For the rest of the month of April, Jill does not hear from Christina, though she knows, through frequent check-ins with the high school, that Christina’s grades are better and Mr. Brown is no longer worried. The guidance counselor gave Jill the name of a good therapist, which Jill gave to Rick, and, to her surprise, she learns in mid-May through the arrival of a therapy bill that Christina has been to five appointments. It comforts her to know that, somewhere in Portland, her daughter was getting on with life without her help or interference. She has removed all pictures of Christina from her refrigerator and dresser and bedroom mirror and put them in a box in the basement. She suspects this, too, would bring Christina to tears if Christina happened to stop by, though she doesn’t think she will.
On Memorial Day, when she’s sure the last frost has passed, Jill digs a small bed around the front of her apartment, in the nook between her front step and her neighbor’s, and plants her herbs and flowers. These days, Jill spends at least twenty minutes each day in the garden, inspecting the bed for weeds and plucking beetles off leaves. The plants are mostly self-sufficient now. She has the rest of the summer to step back and watch them grow.
After work on Tuesday she runs eleven miles and returns home to stuff some green bell peppers. As she mixes the stuffing in a tin bowl, she hears her cell phone buzz in her purse. She ignores the phone’s buzzing and mixes the chopped onions, mushrooms, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. She pauses for a moment when through the kitchen window she spots a red squirrel on the railing of her back porch. It’s eating a peanut. It looks very happy in the warm May sunshine.
Then the phone vibrates again. She reaches for it, thinking it’s probably Farrah, telling her she’ll be late for their dinner date. But Christina’s name flashes on the display.
Jill can’t remember the last time Christina called her. What could she want? She’s already taken all her stuff. The phone vibrates eight times before going to voicemail.
She fills the peppers and opens the oven and a wave of heat spills out. The heat feels good on her arms as she slides the peppers inside. In fact, everything about that moment—the smell of the peppers, the May sunshine outside, the sound of her neighbor’s lawnmower—feels designed to make her happy.
The phone buzzes once, announcing a new voicemail. She listens to it.
“Mom, I need your help,” Christina says. She sounds unusually young and scared. “There’s been a—there’s been an accident. I’m okay. The car is ruined. And Dad, I can’t reach—I don’t know where Dad—I really just need a ride. The police are on their way. I also don’t have my registration and Dad won’t answer my—listen, I’m on Hammond Street Extension, near the Shell—”
Jill hangs up. She spends a few minutes worrying about Christina, wondering if she could swoop in and solve this one for her. But she reminds herself that Christina is alive and unharmed and making her way in the world mostly on her own, which is what she wanted.
With thoughts of Christina set aside, she turns back to her evening. It occurs to her that she hasn’t turned on her record player yet today. She selects an old record she hasn’t heard in years, something with long, achy notes and a gravely voice wailing for mercy. The peppers have another thirty minutes to go, and there is nothing like a good stuffed pepper and a glass of red wine on a quiet spring evening.
Peter Biello is the founder and organizer of the Burlington Writers Workshop, Vermont’s largest and most active public writing workshop. He’s the managing editor of The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop. By day, he works as a producer/announcer at Vermont Public Radio, and work has appeared on PRI’s This American Life, NPR’s All Things Considered, Day to Day, Weekend Edition Sunday. His creative writing has appeared in Lowestoft Chronicle, Three Percent, Busted Halo, and The Drunken Odyssey. He holds a BFA in Creative Writing from U-Maine Farmington and an MFA in Fiction from UNC-Wilmington.