November is on its way, Carol thought as she walked around the yard, adding the last of their Halloween decorations to the large, red chokeberry bushes and whitening dogwoods. They wove together to hide the house from Small Point Road, an asphalt stretch an hour outside of Portland. Her knee-high green gardening boots kept fallen rose branches from cutting her calves as she bent down to weed beneath them. It was getting harder for her to get down on her own, so she really only wore them out of habit.
Cotton spiderwebs laced themselves between her fingers, and she scraped them off against the face of the mailbox, like shedding a layer of her chapped skin. The box was empty; nothing to be brought inside except for a few leaves of basil from the pot next to the door. They chopped up nicely on the counter, sizzling and curling up into themselves as they met the hot olive oil in the skillet. The crackling filled the lonely kitchen around her. She turned the flame down and dropped slices of tomato and sausage into the pan.
Bill was out in the shed. He worried the growls from his electric saw would make their way into the kitchen, annoying Carol as she cooked. He put down the saw, still on. The door to the shed no longer fit the frame, and it flew open. Bill pulled a cement block out of the corner, wedging it against the door to keep it shut. The saw's buzzing moved the machine along the worktable, as though it were alive. A screech let out as the blade cut fruitlessly at the head of a hammer. Bill pulled the plug from the wall, quickly, hoping to hide the mistake, hoping that Carol hadn't heard.
He knew there was a box of his old tools somewhere in the shed, ones used to make the fence that ran along the property so the hunters would stay off, out of sight. Ansel had gotten him an electric saw years ago for Father's Day, saying it was safer and easier to handle. It took a while for Bill to agree, but he eventually did. Lately, the vibrations it sent through his hands were disorientating, making his birdhouses crooked.
The toolbox was under some tarps and most of the saws inside of it had rusted. Bill was making wooden faces for when Janey came to visit, ones he'd attached to the trees for her laughter, her wonder. They were almost done. He wiped the old saw against his jeans and began to work again. It was a difficult cut to do, one that grooved through the wood to make curves smooth as lips. The dip came out too deep. Bill worked faster, knowing that Carol would be calling out to him soon. When she finally did, he waved it off. Five minutes.
Bill went back out early the next morning and packed the wood pieces into one of the canvas shopping bags Carol used when she went to Hannaford. He liked the drawing on it, a crow riding on the hood of a tractor. It reminded him of their dream, why they'd moved here. Pulling from the bag as he walked down the trail, Bill arranged the wood pieces perfectly together on the neck of the trees to form faces: one with owlish eyes and a small mouth made of bark, another whose chestnut grin showed teeth underneath a fat, knobby nose. He wrapped the back of his hammer around any nailhead that went askew. They came out quick and landed at Bill's feet in a pile of brown leaves. Again, he centered the nail on the red dot drawn with the pen kept tucked behind his ear. Bang. The nail was perfect, dead-on like the pupil of an eye made of a light oak. Such ease had become rare for him.
After the final tree, a willow, Bill kept down the trail to where the dirt started to mix with sand, ending at a rocky beach. This was the walk he would take Janey on that weekend. She would ask him about the house overlooking the shore, and Bill would look down at her and tell her that it was empty. A couple had bought it for the summers, but hadn't been down in two years. Or was it three? Bill found a spot on a boulder by the waterline where he could watch the waves roll into each other. Not even ten years ago, he could recite the first and last names of his past five years of students, sometimes their parents, too.
As the water covered the sand around him, then pulled away, back to where it had come, Bill held tight to the smooth surface of the rock face, afraid to be pulled along with it. It seemed that for most of his life, he had let the water's force take his body. When the produce stand went under, he'd floated. When Carol mourned her body's unwillingness for a second child, he'd splashed. Now, Bill let the tip of his shoe dip into the cold water as his fingers fought for his grip on the rock. He would not go again, not easily.
“You can try all you want,” Bill yelled out, challenging the waves like an old fisherman who refused to put an engine on his rusting rowboat. “I'm not coming with you.”
Looking past the wooden counter to their yard, almost vacant of blossom, Carol watched the trailhead. When Ansel was younger, she used to send him down to hide in the bushes and spook Bill as he came up the path. It was all staged, of course, Ansel not being any good at staying silent during the wait. But Bill convinced the boy he had some sort of special power, faking a stumble and yell when Ansel popped out at him. That's what Bill was good at as a teacher, convincing the children they'd been the first to come up with an answer, that they were little investigators that could find newness in the world. It's what made Bill well-known at the elementary school in Woolwich. New mothers with husbands who were pulling away as the kids grew from being toddlers, men who started taking more shifts at work, picking up golf, locking themselves away in the basement with videotapes. These women clung to Bill as some proof that their husbands could one day become something else.
A glimpse of a neon orange beanie came up the hill, then Bill's sweaty face appeared. Carol felt the small relief of a jealous ache, like when he used to drive off to work, and she knew there'd be children and mothers waiting for him to excite and satisfy. Often, he'd come home with little left. Carol would try to distract herself by sorting their extra seeds into small plastic bags that the gardening shop down the road would pay her for, by making big dinners and telling Ansel to save some homework questions for Daddy. Now, there wasn't much left for her to do that soothed the wait. His breath was heavy as he reached the back steps. She filled a mason jar with water and met him at the screen door.
“The sun's almost set. I don't want you getting lost out there,” she said, pushing the door along its track. “Remember what happened with Jeffrey?”
“A walk can't be too long. I know my way out of there. Jeffrey was over eighty, plus,” he said, entering, “I was setting things up for Janey.”
“Oh, what is it?” Carol asked, hopeful. Usually it would be days before Bill showed her a finished project, as if he wanted the newness to wear off before she got to see, like she might ruin it before it had a chance to settle in.
“A surprise.” Bill pulled out a chair from the glass table and sat down. The wrinkles around his mouth pulsed as he chugged the water down.
“Can't you trust me with it?” Carol joined him. She looked hard at him, deciding if he'd describe the faces to her, the ones she'd seen on his work table that morning while he was taking a shower. Each was made of varying wood pieces, their grain and color popping out against each other, except for the eyes that sat on top, as happy pairs. She'd studied the eyes, jumping from the ones that were in a frozen wink to the egg shaped ones that stared at nothing. If she stayed long enough, maybe the faces would wake up from the trance Bill had put them in and talk to her.
“Sure,” Bill said. He placed the hammer on the table. It smelled of salt and seaweed. Carol rubbed at the wet handle. “I'll show you later.”
“You down at the water too?” she asked, nervous.
“For a bit. Washed some dirt off the hammer.”
“Bill.” The bottom of his pants were wet up to the knees.
“It was dirty,” Bill said as he packed the hammer away into his bag again.
“Won't the salt rust it?”
“I guess so, forgot about—”
“Look at your pants. Did you drop it?” Carol thought she might cry.
“No. And it wouldn't mean anything if I did. A thirty year old could drop a hammer. Most do.” He got up to run his hands under the sink. Carol watched as the warm water soothed their shaking.
“Think of what happened with Jeffrey,” she said, wanting to be near him, to stand behind him with her arms around his waist, to steady him. “Remember how close he got when he was out there?”
“Jeffrey had a bad heart. I'm not at risk for that. If anything, I'd just get lost.” The water started to spurt. Something was caught in the faucet.
“But isn't that worse?” Carol asked. Bill turned off the sink, staring at the drain.
“I built that trail.”
The next afternoon, Janey came. She sat tall, riding in the front seat of Ansel's Terrain as they drove up the dirt driveway. Bill checked the windows for Rebecca, who'd never let Janey out of the car seat in the back. Ansel and Janey had visited them alone the past few months. Rebecca had been promoted at the television station and wouldn't get home until after nine most nights, Ansel had told them. He hadn't looked for a new job after the radio station went off air. “My own wife put me out of business,” he'd say. “That's how bad she wanted me to be a stay at home dad.” Bill and Carol never found it funny.
As the car came to a stop, Janey bent down to grab the pink Disney water bottle Bill had given her for her fifth birthday, holding it over her head like a sword. She was out before Ansel could walk around to open her door—shooting past him to her grandparents, who slowly bent down to kiss her cheek. A beep sounded from the SUV as the trunk opened.
“Hi Mom, Dad. I like the ghosts in the bushes,” Ansel called out. His head was deep in the trunk. Bill walked over and clapped him on the back.
“Good to see you. You look strong. These for Mom?” Bill asked, bending down to pick up a bag of Lindt truffles next to the spare tire.
“How'd you know?”
Ansel slung Janey's polka dot duffle over his shoulder and walked inside with Bill leading the way, waving the chocolate at Carol's face. Sometimes he'd find her sneaking candy from the goodie bags they had ready for next week when she went to get her coat from the closet. Carol beamed, then smoothed her sweater over her stomach.
“Maybe after lunch,” she said as they headed to the kitchen. “Sit down while I warm up the sandwiches.”
Janey looked through their bin of VHSs by the television and picked out Balto, the same one they'd watched last time. It felt new to Bill—he remembered Balto as a bear, not a husky, but he pretended it was all familiar, laughing with Ansel at her choice.
“Lunch is here,” Carol said, setting a wooden tray on the coffee table. They gathered around the plates of grilled cheese and started the movie.
Soon, Janey was asleep on Ansel's lap, leaving her sandwich mostly untouched. Bill watched Ansel as he moved Janey's soft blonde hair out of her eyes, then down at Carol's hand resting on his own knee. She pulled away when he placed his on top.
“I'm going to head out, guys,” Ansel whispered, wrapping a blanket around Janey. He stacked the dishes back on the tray and went to load them into the dishwasher. Bill followed.
“How are things with Becca?”
Ansel looked back at him, unmoved. He took his grey fleece from the chair, zipped it up, and flipped the hood over his sandy hair.
“We're all right, Dad. The night off will be good for us. We appreciate this a lot,” he said as he started for the front door.
“Well, we're happy to get some time with Janey. I planned something special for tomorrow.” Bill struggled to unlatch the bolt, looking to the floor when Ansel reached over to help him with the lock.
“What is it?”
“Something in the woods, Ans. She'll have to tell you on her own,” he teased.
They walked out to the driveway and hugged before Ansel got back in the car. The trunk was still open as he pulled out, headed south towards I-95. Bill laughed when he got a glimpse of it between the bushes, flapping like an awkward wave goodbye. He waved back at it for a while before it dipped out of sight, imagining Ansel getting halfway to the highway before someone alerted him to it at a stoplight, how he'd blush and pretend it was on purpose.
The honeysuckle bushes were full of dying buds that Bill pulled off easily, one-by-one with their browning leaves, dropping them to the ground. The frost had dried whatever sweet juice was inside. It had come too early. This was happening more and more in Maine, confusing the crops and the people. A dandelion peeked out from where the buds had landed. Bill plucked the small flower. When he came back inside, Balto was being thrown against the snow by another dog. Janey was asleep, Carol too, and he tucked the flower behind her ear.
The phone rang a few times that evening before Bill decided to put down the paper he was reading on the couch. There was an article about a campground owner who'd created a haven for deer on his property: no hunting within a half mile either direction of the lot, plus ten new trees added each year to the camp woods. Under his photo, the man was quoted as saying the only friendly faces he ever came across in the woods were of the deer. Bill's glasses fell from his face as he struggled to find the green button on the receiver.
“Ansel! How's it going? Just reading the paper here.”
“All right. I wanted to call to say goodnight to Janey.”
“Oh, Mom's giving her a bath right now. Rebecca there with you?”
“No. It's just me. She went out with a friend tonight, Diane from…” he paused, “yoga, I think, maybe work—”
“You know, we can keep Janey an extra day if you need,” Bill offered, flicking the corner of the paper with his thumb. It was getting harder to keep it steady.
“We're all right. Becca just wanted some time out with a friend. It's good to have alone time for me, too. I miss that sometimes. People aren't really meant to live every moment one-on-one with another person their whole lives. Can't be healthy”
“Maybe not. But it's important. What's that beeping?”
“The microwave's going off. I've got a pizza in there. Tell Janey I called.”
“All right. Have a good night. We'll see you soon.” Bill placed the phone back in the receiver. The upstairs bathroom was above his head. He could hear Janey get out of the tub and giggle as Carol rushed her into bed.
“Hurry, Janey. Your hair is going to freeze like an icicle if you don't run,” she called out. Bill used to tease Carol this same way when they'd take evening swims at the beach. Right before the sunset, Carol would circle around the house and find him, usually harvesting some vegetables. The backyard was his domain, home to pea and tomato crops that climbed up planks he'd found in the free and exchange shed at the dump.
She'd take his hand and lead him down the woods to the shoreline. Her hair was long then, made of icy blonde strands that covered her back. She'd braid her hair, then coil it up into a bun to stay cool while she weeded the front yard. When they reached the ocean, Carol would let her hair down as she stripped to her underwear and jumped into the water. Bill would watch her in amazement, like a sailor discovering a new creature. They worked this way for the first three summers they owned the house, before Ansel was born and the money from the farm stand wasn't enough.
When Ansel was two, the farm started to fail. Carol's dream of packing up the pickup bed only once a week with flowers and vegetables for the Portland market slowly turned to three. Then, five. Soon, they went most days and the truck came back nearly full. Bill would come up with a new excuse for the lack of interest, telling her that a grocery store had gone up too close to the farmer's market lot or it was too chilly for people to walk around.
Carol decided to drive down and find out for herself. As she set up their stand, Carol noticed how their blue banner, Grown by the Sea, looked dated among the laminated white signs with big, black fonts. Most tables had scales and cash registers that moved the lines along quicker. They had refrigeration systems in the back of their vans to sell prepared food: smoked gouda sandwiches, tomato salads with basil and vinegar, fresh squeezed juices. The food was packaged in plastic and labeled with a promise of “hand-made” and “organic”, each brand claiming to be a family farm that was deeply a part of Maine's history.
She drove past one of the farms on the way home and parked the truck a couple yards up the road. Walking down, Carol pulled her hood up to hide her face and snuck into the backyard, following the smell of the smokehouse to the farm. There were hired hands scattered across the yard, some taking eggs from chickens, one pushing at the back of a cow to move him out of the water pit, and all around them danced glistening metal tools and machines. As she backed away, back to the woods that led to the road, Carol yanked out several carrot plants and left them in the cool evening air to rot.
That night, after Bill put Ansel to bed, they sat together at the table in the kitchen. Carol told him to stop by the food bank in the morning and drop off the produce that didn't sell. He agreed, and asked her if she had any ideas for next week's market, a new banner maybe.
“You should go back to teaching,” she said. This was something he'd been offering for the last few months.
“What about you?”
“I'll have Ansel to take care of. I'll keep selling the seeds and maybe do some more landscape consulting. It's okay.”
After that summer, Bill never could get Carol to come back down to the beach with him, alone. Ansel always went with them or Bill would take hikes by himself after work while she finished dinner. As he heard Carol laughing upstairs, he wondered what another day down there together would be like. He wondered if maybe they had tried harder to find time back then, to swim—to make a new banner, they could've had another baby. Maybe staying away from the ocean, from the evenings at the beach in her underwear, had done something to Carol's body, frozen it like an icicle.
Bill remembered the last time he saw Carol drifting off with the waves, a look of peace overcoming her face as she treaded down the sand before jumping in the water. Maybe he had stolen that from her. Maybe he'd hogged the woods by taking hikes alone, pushed her away from openness of the world, left her to maintain what was left of their garden, this small piece of land that would be turned to an asphalt parking lot once they were gone like what they'd done with Jeffrey's place after he died. The bath drained loudly through the pipes in the ceiling, leaving a loud, hollow echo as the final drops were sucked down.
The next day at lunch, Carol, still in her light blue nightgown, asked Bill if Janey and him would be taking a walk. She had pie dough settling in the refrigerator and wanted to get started. It was already four o'clock.
“I think Grandpa has a surprise for you, Janey girl, ” she said, winking at Bill. “I've got some things I need to get started on here.”
Bill looked up at her, almost angry, then back to his macaroni. There were hard chunks of cheese drying on his fork. She watched as he scraped them off against the rim of his bowl.
“Why don't you come with us, Carol?” Bill asked. “Don't you want to see the water?”
“It's too cold for me out there. I'm not even dressed,” she pulled at her nightgown. “You've been wanting to show her, alone.” Her voice cracked. Why was he asking her this now? She had to work on the pie. Chocolate pie with fresh whipped cream!
“Will there be a mermaid at the ocean?” Janey jumped up, knocking Bill's hand against her cup of juice. He ignored it and went over to Carol, to touch her.
“Maybe, sweetie. Grandpa will help you look. You guys should go before it gets dark,” Carol moved quickly from him to mop up the spill with a napkin from the table. There wasn't even time for her to get changed if he really did want her to go. That's what he was doing. He was pretending he wanted her to come knowing that she couldn't, that there wouldn't be time. Carol thought of how beautiful the wooden faces were, imagining how special they'd feel to Janey, how she'd laugh and point and wave at them. But Bill never told Carol about them, never brought her out to the shed and showed her how he planned to fit them together. She'd had to go on her own, secretly. Alone.
“I want you to come with us,” Bill answered. The juice was dripping to the floor. Carol went over to the drawer by the sink. She pulled out more napkins and a pumpkin shaped lollipop for Janey. Bill got their coats and came up behind Carol, grabbing her hand. The room, the touch, all of it, felt heavy and uncomfortable to Carol, almost as if she was being teased.
“I want you to see them too. The trees,” he said.
“Come on, I don't want to. I've got to clean this up. I'll be here when you two get back,” she said, pushing them out the door, watching as Bill draped her coat over the back of a chair. “There'll be pie!”
Janey bobbed as she ran up and down the beach, gathering shells from the sand and cleaning them off before stacking them on top of each other, building a wall against the cascading sea.
“We don't get wet in my world, Grandpa,” she told him, focused on the arrangement of the shells. He squatted down far enough behind her so that when he squinted, it looked as though it were true.
“Wow, Janey, what a sturdy fort.”
“It's not a fort,” she cried out, “it's my world.” Her sneakers lit up as she stomped up the beach, searching for more shells. Bill watched for a while longer, keeping an eye on the sun as it dipped in the sky.
“Time to go back home, time to have dinner and wash up,” Bill said as he picked her up, tickling her. His shoulder cushioned Janey's face. She whispered bye-bye as they reached the small incline that led to the main trail, then squirmed against Bill's hold. He turned to see a wave sweep away the shells.
“I want to walk on my own,” Janey said. Bill let her down, and she burst ahead, her small legs pumping faster than his unsteady walk could manage. The lingering smell of salt water on his skin made him feel sick. Had he gone in the water? Bill heard something rumble: maybe thunder, maybe one of the monstrous waves bringing in the tide.
“Slow down,” Bill warned. The sun seemed to be moving from the sky faster than ever before. Backwards, away from Earth altogether. Janey stopped running and grabbed Bill's hand, trying to laugh with him again. Her laugh felt like a heckle. A twig cracked under his sneaker, then the woods were silent for a while as they moved through. The tall brick chimney that Bill had built thirty years before rose above the treeline. That's always how he knew they were close. He reminded himself to just follow that, to keep his eyes glued up there. And he did, until Janey started to giggle and poke at his side. He wanted to yell at her to stop, to leave him alone. Didn't she understand how hard it was to look ahead? Didn't she know that all he had were pieces of brick to guide them home?
“Grandpa, is that tree alive?” she joked, pointing up at the willow. It had two eyes, a nose and lips made of a light cedar that stuck out awkwardly against the dark grey bark. Why did it look so angry? What had he done to it? Bill spun around, scanning the woods for a dark shadow, someone on their heels.
“That doesn't belong here, Janey. I don't think it was already here, was it? That tree never had a face before,” Bill asked, nervous. Her hand shook with his growing speed. She tilted her head up to him and started to laugh again. Quieter.
“We met all these trees before, Grandpa. That one is Danny. See.” Her voice perked up, trying to lead them back to their games. She dropped his hand and pointed up at the trunk.
“I don't know what any of this means. Someone is playing a joke on us.”
He scrambled to find her hand again, held it tight, and moved fast through the rest of the trail. Her face reddened and puffed out with tears as she was pulled along. There were faces on the lindens and hemlocks, even one on the burnt stump of a lightning-struck oak. Hurry.
Bill went down, thrown over by the knob of a root poking up from the dirt. He landed on the side of his face, his grey beard pressed against a small patch of grass that had survived the years of feet stomping down the trail. By the time Bill turned himself over, Janey had stopped crying. Her face was back to its pale white and her breath had settled. She stood by the pine at the top of the trail, waiting for Bill to catch his own. When he did, she bent down, kissed his bald head, and sat crosslegged by his side.
“Are you dead?”
“No, Janey. Grandpa didn't mean to scare you like this. It was getting dark in the woods—I just wanted us to get back here in time for supper. It was just an accident. I shouldn't have run,” he told her, remembering all the faces, that they were all his. He tried to push himself off the ground, but couldn't quite make it. “Why don't you tell Grandma I need her help to get up?” His hand was steady again as he wiped a dirt clod from his knee. He looked at this little girl, his granddaughter, and felt a terrible, confusing guilt. How had he ruined this day for her? Does she have to know that this is how life gets? Behind her, he saw a light on in the kitchen and a figure, Carol, sitting behind the screen door.
“Okay.” Janey nodded and started up for the house.
That night, Bill took a long shower, loosening the dirt from underneath his nails with the lid of a shampoo bottle. He tried to understand the dread that had sat with him through dinner. Nothing. There was no reason for all that had happened, no reason for him to have fallen, no reason for Carol to come bounding out of the house with Janey close behind. His wife, Ansel's little girl. His two girls. He reached for a towel from the bar outside the shower door and dried himself off, breathing in the steam the water had made.
He fell softly into bed and wrapped his arm around Carol's waist. They laid this way as Bill imagined himself back at their rocky beach, the Atlantic pouring in with heavy waves. He pushed the rocks down to block the water, the cold, salty waves, from crashing into him. He stacked grey boulders atop each other, lifting them with enormous strength. Once settled, they became darker as the ocean soaked them, but a small spray snuck past the cracks and wet his face. He'd almost fallen asleep when a wave struck the wall. The rocks slipped, collapsed, and rushed toward him. Bill opened his eyes before they could strike. The dark of the room comforted him, and soon he was asleep.
Carol went to wake Bill up after Ansel came for Janey, carrying a large mug of coffee with vanilla cream up the stairs. It was the latest he'd slept since his first week of retirement. Rebecca had come with Ansel this time, and Carol had told her how worried she was that Bill was still asleep, that maybe it was a sign of something terrible, but the only response Carol got was that it sounded like heaven. Things were hectic at the station, and Rebecca longed to spend an entire day in bed, to be allowed such wonderful silence.
“You don't understand,” Carol said and felt herself opening up. Carol wanted help, for Rebecca to offer to come inside and talk. That's what family is for, to help, to listen. Why hadn't Carol tried this before? Ansel would unpack the car and say they would stay for a while longer. It would be so simple. “Bill couldn't get himself off of the ground.”
“My father fell on his last birthday. Shock is mostly what keeps them on the ground. The soreness healed up in a few days, just make sure to use ice. Plenty of ice,” Rebecca told Carol as Janey tugged at her hand, asking to go home and try on her Halloween costume. Rebecca opened the back door and strapped Janey into the car-seat.
“Thanks for having her,” Ansel called out from the driver's window. He had the engine running so the car would warm up. It had snowed earlier that morning.
“Yes, thank you so much. Janey must have had such a good time.” Rebecca gave Carol a quick hug. Her red sweater was cut low, and the firmness of Rebecca's breasts made Carol despise her own.
“I think so, but Bill's fall. I hope it didn't spook her too much.”
“Oh, I'm sure she's fine. Everything will be just fine.” Rebecca made her way over to the trunk and pulled the hood down, then walked over to the passenger's seat. Her long black skirt swayed against the wind. Carol watched her body, jealous of the elegant, easy way she moved.
“I hope so,” Carol said, giving up.
“He will be. Promise.” Rebecca looked up at her, turned her mouth into a small frown, and said goodbye before shutting the door. Ansel was busy jumping through the radio stations.
Carol waved from the front steps, hoping for Janey to crane her neck around to get a last look before they turned out of the driveway. It never came.
She didn't go up to Bill right away, but sat at the the kitchen table, running her hands across the glass. Carol felt as if she'd been pushed out of her own life. Didn't she have a sweater like Rebecca's? Maybe it was purple instead. Ansel hadn't even bother to give her a hug, instead had tried to entertain Janey who'd already forgotten about watching her grandfather fall the day before. The short run the girl made up to the house to get Carol, to guide her down the yard to where Bill was hunched and crying, had blended in with memories of eating chocolate pie while watching movies on the couch. The taunting wooden face that hung on the tree above Bill's spilled body, the careful touch that could be seen in its design, the threat Carol made to rip the pieces off of the tree: gone, unremembered.
Rebecca no longer tried to impress Carol, and the promise of Ansel's new family showing care for them as they aged seemed hollow. Bill's accident had pulled Carol with him into this new thing. They'd become a nagging obligation that could somehow be managed by not listening too carefully. Carol poured coffee beans into a grinder, held the button down, and let the noise drown out her crying. She wished Ansel had come alone, that things with Rebecca weren't going to work out, that he and Janey would need to stay with them a while longer. Or even that she could find a new wrinkle on Rebecca's face.
There was still a crease in the covers from where she'd slept next to Bill. Setting the coffee down on the headboard, Carol woke him. He edged easily to the middle of the bed, patting a space for her.
“Here.” Carol climbed in, letting some of the hot coffee spill on Bill's hand as she handed him the mug. “Morning.”
This story was previously published in Irish Pages.