Night Road

Page 40

Jude stood in her designer kitchen, staring at the six-burner stove. Late-afternoon sunlight slanted through the window, made the tiny bronze flecks in the granite countertop sparkle.
Miles came up beside her and kissed her cheek. He had stayed close to Jude all day. "Zach and Grace will be here for dinner," he reminded her.
She nodded. It occurred to her a moment too late that she could have turned into his arms and kissed him back, but as with so many things, her timing was off. She watched him move away from her, saw the distance between them expanding. It was a skill she'd acquired; she actually saw empty space now.
She knew he was disappointed in her, in their marriage, just as she knew that he still loved her. At least he wanted to, and for Miles desire and reality were the same thing because he made it so. He still believed in them. He woke every day and thought today: today would be the day she'd remember how to love him again.
She went to the fridge for ground beef and pork and set about the comforting task of making meatballs. For the the next hour, she lost herself in routine: dicing vegetables, forming meatballs, frying them up. By the time her sauce was made, the house smelled of red-wine-based tomato sauce and savory thyme-rich meatballs. A humid sweetness hung in the air as water boiled on the stove. She turned the sauce down to simmer and made a salad. She was just closing the refrigerator door when she heard a car drive up.
She tucked the hair behind her ear, feeling the coarse new strands of gray that threaded through the blond-tactile reminders of her loss. As she neared the living room, Miles saw her coming and met her halfway, putting an arm around her waist.
Grace walked into the sunlit entry. In her butterfly-print capri pants and smocked pink blouse, with her corn-silk blond hair fighting its way out of a lopsided ponytail, she looked like a little wood sprite. It wasn't until you studied her small, heart-shaped face, with its pointed chin and sharp nose, that you saw that there was nothing truly elfin about the serious child in front of you. Like the rest of them, she rarely smiled and laughed quietly, covering her mouth with her hand as if the sound were unpleasant.
Miles released his hold on Jude and went to his granddaughter, scooping her up in his arms and twirling her around. "And how's my little Poppet today?"
Jude flinched at the endearment. She'd tried to stop her husband from using it, but he said he couldn't do it, that he looked at Grace and saw Mia, and the nickname slipped out.
Jude saw Mia in Grace, too. That was the problem. Every time Jude looked at this child, the wound reopened.
"I'm good, Papa," she said. "I found an arrowhead on the beach at recess."
"No, you didn't," Zach said, kicking the door shut behind him.
"I could have," Grace said.
"But you didn't. Jacob Moore found it, and you punched him in the nose when he wouldn't give it to you."
"Jacob Moore?" Miles said, peering down at his granddaughter through the rimless glasses he now wore. "Isn't he the kid who looks like Bigfoot?"
Grace giggled and covered her mouth, nodding. "He's seven," she whispered solemnly. "And in kindergarten."
"Don't encourage her, Dad," Zach said, tossing his keys on the table by the door. "She's already looking at cage fighting as her only career option." He hung up his backpack, pausing for a second at the green sweater still hanging on the hall tree. His long fingers brushed the fabric. They all did that, touched the sweater like a talisman every time they came into the house. Then he turned away and headed toward the great room.
Jude was so removed from her own life that she saw her son from a distance even when he was right in front of her. His blond hair had grown out again; it was too long, messy and unkempt. His jawline was stubbly-his beard grew in some places and not others because of the burn; his shirt was on inside out, and probably had been all day; and when he took off his sneakers, his socks didn't match. Worse than all of that was the exhaustion in his eyes. No doubt he'd spent last night studying and still gotten up bright and early to make Grace breakfast. One day he was just going to drop where he stood.
"You want a beer?" Miles said to his son as he kissed Grace's pink cheek.
"I'm not allowed to drink beer," she said brightly.
"Very funny, young lady. I was asking your daddy."
"Sure," Zach said.
Jude grabbed two beers from the fridge and poured herself a white wine; then she followed her men out to the patio.
She sat down in the lounge chair by the barbeque. Miles was to her left, and Zach sat at the outdoor table, slumped in an armchair, with his stockinged feet planted up on the table. Grace walked past them and sat alone at the edge of the grass, where she started to talk to her own wrist.
"She's still got her invisible friend, I see," Miles said.
"Ordinary kids have invisible friends," Zach said. "Grace has an invisible alien friend who is a princess trapped in a jar on her planet. And that's the least of our problems." He took a sip of beer and set the bottle aside. "Her teacher says she has trouble making friends. She lies about everything, and she's … started asking about her mother. She wants to know why she doesn't live with us and where she is."
Jude straightened in her chair.
"She needs us more," Miles said.
"Maybe I should quit med school for a while," Zach said, and it was obvious from his voice and his body language that he'd been considering this for some time . "Third year is supposed to be wicked hard, and, honestly, I'm jammed as it is. Every second of my life I'm either studying or rushing to be with Grace. When I'm with her, I'm so tired I'm useless. You know what she said to me last night? 'Daddy, I can take care of myself if you're too tired to make dinner.'" He ran a hand through his hair. "She's five years old, for God's sake. And she's worried about me."
"And you're twenty-four," Miles said. "You're doing a hell of a job, Zach. We're proud of you, aren't we, Jude? You can't quit med school now. You're almost there."
"Tomorrow I have study group at night. If I don't go, I'll blow the final. I know it."
"I'll pick her up and feed her dinner," Jude said. It was expected of her; she knew it. "You study as long as you need to."
Zach glanced over at her.
He didn't trust her with Grace; of course he didn't. He still remembered the early days when Jude had tried to be a grandparent and failed. Her grief had been knife sharp then: it stabbed at the strangest times and left her for dead. Because of it, she used to oversleep and forget to pick Grace up. Once-the worst of times-Miles had come home at night to find Grace lying forgotten in Mia's bedroom, in a dirty diaper, while Jude lay curled in the fetal position on her own bed, sobbing, holding Mia's photo.
They all knew that Jude couldn't look at Grace without feeling an overwhelming grief. Everything Grace did reminded Jude of her loss, and so she kept her distance from her granddaughter. It shamed Jude and embarrassed her, this weakness, but there was no way she could fix it. She'd tried. But in the past two years, she'd gotten better. She picked Grace up regularly from both kindergarten and the day care she went to after school. It was only on the worst of days, when Jude fell into that gray world, that she crawled into bed and forgot everything she had to do and everyone around her. Especially her granddaughter.
"I'm better now," she said to Zach. "You can trust me."
"Tomorrow is-"
"I know what tomorrow is," Jude cut him off before he could say what they all already knew: tomorrow would be a bad day for all of them. "But you can trust me this time."
* * *
It should have been raining. The landscape beyond her window should have been ominous and black, like ink spreading, with swollen charcoal skies and cobwebbed black leaves skidding across dirty sidewalks and crows gathered on telephone lines. A scene out of The Stand. Instead, the sixth anniversary of her daughter's death dawned bright and sunny, with the kind of cornflower-blue sky that turned Seattle into the prettiest city in the world. The Sound sparkled; Mount Rainier came out to play, its vivid white peak resplendent over the city's shoulder.
Still, Jude felt cold. Freezing. All around her, tourists walked through the Pike Place Market, dressed in shorts and T-shirts, carrying cameras and eating food off sticks or out of greasy white bags. Long-haired musicians staked out the primo street corner locations, hammering away at their accordions or guitars or bongo drums. One even had a piano.
Jude wrapped the heavy cashmere scarf around her neck and resettled the purse on her shoulder. At the end of the market, a triangular patch of grass provided a resting spot for the homeless. A giant totem pole looked down on them.
She crossed the busy street and walked up a steep hill to a swizzle stick of a building that poked high into the clear blue sky.
"Ms. Farraday," the doorman said, tipping his ridiculous hat at her.
Unable today to smile, she nodded and walked past him. Waiting for the elevator, she tapped her foot on the tile floor and bit her lip. She took off her scarf and put it back on. By the time she reached Dr. Bloom's austere glass-walled office, she was so cold she expected to see her own breath.
"You can go in, Ms. Farraday," the receptionist said at her entrance.
Jude couldn't respond. She passed through the waiting area and went into Dr. Bloom's elegantly decorated office. "Turn on the heat," she said without preamble, collapsing onto the plush chair beside her.
"There's a throw beside you," her doctor said.
Jude reached down for the camel-colored mohair blanket and covered herself with it, shivering. "What?" she said, realizing the doctor was staring at her.
Dr. Harriet Bloom took a seat opposite Jude. She was as austere as her office-steel-gray hair, an angular face, and dark eyes that noticed everything. Today she was wearing a houndstooth sheath with black hose and fashionable black pumps.
When Jude had first folded under Miles's relentless pressure to "get help" and "see someone," she'd visited a string of psychiatrists and therapists and counselors. At first her sole criterion had been their ability to dispense prescription drugs. In time, she'd weeded out the touchy-feely purveyors of hope and the idiots who told her boldly that someday she would smile again. The minute someone told her that time healed all wounds, she got up and left.
By 2005, only Harriet Bloom remained-Harriet, who rarely smiled and whose demeanor hinted at a personal understanding of tragedy. And she could prescribe drugs.
"What?" Jude said again, shivering.
"We both know what day it is."
Jude wanted to make a smart comeback, but she couldn't. All she could do was nod.
"Did you sleep last night?"
She shook her head. "Miles held me, but I pushed him away."

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