It was an uncomfortably warm fall morning. The leaves were already yellowed, and they clung to the branches that hadn’t given up summer yet. Angela looked like a bending heron out in the front yard, picking up dead sticks and Styrofoam specks out of the crab grass. She piled both materials into a broken wheelbarrow we had yet to fix. That summer she ran over a big Styrofoam block with the lawn mower, enough to sprinkle the lawn with a shadow of synthetic snow. Even then, back in middle-October when the Earth used to give us blizzards instead of butterflies, it didn’t look right. But I never told her that. I couldn’t.
Angela had been out since early morning, before the sun woke up Adam and Daisy. Normally, Saturday began with a warm breakfast before the kids delegated themselves to their rooms, each with noises of life that emanated from them unmuted. It left Angela and I to quiet space we filled with each other, and TV sounds, and cooking smells, and our children. After a while, we only spoke when we were spoken to. Adam and Daisy gave this house sound to call it alive.
I went out the front door we never used and watched her. She was making another sweep of the tree line. She wore four necklaces that clamored for space on her neck; and I could hear them from where I stood.
I approached her with light steps.
“Angela,” I said. I wasn’t even near her. I wasn’t even that loud. She startled and almost fell face first into the dewy ground.
“Jesus,” she said, “Jesus; I thought I was a goner there.”
“It’s only me. Your husband.”
“Anybody looks like a monster in this light.”
She carried on a few more steps and left me behind her. Her path wrapped through the sycamore line. Her back was to me, and she moved within yards of the dark road.
“Honey, do you know what time it is?” I said. Old feelings built up in my mouth again, and I swallowed.
“Early, I know that. You don’t have to tell me how early it is. You don’t have to tell me anything.”
Water crept into my socks. I hated when she would get like this, and there wasn’t much of a way out of it. No particular reason for it either. Sometimes she would get up in the middle of the night and sweep the tile floor, sweep the porch, sweep the garage if she could. I sat her down and told her that sweeping was for the day time, and that sweeping and cleaning was something we should do together. There was the four of us. We had the two of us, too.
I said, “I’ll cook up breakfast then, just come in when you’re done, okay?”
She didn’t say anything. Her necklaces jingled, even when I closed the door we never used and sat at the dining room table, still in the morning darkness.
In our house, mornings were darker than the evenings; we picked our wallpaper in a time when light was brighter and lasted longer. She wanted a color we would still like when we were older, a color we could maintain if it chipped.
It was Saturday, and I opened a beer behind a closed bathroom door with the shower running. Adam and Daisy wouldn’t wake up for hours. I reasoned to the bathroom mirror, she would come back in before then. The bathroom mirror agreed.
The sun rose slightly past the leaves. Eventually, Angela stopped in the yard by the tree line and rested. I heard Adam turning over in bed, the basement door creaking open. I swear I wasn’t drunk, not even the slightest bit; I would’ve let you test me. But I will admit I stopped counting, and I will admit I paced back and forth on the wooden floor and looked at all our photos hanging up on the walls. They were shadowed, and I could barely remember that it was us framed up, and dated, and in some way changed. But I don’t remember how, now.
And then I went to the window again, leaned up against the couch we picked, tried to see her. But I couldn’t. I looked up into the treetops in case she climbed there (I wouldn’t have put it past her), but didn’t see any bending or birds fluttering or leaves falling. They clung to the trees tightly then, if you remember; but the trees stopped caring. The leaves hung on to dead limbs, dead friends if you will, and dead friends shivered in the breeze when it spoke.
I cracked another beer, and started on breakfast. Eggs and toast isn’t easy while slightly tipsy, and with the space feeling humid but dry, in that it was one of me against a whole empty kitchen, I stripped from my sleeping clothes to let the dripping stop. I went into our room and cut the legs off the flannel pants, the sleeves off the shirt. I knew the fall would never need that kind of warmth again.
In hindsight, I should have gone outside; I know that now. I know you say that Saturday mornings like this are normal, and that fall weather can burn red hot without any furnace and that wives that clean are nice to be with and children are supposed to be loud around you and not to you, but, sir, you’ve never been in our house before. You didn’t see the leaves that day.
Adam opened his door and joined me in the kitchen, and Daisy wasn’t too far behind. I loaded the plates up with their meals and placed them at the table.
“Where’s Mom?” Adam asked, getting the orange juice and placing it down on the table. He swigged it the way I swigged whiskey, and he held the glass like I held coffee mugs.
“She was outside earlier, she’ll be back,” I said.
Daisy sat down too, and even though she was younger than Adam she picked up on the empty chair where Angela would sit. She quietly thanked me for breakfast, and didn’t say anything. We sat in silence with summer clinging to hope. Adam kept asking me where Angela was, and even Daisy saw that I couldn’t face them.
I went out to the yard, and the grass was dying but clean and I stood there in the breeze telling me to push forward. Adam and Daisy followed me after they couldn’t take what I thought were the photos and the beer cans and the empty kitchen and no signs of livable life.
“Dad?” they asked, and came close enough to me that I could feel their breath on my legs.
“She’s just waiting for the heat to calm down in the house is all. Don’t worry, we’ll be here when she comes back.”
They believed me. They went back inside, and I hoped they resumed with their Saturday.
I felt my feet dig into the ground, and a gust of biting wind brought the first leaves in days to the ground.
“Everyone is waiting,” I said. “Please, everyone is waiting.”