She shoves a box into my arms and promotes me by way of stepping back. I don’t like the look of it. It’s going to smell funny.
Too bad. Plug your nose. They said we have to do all the houses on this street.
I tug nervously at my Girl Guide uniform. I straighten the sash around my shoulders and lurch forward. The house breathes in and out, menacing. It is dark and unkempt, the grass at its feet more like hay than lawn, foot-long dandelions brushing my calves as I pass.
Each step creaks under my feet and as I get closer to the front door, the house sighs, sour and stale. With my heart pounding I reach up for the knocker, a brass fox discoloured and slippery with dew and disuse.
The fox makes a lame bump against the wood but it startles me like a burst of firework and I jump back, the cookies in my arms clattering in that pastry way. One-one-thousand. Two-one-thousand. Enough. I tumble back down the front steps and down the walkway, unleashing a cloud of dandelion seed in my wake, reaching for the municipal asylum of the sidewalk’s concrete. Both her and I shudder, and grasping one another’s forearms we giggle, fleeing.
I pant as we run, stating the obvious. Nobody home. Phewph.
Two years ago Liam’s hydrocephalus had just been diagnosed, deemed manageable, brain surgery a distant possibility. Both boys were strong in terms of breath, if not quality of life.
Well, that’s it then. It would be wider doorways and power wheelchairs and vans with lifts and adult diapers. Repeated operations for the rest of his life, continued pain.
Two years ago my son grew tired and began his letting-go. Or from another angle, his injuries found their second wind. And so naturally, two years later, my mind is a single track of Benjamin Moore paint chips and the virtue of 100-grit sandpaper versus 80-grit.
It’s almost the anniversary of the day he died and I have packed my mind full of the conference and the cabin and the book and the goddamned mortgage payment... dammit. I’m not ready for it to be that day.
I summon him as I used to in those pauses. Liam...
There is nothing, of course, as the fox’s lame bump fails. Oh well. He’s not here. No more magic. I don’t deserve it. Where’s that verathane? Time for another coat.
He’s not turning away from me. I’m turning away from him. I’m ashamed of being busy. Of willing my mind to go elsewhere. Ashamed of wanting to be ordinary so badly that I’ve stopped watching for him. To think of him, even fleetingly, triggers the only words I have for him. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
I’m sorry we’ve gone on without you.
I tumble back down the front steps and down the walkway, unleashing a cloud of dandelion seed in my wake, reaching for the municipal asylum of the sidewalk’s concrete.