He had said, "I’m sick."
She remembered him not wanting to go to their niece’s piano recital in August.
Now the branches of the white oaks were bare and she shuddered in the breeze. She pulled her sweater tighter around her large shoulders, watched a lone goose fly by thrashingly overhead, and cursed under her breath, "Dammit Walter."
Saturday morning and he had dragged her out of bed, down to the pond, and out onto the water in the small fishing canoe they kept underneath the dock. Even in the chilled air the effort of pulling the boat across the small embankment had caused her to sweat.
It was December, but they hadn’t yet gotten their first snow. Newscasters said the air was exceptionally dry in the Heartland this year. She marked time by the forecasts.
And then, the school bus had rattled by that Friday afternoon, making its way down route three for the last time before the holiday break. But they hadn’t been home to hear it.
"Regan." He’d said her name. Just like that. "It’s time."
She cursed him again for knowing, for always knowing before her, more than her.
She shifted and the boat rocked gently on the cold water.
So, you’re going out? she had wanted to say to him that afternoon five days ago. A joke. But then she felt a pang of remorse and bit her tongue.
"Well, now we’re doing something together," she said.
She had wanted to go out more; they were always at home. She nagged him. "Walter. My sister told me that new restaurant on First Street , Merriam’s, is worth a visit. She told me to try the blueberry pie. They don’t use too much sugar. And the prices are good." He snorted, and she realized he’d fallen asleep while she was talking.
Fourth of July was the last time they’d gone somewhere together. Her sister was having a picnic.
"Re. Where’s the ketchup, Re?" His left hand was propped on the edge of the table holding a naked hotdog in a bun. His right hand was flailing about almost detached from himself, the near-empty beer can spitting up a few suds. Was he trying to get her attention?
She looked down at the table. The ketchup was sitting next to his plate inches from the hotdog. She turned away without answering him. If he was trying to be funny, she wasn’t laughing.
"It’s right in front of you," cried their niece. She was a little pig-tailed girl in a lacey-white dress.
He looked down. "Where?"
The girl picked up the bottle of ketchup, opened it, and squirted a fat line across her uncle’s hotdog.
"Thanks, honey, but that’s mustard. I wanted ketchup."
She looked at him blankly.
Regan pretended not to hear. She had been good at pretending.
But now, it had caught up with her.
Fingering the design around the edge of the pewter canister, Regan burst into laughter. The memory stung. She laughed harder, pulling the container to her chest and hugging it into her breasts.
"What about me?"
Her laughter turned to tears.
"What about me?"
She composed herself. Wiped her eyes and nose with the sleeve of her sweater. Then slowly, she removed the lid. She sat staring into it for a minute. Finally, taking it by the handle, without thinking, just the act of doing, she whipped her arm up and out, scattering the contents into the air.