Madeleine De Pree's "Glass Lemon"
The Third Place winner in the 2015 Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest
The day after it happened, my mother took me to breakfast and said, honey, it's not your fault, these things are never anybody's fault. You couldn't have predicted it, nobody ever predicts it, especially not with a child in the car, bless her heart and rest her soul. And she put her hand to her chest, like this, with all the fingers spread out. Then she narrowed her eyes at the waiter, who was eavesdropping, and said could we please have the check now. She finished our coffees and guided me by the elbow to her car. She settled her fur coat around my shoulders. It smelled like dust.
She waited for the car to warm up before she told me that I should talk to someone. She said it had helped her when dad died. And when I said nothing, she said she knew just the person, and that she would call him right away, as if she hadn't been planning to do exactly that all morning.
Yes. And then she called you.
This is what the paramedic told me: Dan's neck snapped when he crashed into the lamppost. He died on impact. The medic lowered her voice, then, and said, ma'am, your husband's blood-alcohol content was extremely high. I guess she knew from the autopsy. She put her left hand on my shoulder and I saw two rings.
Sara was riding in the front seat when Dan wrecked the car. She flew through the windshield and into the air before she shattered on the pavement like glass.
When your husband crashes the car with your 6-year-old inside, it's not supposed to be fatal. The bumper falls off. He gets a scratch, she breaks a wrist. It happens to everyone. You say, god damn it, you don't put a child in the front seat. You say, I'm glad you're okay, but Christ, what were you thinking. You don't say, now she is dead. Now you are dead. Now I am here, alone.
Thank you for the tissues. I'm sure you know how it is.
After we finished breakfast, my mother drove us to my house. She wanted me to pack some clothing and shampoo and stay with her for a while. I started up the walkway and saw the tea olive bushes covered in flowers, which threw me off. I thought, this is wrong, it's too late for tea olive to bloom, it's too cold, this is wrong. Only I realized I had not been thinking quietly, but sobbing and sobbing on my knees. My mother rushed over and said, honey, they're just flowers, they're just flowers, come on. And she took me back to her house without the clothes or the shampoo.
Yes, well, I'm glad to hear that's normal.
Thank you. I'll be back next week.
Yes, it's nice to see you, too.
I had a dream last night where I was walking around my mother's house, only I was a teenager again and her house was full of people, maybe for a party. I must have been looking for Dan and Sara. I was whipping my head left and right so fast that the rooms blurred together, and I knew I would never find them. Then my hair covered my face and blocked my eyes, and I couldn't push it away. It was cold and wet, like I had just walked out of the shower, and I felt suffocated.
No. I don't know what the dream meant.
I found Sara's journal yesterday, if you can call it that, in a little spiral notebook with thin pages. You know how kids are, writing down a few words and calling it a diary. There was only one entry. Let me see. I've got it in my bag. She wrote this: i will be vary rich and have too cats one black and one wite and too couches one white and one blak and the wite cat will sit on the black couch and the blak cat will sit on the wite cowch and they will be soft and good cats
We never had any cats. We had Dan's old dog, Grover, until Sara was 4.
I don't think we should talk about Dan now.
Of course I am mad. Sara will never wear a wool skirt. She will never play trumpet in the high school marching band, or feel snow seeping through her gloves. She will never give a speech in English class. I will never read her poetry.
I keep thinking about Sara's journal entry. There was something unbearably literary about her writing, something very intentional that could have grown into greatness with age. But maybe I am making something out of nothing. She was only 6.
No, thank you. I brought my own tissues today.
No, actually. I'm angry today.
Do you know what a woman told me in the grocery store, right before I came here? She said, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. She said that because my shopping basket had broken and spilled all of my fruits onto the ground. And I said out loud to myself, this is a horrible day. And I guess she thought that was an invite for her wisdom.
I would never tell someone to make lemonade.
Well, because some people have horrible lemons.
The lemon I've been given is thick and heavy like blown glass. There is nothing to do with it. It's too hard to squeeze. My hand hurts if I try. So here I am, stuck with my glass lemon and no lemonade.
I turned to my mother last week and said, what am I going to do. She said, you do what you can. She said, you keep busy. She patted my hand, then, and handed me a Southern Living.
Sometimes I like to imagine that I was the one driving, but sober and without Sara. I imagine that I was the one who got in the crash, that a truck T-boned me out of nowhere and I became immediately comatose. I imagine Dan and Sara are alive and huddled around my hospital bed right now. It's late, and they're eating pizza together. Dan gives Sara the pepperonis. They're watching me dream. And what I'm dreaming of are these talks with you, doctor, which will be over as soon as I wake up and see them next to me.
No, of course not. I know I’m not really dreaming.
Yes. Yes, I’ll see you next week.