Night Road

Page 57

"You know how hard it can be on a kid to have a momma who isn't ready. Take some time for yourself. Get strong and happy and then go back to your daughter. You go back when you've got your life together. I think that's the responsible thing to do."
"The responsible thing," Lexi repeated, hating the idea, even as she recognized the truth of it. She would only confuse Grace now. How could she be a mother when her own life was in shambles? Grace deserved better; she deserved stability. Lexi knew about moms who were unreliable. It didn't make a child feel safe.
She smiled as brightly as she could. She didn't want to talk about this anymore. It was breaking her heart. "So, what's up with you? Did you ever take those knitting classes?"
"Lord, yes," Eva laughed. "Barbara and me got enough blankets to fill a motel. When you come down here…"
* * *
The view from the forty-second floor was dreary on this wet June day. The Space Needle hovered to her right, a black-and-white disc suspended against a dull gray sky.
Jude stood at the window, seeing her ghostly reflection in the glass. She was trying to stand still, appear calm, but it wasn't working. She felt jittery and uncomfortable in her own skin, as if she'd drunk ten cups of coffee on an empty stomach. She chewed on her thumbnail and went back to pacing. Panic lurked just outside her field of vision; she felt it stalking her, a shadow in the corner, waiting to pounce. But she couldn't pinpoint the source of her fear. She just knew that she was afraid, that she'd been afraid ever since she'd read that letter of Lexi's.
"I'm proud of you, Jude," Harriet said in that strangely even voice of hers. "It took a lot of courage to face Lexi again."
"I didn't face her. In fact I tried not to look at her."
"But you did look at her, didn't you?"
Jude nodded, gnawing on her thumbnail now, tapping her foot.
"What did you see?"
"I saw the girl who killed my daughter … and my granddaughter's mother and my son's first love. And … a girl I used to care about." Jude scratched nervously at the side of her face. Her skin was crawling suddenly. "What's wrong with me, Dr. Bloom? I feel like I'm going crazy."
"Not crazy. I think maybe you're ready to try a Compassionate Friends meeting. There's one today, you know. At two."
"That talk again?" Jude sighed and sat down, tapping her foot, fisting and unfisting her hands. "I am not going to go sit in a meeting with a bunch of other grieving parents. Should I talk about Mia? Will that bring her back?"
"In a way."
"Spoken like a person who hasn't lost a child. No, thanks."
"The only way to get clos-"
"So help me, God, if you say closure, I'll walk out. There's no closure. That's just a bunch of claptrap. I still can't listen to music-any music. I still cry almost every time I shower. Sometimes I scream in the car. I talk to my daughter and she can't hear me. None of that goes away."
"You used to say that you felt gray."
"I said I live in the gray. A thick ashy fog."
"And you thought the rain looked ashy the night Mia died?"
"Yeah, so?"
Harriet peered at her over the rims of her half lenses. Her point had been made. "So if you're still in the gray, I think maybe you should look around. Maybe you can see something now. Shapes. People."
Jude stopped chewing her nail. "What do you mean?"
"I know your pain won't end, Jude. I'm not a fool. But maybe you're finally getting ready to accept that there might be more than just pain. That's why you're acting like an overbred poodle right now. You're afraid of feeling, and it's happening anyway. You opened up enough to let Lexi Baill into your house. That's a huge step, Jude."
"I read Grace a story and played a board game with her," Jude said quietly.
"How did that make you feel?"
Jude looked up. "Like a grandmother." Tears filled her eyes. She hadn't realized that until right now. "I've been hard on Zach. I just … couldn't look at him without remembering…"
"Remembering is okay, Jude."
"Not the way I do it, Doc. It … breaks me."
"Maybe you need to be broken a little before you can put yourself back together."
"I'm afraid I won't be able to put myself back together."
"You will. You're on your way, Jude."
"What do I do next?"
"Follow your heart."
Jude shivered at the idea of that. She'd worked so hard to shut down her emotions; the idea of opening them up again was terrifying. She didn't know if she could do it. If she even wanted to.
For the rest of her scheduled hour, Jude tried to listen to Dr. Bloom, but that sense of panic was rising again, drowning out everything except the in-and-out strains of her own breathing. What if she opened herself up again and the pain simply engulfed her? What if she lost all the progress she'd made? It hadn't been that long ago that Jude had been practically useless, a crying gray form that couldn't get through the day without drugs.
At the end of her session, she said something to Dr. Bloom-she didn't remember what-and walked outside.
The weather now was both bright and gray. Clouds the color of beach sand hung low in the sky. Sunlight glowed through in places while rain fell in drops so small no local even noticed, but tourists in the market huddled beneath brightly colored umbrellas. She stood at the corner in front of Dr. Bloom's building, beneath this crying sky, and tried to remember which way to go . It felt suddenly as if any move could be wrong.
"Are you okay, Ma'am?" a kid said, appearing beside her. With shaggy hair and a skateboard clamped under his arm, he reminded her of long ago-or maybe a second ago-when Zach and Mia had been in middle school.
She would have given anything to run to her car right now, to drive down to the ferry terminal and go home. But she couldn't. It was Wednesday.
"I'm fine," she said to the kid. "Thanks." She moved forward, walking slowly. Rain tapped at her head, occasionally a drop landed in her eye, but she barely noticed.
In no time at all, she was standing in front of her mother's art gallery. In windows on either side of the closed door hung large canvases-one was a traditional landscape, the tulips in the Skagit Valley, done in golds and reds, beneath a shadowy, melancholy black sky; the other was a still life, a vase full of pink dahlias. Only on close examination could one see the hairline crack in the aged-looking porcelain.
Next door, she opened one of the huge glass doors and entered an elegant lobby. Saying hello to the doorman, she headed for the elevator and rode it to the top floor.
The elevator opened onto the penthouse: four thousand square feet of ivory marble flooring dotted with exquisite, uncomfortable French antique furniture. Floor-to-ceiling windows captured the Seattle skyline, Elliott Bay, and, on good days, Mount Rainier.
"Judith," her mother said, coming toward her. "You're early. Would you like a glass of wine?"
"Desperately." Jude followed her mother into the living room. The few solid walls in this space were painted a creamy white and supported giant works of art, none of which Jude liked. They were all dark and despairing somehow; sad. Just looking at the artwork in this room had always depressed Jude. Other than the paintings, there was no color anywhere. Jude sat down in a white chair by the fireplace.
Her mother brought her a glass of white wine. "Thanks, Mother."
Her mother sat down on the pale sofa opposite Jude. She looked ready to host an elegant party-her white hair was coiled with effortless chic into a French twist; her face was expertly made up to emphasize her green eyes and minimize the lines that fanned out around her thin lips.
"You look upset," Mother said, sipping her wine.
It was a strangely intimate observation for her mother to make. Normally, Jude would have smiled and made up a pretty excuse, but she had been undone by Lexi's return, by that damned letter, by the obvious pain her son was now in-all of it. She had no strength left, and she was afraid, even though she didn't know what scared her. Staying put? Letting go? Holding on? Nothing felt safe anymore. And she wanted someone to talk to, someone to help her find a way out. But her mother was hardly that person.
She wanted to smile and change the subject and pretend she had nothing pressing on her mind, but her whole life was falling apart, it seemed, and she had no strength left for pretense. "Why is it we never really talk?" she said slowly. "I don't even know you. And you certainly don't know me. Why is that?"
Her mother put down her wine glass. Backlit by the gray day, she looked ethereal. For the first time, Jude noticed how old her mother looked, how tired. Her shoulders were thin as bird bones and her spine had begun to curve forward. "You, of all people, should understand, Judith." Her mother's voice was sharp and thin, a razor blade, but the look in her eyes was perhaps the softest expression Jude had ever seen. There was sadness there. Had it always been there?
"Why should I understand?"
Her mother glanced out the window. "I loved your father," she said quietly, a crack in her voice. "After he passed, I knew I had you to care for, and I wanted to care for you, to love you … but there was nothing inside me. Even my ability to paint vanished. I thought it would last for a day or a week." She looked at Jude. "It just went on and on, and when it finally lifted enough that I could breathe, you were gone from me. I didn't even know how to get you back."
Jude stared at her mother in shock. How was it that she'd never made this connection? She'd known that her mother quit painting on the day of her father's funeral, that she'd walked out of the house and never returned, not really.
"I watched the kind of mother you became, and I was so proud of you. But I never said that. You wouldn't have heard me anyway, although perhaps I want to think that. Either way, I didn't say it. Then I saw you make the same mistake I did: I saw you stop loving Zach … and yourself. It broke my heart. I would have told you what you were doing wrong, but you were always so sure that I was weak and you were strong. So yes, Judith, you-of all people, you-should understand my mistakes. You should know why I treated you the way I did."
Jude didn't know what to say. It felt as if her whole life, her whole identity, had just cracked open.
Her mother got to her feet. For a second, Jude thought she was going to walk over here, cross the distance between them, and maybe even sit down beside her. "You're young," her mother said finally. "You can undo this mistake."
Jude felt herself starting to shake. Here it was, the thing she'd been afraid of. "How?"

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