Night Road

Page 35


By the middle of August, she'd stopped doing almost everything. She had to remind herself to shower and wash her hair. The only time she even got out of bed was to welcome her husband home, and she saw the sadness in Miles's eyes when he looked at her then.
She knew she was depressed. Miles kept asking her to "see someone." He didn't understand how deep this new darkness in her ran and how afraid she was to let go of it. She didn't want to get better. Really, she just wanted to be left alone. On the rare day when she even thought about trying, she told herself that Zach needed her, that Miles needed her, that she'd always thought of herself as a strong woman, but the words were like snapshots found in a drawer that showed a stranger's life. Impossible to care about.
Now, she and Miles were out on the back patio, pretending to be the couple they'd been before.
Miles was in the lounge chair beside her, with his feet stretched out. In his lap lay an open newspaper, but she knew he wasn't really reading it. They all tended to avoid the news these days; there was always a story about drunk driving somewhere within the pages. She felt him looking at her, but she didn't meet his gaze.
Instead, she counted the minutes until she could make some excuse and go back to bed. She was holding Mia's unset, unfinished ring in her hand. She did that a lot lately, just held it.
"You should put that away," Miles said. There was a taint of irritation in his voice that had become familiar.
"And go on," Jude said. "Yeah. I know."
"This can't continue," he said, raising his voice.
She was startled by the volume. "Save your surgeon voice for people who work for you."
"You're letting it drown you. Us."
"It." She finally turned to him. "Our daughter's death. So what, I'm overreacting? How disappointing for you."
Miles tightened his jaw. "Enough. I'm not going to let you turn me into the bad guy who didn't love Mia enough because I can still somehow love my son and my wife. You need help. You need to start."
"Start what? Forgetting her?"
"Letting go. It's not healthy to keep hanging on to her. Zach needs you. I need you."
"And there it is. The real point. You miss your wife, so I better toe the line."
"Damn it, Jude, you know that's not what I'm saying. I'm afraid we're going to lose us."
Somewhere deep inside, she felt the sting of that, and the truth of it. She experienced a rare desire to explain, to try to make him understand. "I went to Safeway last night. At midnight. I thought no one would be there. And I was right. I wandered around the aisles, just looking at stuff. When I ended up at the check stand, I had four tomatoes and ten boxes of Lucky Charms. The cashier said, 'Wow, you must have a lot of kids.' I stared at her and thought, How many kids do I have? What do I say to people? One, two. One now? I ran out without paying. You're right. I need help. How about if I get some of it from you and you just back off?"
"I don't know how to back off. I'm scared as hell you're going to fill up your pockets with rocks and walk out into the water one day, like that stupid movie we saw."
"I wish."
"See? See?" He got to his feet. "All right, Jude. You want my help? I'm going to give it to you. I'm going to get us started." He walked toward the sliding pocket doors and went into the house.
She let out a relieved sigh and sank back into the chair. That was how all of their conversations seemed to go lately. Miles storming off or walking away or trying to cure her with a hug. None of it meant much to her.
She stared down at Mia's stoneless ring, seeing the way the sunlight glanced off the prongs.
Then it hit her.
She knew what Miles was going to do to "help" her. It was something he'd mentioned often. You can't keep putting it off, he'd say. As if grief were a train that needed to stay on schedule.
With a cry, she flew out of her chair and ran up the stairs.
Mia's door was open.
She stumbled to a stop, frozen. She hadn't been able to touch the doorknob since that terrible night. She'd kept the door closed, as if not seeing the pink room would diminish her pain somehow.
But now Miles was in there, probably starting to box up her things.
To give to other kids, Jude. Children in need. Mia would want that.
She shrieked his name and ran for the open door, ready to scream at him, grab at him, claw at him.
He was kneeling on the wheat-colored carpet, his head bowed, clutching the soft pink stuffed puppy that had once been their daughter's second-best friend in the world, next to her brother. "Daisy Doggy," he said thickly.
Jude remembered with a stunning clarity how much she loved this man and how much she needed him. She tried to think of what to say to him now, but before she found her voice, Zach came up beside her.
"What's all the-" He saw his dad, holding Daisy Doggy, crying, and Zach started to back up.
"Zach," Miles said, wiping his eyes, but Zach was already gone. Down the hall, a door slammed shut.
"We're losing him," Miles said quietly. Slowly, as if his arm didn't quite work right, he put down the stuffed puppy.
Jude heard the censure that had crept back into his voice, the blame he placed on her, and she felt weighed down by it. "We're all lost, Miles," she said. "You're the only one who doesn't get that."
Before he could answer that, she went back downstairs and crawled into bed.
* * *
Lexi knew now why her lawyer had wanted her to plead not guilty . Prison was a place where women beat one another up for a hand-rolled cigarette. You had to be careful every second. The wrong look at the wrong woman could literally get you killed.
She was afraid all of the time, and when she wasn't afraid, she was irritated. Her temporary cellmate, Cassandra, had turned out to be a crystal-meth addict who would do anything for drugs and moaned all night in her sleep. Lexi had spent the first four weeks dodging the big mean women who ran the drug trades. She spoke to no one.
Today, though, she had something to look forward to.
It was visiting day. Lexi knew it was wrong to make Eva come up all this way, and she wished she were strong enough to tell her not to come, but she couldn't. It was so damned lonely here. Eva's visits were the only good thing left in her life, the only hour all week to which she looked forward.
She spent all morning counting the minutes, listening to Cassandra puke in their lidless steel toilet. When the guard showed up to take Lexi to the visitors' room, she practically leaped up. Following instructions precisely, she made her way through the various doors, past the inspections, and into the big, windowed room where family and friends came to visit.
There, she found an empty table and sat down, tapping her foot nervously on the floor. Guards were stationed around the room, watching everything, but other than that, it almost looked like a school cafeteria.
Finally, Eva came through the door. She looked smaller and older, with her gray hair frizzing out around her pleated face. As always, she looked uncomfortable in here, out of place.
"Over here, Aunt Eva!" Lexi said, raising her hand as if she were a high school girl again.
Eva shuffled forward. At the table, she stopped suddenly and kind of collapsed into the chair. "Lord, help me," she said, pressing a hand to her chest. "You'd think I was the criminal."
"What do you mean?"
"Oh. I didn't mean that. It was just an ordeal, getting in today. Something must be up. That's all. How are you?" She reached across the table and patted Lexi's hand, smiling brightly. "How are you this week?"
Lexi didn't mean to grab her aunt's hands, but she couldn't help herself. It felt so good to touch someone. The depth of her need surprised her. She was so hungry for conversation, for connection, that she launched into a review of the book she'd read this week, and she told Eva all about her job in the laundry. In turn, Eva told her about the summer sale at Walmart and the weather in Port George.
It wasn't until Lexi had run out of news that she really looked at her aunt, and that was when she saw the changes. It had only been two months since Lexi's incarceration, but these visits had already left marks on Eva's face. Her wrinkles were deeper, her lips thinner. She had to keep clearing her throat, as if it hurt to speak.
Once Lexi saw all of that, she couldn't unsee it. She understood all at once how selfish she'd been to this woman who had never been anything but kind.
"Have you started taking college courses yet?" Eva asked, pushing the fuzzy hair out of her eyes.
"You can get a degree in here. Just like you planned."
"I think ex-cons have a hard time getting into law school." Lexi slumped back in her chair, feeling defeated now, alone. She'd been through this kind of thing before, back when she'd been in the care of strangers. She'd waited and waited to see her mom, only to be heartbroken again and again. Sometimes the only way to survive was to stop hoping. Stop waiting.
Eva had been there for Lexi in a way that no one else ever had. We're family, Eva had said to her on that day, so long ago now, when they'd first come together, and it had become the truth.
Now it was Lexi's turn. If she didn't release Eva now, her aunt would stay here, connected to this terrible place by a string of uncomfortable visiting days. "You should go to Florida," she said quietly.
Eva stopped. Had she been saying something? "What do you mean? I can't leave you."
Lexi leaned forward, grasped Eva's hands across the table. "I'm going to be in here for more than five years. And I know how much you want to live with Barbara-this rainy weather is so hard on your knees. You deserve to be happy, Eva. Really."
"Don't say that, Lexi."
Lexi swallowed hard. She knew what she had to do. Eva would have to be forced to let go. "I won't see you again, Eva. It won't do you any good to come back."
"Oh, Alexa…"
It was all in that softly spoken name-the regret, the disappointment, the loss-and it hurt to hear it; mostly it hurt to know that she was pushing away the only person in the world who loved her. But it was for Eva's own good.
And wasn't that what love was supposed to be?
"When I get out, I'll come to Florida," Lexi said.
"I won't let you do this," Eva said, her eyes filling with tears.
"No. I won't let you do this," Lexi said. "Give me this, Eva. Please. Let me do this for you. It's all I can do."
Eva sat there a long time. Then, finally, she wiped her eyes. "I'll write every week."
Lexi could only nod.
"And I'll send pictures."
They kept talking, both of them trying to say everything that was needed, building up a store of words that would keep them warm come winter. But finally, the time was over, and Eva got to her feet. She looked even older now, more tired. And Lexi knew she'd done the right thing.


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