- The Husband Tree
My daughter is working, early, in the yard. I hear her footsteps from my bedroom, my windows overlooking the teardrop of grass and the ring of hostas and ferns, the Japanese Maple on the very edge of my property. It's been this way all summer. She's left her job, moved home to be a gardener. My gardener. Soon, her shoveling will start and I will not be able to sleep [End Page 57] again. The cleaving: it's too much, too rhythmic. Thwack, thwack, thwack. I get up.
Peering out the window, I can see only the back of her: a grey T-shirt sweated through already in the shape of a racer back sports bra, the chicken breast curve of her shoulder blades, the slightly tilted bend of her spine—she has always favored her right for some reason. The nape of her neck is shaved clean; her hair is short. Her legs, bent now as she kneels in fragrant mulch bedding, are muscled and tanned. She wears hiking boots every day. There is a baseball cap resting backwards on her head and I can just make out the knitted design of her old hockey team logo. Underneath: her loose curls—which she gets from me—and underneath those curls she is a mystery.
My daughter quit her job. A good job in the city that paid her well, awarded benefits. My husband and I never thought she'd have insurance past the age of twenty-six—she studied writing in college—and then a newspaper of all places gave her a salary, health insurance, paid vacation. All of that gone now with the simplest of explanations: I just couldn't do it anymore. She showed up two months ago with a duffle bag, a brown, open-faced box, her old Saab parked askew in my driveway. I didn't say a word, just opened up the door, let her in, and helped her unpack her things into the spare room.
In the yard, the grass is soft beneath my feet and sinks a little. July has gone muggy with humidity; I understand why she starts her work so early. I just don't understand the work itself. Years of writing late into the night, reading tirelessly through summer vacations, studying the classics, going to some small liberal college up north—my daughter wants to be a landscaper. I suppose there are worse things in the world than a lesbian landscaper.
"Morning," I call, as my daughter's shovel jabs the mulch. She leaves it there, the handle sticking up. [End Page 58]
"Oh," she says, turning. "Hey."
Her work continues.
"What's it today? Morning glories? Geraniums? Little spruce trees?"
My daughter sighs and leaves her shovel in the ground again. "What do you want, Mom?"
"Nothing, nothing," I say, sounding light, I hope. "Just saying hello."
I stand behind her, admiring the Japanese Maple. Its bark is shiny in a way that makes me want to slide my fingertips all over it. Its branches are delicate; it is young, new, planted by my daughter just this summer. She says it won't get too much bigger. Still, it will give enough shade to the yard. I hear her grunt a little in the mulch bed; she works herself too hard.
"You need a drink or anything?"
"I'm fine," she says.
"I have iced tea in the fridge, unsweetened. And there's soda in the garage."
"I know," she says. "I'm fine, thanks."
Her arms keep working. She is making a neat row of identical divots, aesthetically pleasing.
"I can make some coffee," I say.
A forceful sigh, and she plants her shovel yet again in the mulch. "You want me to have a coffee with you?"
"Oh, no," I say. "I was just saying. I can brew a pot. If you'll have some, too."
The length of her forearm runs across her forehead, nudging her baseball cap so I can see the light red spots left by the adjustable clasp. She really shouldn't wear it like that.
"There's always the Keurig, too," I say...