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"The Trellis Wave," short story excerpt

Monday 9/20/21

Her husband was gone, a child of hers was gone, and even a grandchild, and still the woman lived and wished to live. She’d long been accustomed to those “How do you do it?” looks. People wanted to know, yes, to satiate curiosity, but also should they ever need the relevant information, if and when losses piled up for them.


She lived at the end of a spit of land that curled—or dangled—into a bay. A child’s foot, calf, lounging languidly in water off a pier. The waves lapped rather than swatted. She didn’t see many people. She read and she gardened. She had her health. Worked at having it. Drank various teas for circulation, others for blood pressure, some to keep mind and memory sharp. She was fond of trellises. The garden was full of them, if by full one can mean outfitted with three or four. She liked to see the vines threading themselves between the curves and straight stretches of grillwork because their interweaving struck her as true to life.


The vines didn’t cut into the wood. They went with it. Just as her memories went with who she kept becoming. They even gave pleasure, because they were real and she believed that memories that are real are themselves alive.


She had learned, all over again, to walk with her husband who was gone the longest amount of time now. Give her daughter counsel, should she need it, on what to do about her boy’s rough patch at school when the friends that were supposed to stay as friends were the ones who went, and the entire world seemed to depend upon what would eventually be forgotten, or discarded on the heaping pile of “just one of those things.”


She thought back to teaching the same boy how to swim here by this house, with its trellises. How his feet had dangled off the pier in the water, and the home that had been so long her home tried to lean forward, reach out into the bay and all but utter, between short, bursting breaths, “I almost got you, at last.”


There were fights she remembered as well, which were also real. And the sound of a voice in the darkness, from out of the black, which was so remarkably different from out of the blue, saying, “I’m sorry. I just get—“


And her own voice—which had changed much in the decades since—responding, “It’s okay, I am too,” and how the implied “We’ll talk about it in the morning” also meant, “We are good right now,” and so they went to sleep.


She’d ask herself if they had lived their fair share. If they had gotten enough. Like life was a meal that came in courses. The boy especially. The pain took her often. It was though a wave of this pain, in a voice an octave removed from that of the voice of the house, said, “okay, you will come with me now, I am the rolling tsunami and we have to do this.”


She was often on top of that wave. Riding it throughout the day. But no one could see. Under normal eyes, she was a woman one would have observed putting the kettle on, fairly certain she had another packet of tea somewhere. Humming “They Can’t Take that Away from Me.” Standing up to stretch her back after a sustained hour of pulling weeds. She rode the wave into the past. The wave stopped short of the future, which was not within its scope or concern.