Sometimes she carried her sadness like a full water glass, neat and contained, see through but not troubling. Sometimes it was like a heavy plate of sliced watermelon, pulpy and bleeding, pink and garish. And it all was manageable, until she hit an age when it wasn’t. She woke up one morning at thirty in a bedroom painted blue, the shade dusty and soft as talcum powder but the color made her like sandpaper. This wasn’t a stepping stone. Nothing was following. She had signed on the dotted line without ever picking up a pen.
Shame bloomed in her arms and through the long parts of her, billowing like milk poured into a widemouthed cup of tea, petals of milk pealing. She couldn’t grow happiness. She said she wanted to but she was lying. She lied all the time. She didn’t know if she really wanted to be happy or if it was the thing to say. The hinge in her mind swung.
She went to the grocery store and picked out clumps of baby spinach leaves, using plastic tongs when people were around, her hand when they weren’t. She overbought produce. It was something she did. It satisfied her to open the fridge and see bags of lettuces and bowls of cut berries. Cut celery and carrots floating in chilly water. Cucumbers. Jewel colored peppers. Bananas on the counter. Apples. Tomatoes on the windowsill. She cut the fruits and vegetables down sometimes. Into stick and cubes. Sometimes she ate them. Sometimes she let them grow old and take on slime, losing their brightness, and then she tossed them and felt like a jerk.
She was on time for work each morning. Her office was only just across town, but she left a thirty minute window to be safe and also to make tea. Seven extra minutes was the most she’d ever needed, and that was the day when a school bus hit a deer, killing the deer and knocking the students around like pinballs on the loose. She drove past the scene and stopped her car at the corner. She saw the bus, kind of wonky on its side and ready to slip from the roadside. Blood rinsed the street dark and the deer was off to the side, its side split open like a piece of fruit, entrails shining, steaming on the cold morning. Children came from around the side of the bus, stumbling like little drinkers, rubbing their eyes into hot knots with tiny fists. Their shoulders, no bigger than plums, heaved, and snot and tears yellowed their faces and would be crusty in their curls and buzz cuts when they were popped into the bathtub with a grape popsicle that night. It was a special day, everyone safe and sound. Popsicles all around, even in the tub!
But in the morning, parents were still rolling contacts around on their eyeballs and flipping on dishwashers. Driving to work, anxious for coffee or to finish a report or to scope Jeannine’s apple ass. By the time parents were alerted and most were on the scene or sent an ambassador, which would take approximately fourteen minutes in a town this size, all children would be accounted for.
Adults from every office and store emerged before the parents, because this was their street. They flew around the children like birds of prey, fighting one another for the dead things left to stink on the roadside. They pulled any child, but the healthy, sweet ones with shiny hair first, into their arms, and rocked the babies and wiped little noses and sang songs in their throats. The adults felt so needed, such love swollen through them to wrap around babies, some who still slept with binkies, some who still wet their pants. Some who had wet their pants this morning. Every adult wore a crown that morning. She could see the jewels glistening in the chilled morning sun. Parents arrived and took their children, faces wan with worry, eyes warm once arms had been pulled on and knees thumped a little.
When she had seen the children disembarking the bus, she walked to the deer and lay her long coat over him, the best she could, so the children wouldn’t see the felled animal. She cried hard, hot tears of relief when she saw that he was dead. The moments after life has left a creature are that creature’s most beautiful moment, ar least for the onlooker. The deer was still warm and loose with leftover life and she could watch him and take in his eyelashes and the fine muscles on his face. His face was strong but the skin stretched so delicately that his skull could have been built with dandelion stems. She put her hand near the pool of blood, dipped a finger and touched it to her bottom lip.
Seven minutes late to work but no one was there. They were still at the accident scene. She peeled away a filter and put it in the plastic basket so coffee would be ready.