I stepped out the door this morning to a scarf of blood in the snowy driveway.
Like a bad omen, or a threat, or a gruesome valentine—a tire track, and the flattened fur of a small brown rabbit.
The florist must have run it over, delivering the roses, running late already by nine o’clock in the morning. When she handed me the long white box at the door she never mentioned having killed anything in my driveway. Maybe she never noticed. “It’s our busiest day of the year,” she said, breathless, “of course.”
I was running late myself when I saw it. What could I do? The damage had already been done—utterly crushed, completely beyond hope—and cleaning it up seemed pointless. It was already snowing again. Soon, the evidence would be buried.
But I also felt such a pang of grief, seeing that bit of brown fur in the blood, that I had to steady myself at the door.
Was it one of the baby bunnies I’d startled from their hole in the garden last spring while planting morning-glory seeds?
I’d screamed when they scurried out of the soft dirt, and didn’t go near that edge of the flower bed again all spring, into summer.
The mother rabbit abandons them, doesn’t she, if she smells a human on them?
It would have been impossible to know if this dead one was one of those, but I felt sick with it. Guilt. My valentine roses had brought this sad end to something that had only been, moments before, making its way back to its little den under the snow. If I were a better woman, I thought, in less of a hurry, I’d get Jon’s shovel out of the garage and dig a grave—a proper burial, maybe a cross made of Popsicle sticks, the kind Chad, when he was seven, made for Trixie’s grave.
But it was such a bitter cold morning—a harsh wind out of the east, and so cold that the snow, even in that wind, lingered before it fell, as if the air were heavier than the flakes. And I’d lost my gloves again. (Left them in the supermarket cart on Saturday?) Out there with my car keys and no gloves, I thought it would have been impossible to dig a grave, anyway, in the frozen ground. Already, a couple of crows were sitting in the branches of the oak, waiting for me to leave.
From Jon, the dozen roses, delivered half an hour after he’d left for work, timed to surprise me as I walked out the door, and a little card on which the florist had written for him in her girly cursive, “To my dear wife, the only valentine I’ll ever need. I love you, and will always love you, Jon.”
And from Chad, the first valentine ever to arrive from him by mail. From college. A strange sad moment at the mailbox as I recognized, slowly, the handwriting on the red envelope with a postmark from California:
Ma, you know I love you. Tell Dad I love him too—too weird to send him a valentine. But I miss you both. Am having a great time here. Love, Chad.
I couldn’t help but think, then—predictably, sentimentally—of those crude cutout construction-paper hearts. His crayon scrawl. I still have one of them pinned to the bulletin board above my desk at work, although the pink has begun to yellow and the edges have curled: I VEOL YU, CHAD.
And the year he licked away half of a heart-shaped lollipop before wrapping it in a tissue and giving it to me.
This year, even Brenda sent me a card (my nest empty now that Chad’s off to college, a way of reminding me about it while pretending to try to make me feel better)—a black-and-white photograph of two little girls in fancy hats and To my sister-in-law with love.
Sue brought me some heart-shaped cookies the twins had made, and one of my students, a charming Korean girl, gave me a little box of chocolates, which I left for the secretaries in the English department. And even some secret admirer (or prankster?) left me a piece of paper, torn from a legal pad, folded into fourths, stuffed into a campus envelope, and put in my mailbox at school—red pen in an unfamiliar hand:
ANOTHER accident on the freeway this morning. I keep telling Jon we need to get out of the suburbs now that Chad’s gone, move closer to our jobs, quit this commute. But he just says, “Never.”
To him, it’s not the suburbs, it’s the country, where, as a boy in an apartment in the city, he’d always dreamed of living. To him, it’s not ten acres of scrubbrush, it’s a farm, the “family farm,” and he’s never leaving his garage full of gadgets, his shooting range set up out back—target nailed to a pile of sandbags—his bird feeders, his riding mower. It’s the little boy’s dream left over from the days when he would watch Lassie on the black-and-white television in the cramped apartment he shared with two brothers, a sister, and his overworked mother. Someday, he thought then, he’d have an old farmhouse in the country, a .22, a dog.
Well, the dog is dead. And the old farmhouse is surrounded now by subdivisions with names like Willow Creek Estates and Country Meadows—McMansions erected overnight with billboards at the edge of the road proudly stating STARTING AT $499,000. (Are we supposed to be impressed by the expense, or seduced by the bargain?) And so much traffic now that hardly a day goes by that the freeway isn’t closed down for an hour or two while the debris of some accident is cleared away. Twice in the last year we’ve been contacted by developers offering to buy our house, knock it down, and build four nicer, newer houses on our property.
And I’d do it, myself, sell it, pack up, move into a condo—good-bye to all that—but Jon’s not yet done living his boyhood dream.
“I don’t think the neighbors in our condo in the city would appreciate hearing me shooting my .22,” he says.
He doesn’t care that he puts five hundred miles on his Explorer every week, and that the price of gas is going up every day, and that the earth has nearly been drained of its fossil fuels.
No one seems to care.
We’re all driving wildly, blindly, out of our suburbs and into the future without giving it a second thought.
“Fine,” I told Jon, “but if they keep building subdivisions, and the traffic gets even worse, I’m going to start staying in a motel in the city on the nights I have to teach.”
Poor, beautiful, blue-eyed Jon. I can still see, in those eyes, the child who never had the tire swing he wanted or the high grass to wade through with a Mason jar for catching crickets—and the true absence he will never get over—a father.
Oh, Jon, I’ll live here forever for you if I have to.
But when I passed the flashing lights and the crumpled cars at the side of the road again this morning, I thought, Jesus Christ.
When I finally got to the college, I found MayBell in hysterics outside my office.
She’d lost her verb-tense transparencies, and could she borrow mine?
Well, I’d been planning to use mine, too, but gave them to her anyway. I am, I believe, a whole lot better at winging it than MayBell is. And, indeed, my class went well. Habib read a whole paragraph of As I Lay Dying out loud in a southern drawl, and we all laughed so hard that a few of us ended up crying.
After work, Jon and I met in the city for our Valentine’s dinner. I thanked him for the roses and told him about the anonymous note, the valentine left in my mailbox at school:
“Wow,” he said. He raised his eyebrows and looked at me as if seeing me for the first time in a long time.
His wife. A wo...