The next morning, Jill finds herself parked in front of her apartment with the same searing pain in her stomach. A light snow falls on the car as she sends a text message to Christina: “Can we talk about this?”
Christina always has her cell phone and responds instantly to those she cares about. After ten minutes, there’s no response. Jill takes a deep breath and enters her apartment.
That afternoon, as she cooks lunch, she checks her cell phone every few minutes. There are messages from Christina on this phone more than a year old. In one exchange, about a year ago, not long after the divorce became final, Christina said to her mother. “I fucking hate this.”
“What’s wrong?” Jill replied.
Christina was out shopping with friends, all of whom were thin blond cheerleaders—a stark contrast to the stocky, dark-haired Christina. “These girls are skinny and I’m so fattttttt.”
“You are not fat,” Jill said. “You are healthy and beautiful.”
“How do I get skinnyyyyyyy?”
“Your health is the most important thing,” Jill wrote. “We can exercise together if you want. I am happy to do that. I would like to get back into running. But you are beautiful as you are.”
A few hours later, Christina wrote, “We’re coming home now, Mom. Thank you for making me feel better. I am beautiful and so are you. I will always love youuuu.”
That message made her giddy with joy. She remembers thinking: I may have failed at marriage, but I’m a good parent. Now she wonders if she was wrong about that.
After cleaning the kitchen, Jill goes upstairs to the bathroom. She undresses and kicks her clothes into a pile and turns on the shower. A silver lining occurs to her: At least she won’t worry about Christina using up all the hot water anymore. That’s when she notices Christina’s soaps. Apple, apricot, cucumber-melon scented gel soap bottles cluster in the corner, in between the two shower curtains.
As the warm water runs over her, Jill unscrews the caps of the organic apple soap and empties the bottle down the drain. The flowery, fruity smell brought back memories of Christina in the passenger seat on the way to school, her hair still wet and fragrant. She fills the bottle with water and washes every last bit of soap out. She repeats the process until six empty bottles float at her feet.
When she finishes showering and dresses herself in new clothes, she throws the bottles in the garbage and then takes the garbage outside to the dumpster. This time, when she returns to the house, she still feels that low hum of anxiety, but it is one notch weaker. On cloudy Saturdays like this one, she usually shops for groceries for the week. Another silver lining occurs to her: only person she needed to please for dinner was herself, which meant she could have spicy curry or tacos or a marsala cream sauce with mushrooms—all things Christina refused to eat.
“Spicy curry tonight,” Jill announced to her empty living room. “And nobody will say it’s too spicy.”
Her voice reverberates in the silence. The whole house sat motionless. If she dropped dead right now, how long would things remain so still?
“Cowshit,” she repeats.
The furniture seems oddly motionless. The whole house is still. If she dropped dead right now, how long would things remain so still?
She runs upstairs and digs out her running shoes and then leaves the motionless apartment for a quick jog around the icy neighborhood. The cold air stings her lungs. How has it been since she ran? At least a week, though it was hard to remember. She wanted to run Monday, but Christina needed a ride home from a friend’s house, so she put it off, thinking Tuesday, I’ll run on Tuesday, but then she remembered that she had to run to the bank right after work on Tuesday so she could withdraw enough money to make a payment on one of Christina’s medical bills—a rash turned into an infection because Christina just wouldn’t stop scratching. Wednesday she had a headache. And Thursday Christina moved out.
Being in motion feels good. She breathes and her lungs fill with cold air and the cold hurts in a pleasant way and the pain is acute and all-consuming. Her mind can’t focus on anything but her lungs, though one thought bubbles to the surface. Being in motion and moving are two very different things. She wonders why she thought that and what it means.
When she returns from her run, the apartment seems filled with hours. Jill strips out of her gym clothes and showers again. After her shower, she notices that Christina has called.
“I forgot my soaps,” she says in a voicemail. “Leave them on the front step. I’ll come get them. But don’t try to talk to me. I got nothing to say.”