a lot of stress lately, what with your mom and the funeral.”
“You know it’s been longer than that.”
“Yeah.” He didn’t look at her.
“I could go to anger management. Figure out how to not be so mad all the time.”
He squeezed his eyes shut. When he opened them to glance at her, he took her hand again.
“If you do that,” he said, “then we’ll go to counseling too. Together.”
“Yeah,” he said, tracing circles on her hand with his thumb.
“Okay. I’ll start looking tomorrow.”
“All right.” He stood up, dusting off his slacks. “I’m going to shut my eyes for a bit in the car. Wake me when they get here, okay?”
“Yeah,” she said, nodding. She gave his hand a hard squeeze and watched him walk back to the truck.
Chrys eased herself back onto the pebbles and watched the clouds as the water lapped at her shoes. It felt like she was sitting on the floor of her childhood bathroom, her mother washing her feet as they stared up at the puffs of white they’d painted together. If she thought about that moment hard enough, the other memories she had of her mother almost faded away. Almost. Tears streamed down her cheeks.
She sat up and wiped her eyes. She felt Rosemary watching her and turned to smile, but her daughter merely pressed her lips together and looked away. Chrys didn’t look at her after that. Instead, she laid back down. She wasn’t sure how much time had passed before she heard the tow truck pull up, but she was glad they’d finally arrived. She laid still a while longer, then trudged to the road. The repair guy was already hooking the cable to the SUV. Cole nodded at her and managed a half smile.
“Hey, we’re about set here. You want to go get Rosemary?” Cole asked.
“Sure.” She turned to the driver. “Thank you.”
The driver, ancient and grey, merely nodded and continued his task. Chrys walked to the old tree, but as she approached, she could see Rosemary was no longer curled in its branches. She glanced at the water, the nearby woods.
“Rose, honey? The tow truck’s here. It’s time to go,” she said.
The wind picked up a scrap of paper from the tree’s upper branches. It drifted over Chrys’ head and she twisted her body to catch it. It was a folded square torn from Rosemary’s notebook. In the familiar handwriting, Chrys saw Mom scrawled across one side.
Later, when members of the search party talked to her, and much later when Cole asked, finally, what the note had said, Chrys would reply:
“She said she loved us.”
Write City Ezine is currently open for short story submissions but closed to poetry through 2023. See submission guidelines for further information.
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