He put the two spoons into the tray in the kitchen drawer, folded the dish towel over the oven’s handle, and turned to the living room.
“Thanks for dinner,” he called to her. “Your vegetable soup is always excellent.”
She smiled and settled down into the loveseat, leaning her back against one armrest. The sun brightened her as it moved lower behind branches and changing leaves. She liked to watch the birdfeeder at the back. Yesterday morning two faded cardinals perched on the corner post of the wood fence. One peeping, as the other hopped to the feeder and back with the dark seed.
Now there were no birds.
She rested her hand on her stomach and looked at her ring. Then she pulled up her knees and wrapped herself in a brown blanket, her lips straight as she looked again through the large window onto the yard.
He knew she wasn’t thinking about what was out there. He called to her, “Will you go for a walk with me?”
She turned to him, relieved by the interruption. “Of course I will, honey.”
He said, “I first need to check my work email.”
In the laundry room each put on shoes and a jacket. She asked, “Where do you want to walk?”
He chose a route he thought would get work off his mind, so he could think with her about what happened in the morning. “Let’s leave the subdivision, and go to the farmer’s field.”
She took the flashlight from the shelf. “We’ll need this for the way back. It gets dark early now.”
They walked down the driveway into the cool, graying evening. Before crossing the quiet side-street each felt for the other’s hand. In a minute they turned onto the half-mile stretch of road that ran north, alongside a line of trees that screened the county bike trail.
He said, “I like this road. The old trees on both sides, all the way to the end. And I like that it’s straight, that it rises and dips a little, like a real country road.”
“And I like the rabbits,” she said. She pointed to a gray-brown, furry lump. It was still, and facing into the trees by the trail. “He thinks if he doesn’t move we won’t notice him.” Then she called sweetly, “We see you!”
She added, “I like the trees too, especially now with the colored leaves. But the mailboxes. Why are they on the trail side? The people have to cross the street to get their mail.”
“I never thought about that.” And he smiled knowing that what he’d say next wouldn’t satisfy her. “Maybe the village wanted the boxes on the same side as the telephone poles.”
She liked when he made up answers for things. But she let him know when he didn’t come up with a good one. “They’re simply on the wrong side.”
Behind them the whisper of a car’s tires on pavement came closer. They moved over to the narrow strip of gravel. The car passed slowly and continued on.
“At least there aren’t many cars,” he said.
They became quiet in their own thoughts. He looked toward an open garage with tools covering the inside walls. She, at fall flowers in a garden near the road.
As they continued to walk, he said to himself, “Telephone poles and mailboxes.” Then out loud, “It’s easy here to imagine it’s the seventies.” He started to daydream and said, “Simpler times.”
They passed a house that, like the others, sat far enough back from the road that a group of old trees could spread their jagged limbs over the large front yard. A long, gravel driveway bordered one side of the property and gave some weathered, undriven cars a place to be. The small house’s front door was on a cement stoop. Next to it stood a tall aluminum pole. At the top the American flag drooped motionless, faded.
After the house he saw the mowed grass of the park-district baseball field. No one was there. In a far corner, a flat area of sand marked the infield. The tall, chain-link backstop drew his gaze. Behind it a line of trees screened a two-lane county route that ran the same direction as the road. From there a high pitched trill of a squad car came and went. It woke him up from his slide into home-plate.
“Those times seem simpler to me,” he corrected himself, “because I was a boy then.”
She looked at him and smiled. “I’d like to have seen you as a boy.”
“A boy,” he repeated in a whisper. Then he spoke in the serious voice he used when talking about his job. “They’re cutting costs again. I won’t get the new position.” Then with a gentle voice, the one he used to ask her for help. “Why do I stay at that place? Twenty-five years under fluorescent lights. My back to the window, the kind that doesn’t open. Each day is the same–the building won’t let in the season.”
She wanted to say something, like if she owned a company he’d be CEO. She knew he did well at his job, and hoped with him for a position where he could do more. But she also liked that he came home at dinner. She squeezed his hand and said, “I’m sorry, honey.” And after a pause, “Maybe that new position would have been too much.”
On other walks they wouldn’t hold hands the whole time, but this time they did not let go. His hand stayed warm because she was holding it. And at that moment he thought only of her, that she cared for him, that she encouraged him to appreciate family, that she encouraged him to pursue his creativity.
She went on, “Today Agnes asked me to take her to the club. Years ago she’d pass the time there since Joe was putting so much into his career. They never had children. She said they didn’t want kids. Now there’s none to look in on them. They need me to take them to the doctor, to help them around the house. I cross their street to bring in their mail.”
He thought of their being old one day, sitting together at home. No doorbell. No ring of the telephone. Emptiness.
At a half-mile they reached the road’s end, the T at the east-west street. They crossed to the field. It was lined with stubs of dried cornstalks.
He looked up slightly, into the distance as far as he could. Low in the west, pink wisps of clouds glowed in front of deep blue.
“The sky,” he said, “It’s so big here. So open.”
She too liked the view there, especially after sunset. “It’s beautiful.”
He looked into the field. “Last Saturday I saw them having a bonfire and hayride over there. Boys and girls laughing and screaming. Really having a good time.”
She smiled. “Makes me think of when I was a girl.”
A group of robins fluttered among the top branches near the trail. She looked at them and forgot the rest of what she was going to say.
He’d never seen her pay attention to robins. She would look for birds that were harder to find. “What is it?” he asked.
“I just had a memory,” she answered. “When I was a girl, I would walk with my older sister to and from school. One time it was spring and we were going along the path through some trees. On the ground I found a tiny blue egg. It was cracked and empty.”
He started to say it’s not unusual, but stopped.
“When I stood up, just a little higher than me I saw the nest. And poking above it, I saw the head of the mother. I remember her eye, round and black. She was staring at me like she knew the egg was gone, like she knew there was nothing she could do.”
He put his arm around her. She rested her head on his shoulder and he could feel her shaking.
She sobbed. “I told the robin that everything would be okay. I told her she would have others.”
He hugged her and listened to her cry. And he began too, in his chest and throat and eyes. He swallowed. Then he said quietly, “We’ll try again. Like the doctor said.” They held each other for a minute as the sky became a deeper blue.
A single screech of a young great horned howl came from the trees. Then, overhead, the silhouette of the mother’s outstretched wings glided silently into the woods.
He said, “Let’s go back.” And before crossing the east-west street each felt for the other’s hand. She felt hers become warm, because he was holding it.