“You forgot to buy milk yesterday,” she said.
“Ya… sorry,” he said in return.
Then silence again. A big chunk of it. Not so heavy anymore, though. Just silence. Not companionable. Just what it was. He was used to it now.
He eats. She reads the newspaper. He drinks his tea without milk hoping to leave enough so she doesn’t have to. He washes his dishes and goes outside.
He turns over the soil around the onions. He likes doing that. He feels a freshness in himself when the air makes space in the compacted soil. He can hear her in the house. He imagines she’s baking, though he can’t be sure of it. He just thinks that’s what she’s doing. She does a lot of baking lately. Puts it in the freezer for when the kids come home. She’s always preparing for those days. When they’re there; when the silence hides. Or it’s covered up.
He heard her on the phone the night before, on the phone with their daughter. She didn’t know he could hear her. He was turning the soil at the front, in the bed of nasturtiums there. The window was open to let the summer breeze in, but it also let her words out.
“Keep track of things. Pay attention. Yeah… you should really pay attention, that’s the most important thing. Pay attention to the details and keep track of time. Don’t let it get away from you because suddenly it’s all gone… it’s gone and you’re not sure what the point was. I let things get past me. I wish I hadn’t but I did.”
Those were a lot of words, he thought at the time. He doubted she’d said that many words to him the entire week. The words that floated so lightly out the window sat heavy in his thoughts. He wondered what got past her. Which details paid attention to might have made the difference? He felt responsible for the disappointment her words alluded to though he wasn’t sure why. Later, he wished he hadn’t heard the words at all. Later he wished for silence in their place.
He stayed outside with the nasturtiums, and later the patch of strawberries he’d started new that year, until long after dark. Until he couldn’t really see what he was doing anymore. The bats tweeted over his head, swooping down and diving up. But he stayed digging. Letting the air in, trying his best to unpack the compacted.