There is still the bright perfect blue of a Volkswagen beetle.
The gossiping of two children on swings in the park. (Then she tried match.com. I heard she poisoned a kid. No, she didn't. Well, I heard she did.)
Cold but sun.
The light glancing off a girl's black and silver leg brace. The girl the leg belongs to, dyed black hair, long-dressed, carrying a pie. The boy she walks beside, red cowboy shirt, bangs in his eyes, adoring her.
The bar dog, Buster.
Shopping with new friends. New friends who insist, try something ridiculous on. And there is something ridiculous, a skirt that has more in common with a cake than a skirt: brown flounces, stiff with crinoline. It looks good, as long as I am in the dressing room without shirt or shoes. For the first time in my life, I who am prone to ridiculous dressing and hair coloring, think: where would on earth would I wear this?
The answer, of course, is everywhere. In a meadow I haven't found yet. A path. A creek. A life.
The drug dealers have put Christmas wreaths on their cars.
I am still stubbornly alive. My headache reminds me. The black elastic hair band, a little too tight around my wrist, reminds me. There is work to do, waking.
Promise me this is as bad as it gets, I say to my new friend as he helps me out of the car, the cold, the rain, the wind tilting it sideways, my dress, my umbrella broken.
This is as bad as it gets, he says.
From here on out, there is after. Snow, my favorite season. My new life, which may be bound in plastic and paper. Now it's out of my head. Now it's in the world, and people are reading, people who love me but have promised to pretend. I read nearly half of it on the plane back from Ohio, half of my own novel amid tray tables and sick bags, and tried to pretend it was someone else's, someone who lived in a farmhouse, perhaps, who was older, who had smile-lines.
My mother had me at twenty-seven, but I am not my mother. And before me, there were dogs, and after me, there were miscarriages before there were other children. There is also Sara, and others like her: a friend in elementary school, a friend in junior high, a friend in high school, my grandmother, my teachers, who did, maybe, what they needed to do. I know Sara did. But the world needed more, more of them. I'm not good like them. But I'm still alive.
Remember who you're doing this for, I wrote in pen on a heart-shaped Post-it note and stuck on the wall above my computer, years ago.
It hasn't changed. But the reason gets bigger.