Sara woke up the next morning to bright sunshine pouring through her bedroom window. After the two hour drive from Oden, she had turned down the air conditioning to 68 degrees and curled up under her down comforter in warm bliss. Sara had assumed that being back home would be much more soothing than the atmosphere in Oden, but when she put the key in the lock last night at one a.m. and stepped into the house that she and William bought together, her loss came back to her full force. For William was not here and never would be again.
She just lay in the bed for a few minutes. Her body felt pressed down with the weight of all that had happened in such a short period of time. She knew that Mr. Hart would give her more time off if she needed it, but perhaps getting back to work was the best way to move forward. The best way to move forward now, she thought, is to get out of bed.
She sat up and put her feet on the ground and immediately felt the room swim and her stomach heave. She raced to the bathroom and just made it in front of the toilet before everything that she ate yesterday made a reappearance. Luckily, she hadn’t eaten much.
She sat down on the floor and waited for the nausea to pass. The baby, she thought. How am I going to forget about William if this baby reminds me of his presence every morning? She leaned her head up against the doorjam and closed her eyes.
“Uhhhhhhh,” she moaned just to hear her voice. Who will I talk to now? Who will listen to me? This was the worst thought of all. Sara used the wall behind her to slowly slide up and test the way her stomach felt. Then she made her way into the kitchen. When she and William had first moved into the small, two bedroom, craftsman style bungalow in Savannah’s Ardsley park, her initial job had been to repaint the tiny, dark kitchen in bright white. Now the sunlight and walls assaulted her eyes. Then the doorbell rang.
What time is it? Sara thought, glancing over at the clock on the wall. To her amazement, the hands stood at twelve. She walked back into the bathroom and grabbed her robe from the hook. After she pulled that on, she grabbed a ponytail holder and pulled her hair up into a quick bun, just so it wasn’t sticking out in a thousand different directions. The doorbell sounded again.
“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Sara called as she headed down the hall to the front door and looked through the window to the porch. Recognizing her neighbor, Miss Jane, she opened the door.
“Miss Jane, hello,” she said to the older woman standing with a casserole dish. Miss Jane lived just across the street with her husband Bill. Sara and William had gone out to dinner with them a couple of times in the few years that they lived here, and always waved when they had seen each other. They were both retired, with grown children, but stayed active. Jane was average height, thin with tastefully colored, shoulder-length blond hair.
“Oh, Sara. I’m so sorry about William. You left so quickly last week – completely understandable with William’s family living away from here – that I didn’t have time to let you know how sorry Bill and I are for your loss. William was such a wonderful man. I’m so sorry.” There were tears welling up in Miss Jane’s eyes. Sara was sure she was going to cry and she didn’t know if she could take that so soon today.
“Thank you, Miss Jane. It’s been hard. Would you like to come in and put those things down?”
“Thank you, dear. I won’t stay long. I can see you are just getting going. We didn’t know if you had asked anyone else, so we picked up your mail while you were gone. I didn’t want people thinking that you weren’t home and then you getting robbed as well.” She took a cloth bag from her shoulder filled with letters and a few small packages, and handed it to Sara.
“And I made you this chicken casserole. I thought that you might not want to worry about having to cook when you got home. Christine and Mark from down the street are going to bring a salad and bread later today, so don’t you worry about your supper.” She patted Sara’s arm in a motherly way, that made Sara start to tear up.
“I – thank you. That was very thoughtful of you.”
“Well, Bill and I just think the world of you. You and William reminded us so much of us when we were your age. We often talk about that.” Miss Jane looked off wistfully, then back at Sara. “I’ll go now, but if you need anything, anything at all, you just let us know.” She reached up and gave Sara a quick hug and headed towards the door.
As she was walking down the front steps, she paused and turned, her short hair lifting a little in the breeze. “I wanted you to know that I asked our priest to say Mass for William on Sunday. I knew that you had grown up Catholic, and I thought you might like to know.” She smiled and continued off the porch and across the street.
Sara stood and watched her for a moment. Had she mentioned to Jane that she was Catholic? She couldn’t remember. Odd. She never mentioned that to anyone, mostly because she just didn’t think of herself as Catholic, or anything else for that matter. Since leaving her foster parents’ home when she was seventeen and heading to Georgia Southern University, she hadn’t set foot inside a church, except to get married. William had grown up Methodist but went because his mother said it “didn’t look good for a fine family like theirs” not to be in church. Besides, Sundays were for sleeping late and reading the paper in bed, not for going to some church full of old people and bad music.
Still, if she thought about it, the idea that a Mass was said for her husband was comforting, if only in the fact that a whole group of people who didn’t even know William had stopped for a moment to remember him. The thought of Mass made Sara remember the last time she had gone. It was Easter Sunday just before she graduated from high school. The altar had been covered in bright spring flowers. Such a contrast from the bare altar and dark colors that were a part of Lent. The music had been joyful and the pews packed. As the processional hymn was sung that morning, the feeling in the church had been one of excitement and joy. And even Sara, as cynical as she had grown during her teenage years, had been caught up in it.
But that was a long time ago. She was more practical now. And there were things to do. The first was to call work. She picked up the phone and dialed the office.
“Mr. Hart’s office. This is Claire. How may I help you?” The bright voice on the other end sounded very young.
“Claire, hi. This is Sara Carraway. Is Mr. Hart available?”
“Oh, Sara.” Claire’s voice had immediately gone to Southern-sweet pity. “I was so sorry to hear about your husband. How are you? Are you okay?”
“Thank you, Claire. I’m doing alright. May I speak to Mr. Hart?” Sara didn’t know how much of this sympathy stuff she could take. But staying at home and moping was not an option.
“Oh, sure, Sara. I’ll put you right through.”
Sara was put on hold for only a moment. And then a very comforting grandfatherly voice came through the line.
“Sara, Sara. We have all been very concerned about you. I hope you are okay. I mean, I know that you aren’t fine and no one expects you to be, but you know that we are here for you should you need anything. Please take all the time you need from work. Claire is working out fine. It’s not the same of course, with you gone, but we’ll survive until you can get back to us.”
Sara had tried a couple of times to get a word in, but Mr. Hart was just like that. He loved to talk, and Sara loved him for it.
“Actually, Mr. Hart, I’d like to get back to work, if that’s okay. I don’t think I can stay here by myself all day and all night. I just…” Sara almost started to cry again. Everything had felt so forced and so fake in Oden. To be back here where she felt like she was at home, and where people really seemed to care about her was like being able to breathe after being underwater for too long.
“Of course, Sara, of course. Whatever you need, my girl. When can we expect you?”
“Well, today is Thursday. Why don’t I come back on Tuesday? Would that be alright?”
“Yes, yes. Love to see you. Will be glad to have you back. Again, whatever you need.”
“Thank you, Mr. Hart. I really appreciate it. I’ll see you on Tuesday.”
“Tuesday it is. See you then. Good-bye, dear.”
“Good-bye.” Sara hung up.
Now what? She looked over at the casserole and the bag of mail. Coffee, she thought. Coffee is what I need. Pregnancy be damned. Then a shower to wash Oden from my skin. She walked back through the house to the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee, extra strong. Then she headed to the shower.
As she stepped under the hot water, she immediately felt better. All the stress of the past few days had seemed to settle in her shoulders and her whole body felt like it was tied in knots. As she lathered up with her loofa and ran her hands over her stomach, she stopped. A baby was in there. A microscopic little baby.
Suddenly one of her choices flew out the window. For a few moments after the funeral yesterday, when she was feeling her worst, when the thought of William’s mother having anything to do with her ever again made her skin crawl, the best thing to do seemed to be to come home and make an appointment to have an abortion. Then it would be over. Done. She could put William in her past.
But standing here now, with her hand on her belly, far away from Miss Emily and Eve, from Oden and the town’s oppressive effect on her she felt that having this baby would be healing for her. Maybe the best thing to do was to move away from Georgia all together. If she was far away from her sister and those who knew William she could raise her baby like she wanted to without anyone interfering with her life.
Besides, now the thought of William’s son or daughter growing inside of her, a little piece of their life together, made her smile. This baby was something to live for. Something to move on with.
I can do this. I can be what this baby needs. I’ve made it through this life before when something bad happened and I can do it again. I don’t need anyone.
Sara finished her shower, grabbed a pair of jeans and one of William’s t-shirts, pausing for just a moment to take in the smell of him, then she poured a cup of coffee and went into the bedroom and opened the closet door.
She stood and stared at the right side of the small closet. There were all of William’s clothes and shoes. The pastel cotton button-downs, the khakis, the jeans, his boots and dress shoes, all lined up, all waiting for an owner that would never return. Sara had decided while finishing her shower that she had three and a half days to pack up William’s things. Three and a half days to put that part of her life in order so that she could move on. She would box up all of his clothes and things that she did not want and send them to his mother. Then she would be done with Emily Carraway as long as she never found out about the baby…and Sara would make sure that she never did.
After pulling all of William’s clothes out of the closet and from under the bed, Sara realized that this was going to be a bigger job than she originally thought. There were so many things that were his, but that were a part of their life together. How to decide what would stay and what would go?
Taking a pile of clothes with her, she went into the living room and began to separate the clothes into groups. Clothes to go to Goodwill in one group. Clothes to be boxed up for Miss Emily in another. As she was folding the clothes and putting them into boxes, she struggled not to break down. Sara was sure that most people would tell her that she was doing this too soon. That perhaps she should take some time and grieve a little more before she just purged William from her life. But there was so much to do in such a short period of time.
If she was going to move so that she could raise the baby away from the threat of someone trying to take him, then she needed to sell the house and get a new job. And if she was going to have to do all of that then she didn’t have time to sit around and cry everytime she opened the closet.
Next Sara went into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. There was William’s electric razor, his deodorant, the antibiotic from a sinus infection he had last year that he never finished, his aftershave…here Sara stopped and took the top off the bottle and just inhaled. I can’t do this! she thought as the tears came unwanted to her eyes. Oh William! Where are you right now? Where are you? I need you so much.
Sara couldn’t bring herself to believe that William was anywhere but in the ground, but here with the scent of him all around her she wanted it to be true. She wanted him to exist still. But he didn’t, and that was that.
She pulled the rest of his things out of the cabinet quickly. Then she looked under the sink and in the shower, pulling his things out as she went and putting them in a box. She went into the coat closet and got out his coats, winter gloves, hats and scarves and placed everything in boxes. As a box would fill up she would tape it and write either “Goodwill” on the side or address it to “Mrs. William Carraway” at their address in Oden.
By the time she had been through every closet in the house it was almost six o’clock and Sara’s stomach was letting her know she’d had nothing to eat all day. Just then the doorbell rang for the second time that day and she remembered that Christine and Mark were bringing over some salad for her. She smoothed her hair back though she knew that would never fix the mess she was sure she looked.
Mark and Christine Mendelsohn lived five doors down. William and Sara had met them one Saturday during Ardsley park yard sale season. Saturday mornings in Ardsley park found people armed with the newspaper driving from yard to yard down the streets, the Spanish moss dripping from the old oak trees that were a hallmark of Savannah life. Mark and Christine had been having a yard sale of their own, and while looking through their old stuff, Mark and William struck up a conversation about NPR and the various and sundry merits of Car Talk.
They had never become best friends, Sara and William were too much of a closed unit for that, but they did enjoy each others’ company and had taken in plays at the Lucas Theater and enjoyed Forsyth Park events together, always having a great time.
Will they even want to spend time with me now? How does it work going from being part of a couple to not? Sara could feel the weight of the change in her life pressing down on her again, but she pushed the feeling aside as she opened the door.
Christine was there on the porch on her own, looking fresh and beautiful as always. She loved the beach and running, and so always looked like she had just stepped out of a surfing movie, with streaks of gold highlights cut through her blond hair. But she was so natural and kind, that it was hard to hate her for being so darn gorgeous.
“Hey,” Sara said.
“Hey yourself. Can I come in?” Christine held a bowl of salad and a shopping bag full of what looked like a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread.
“Here, let me take that from you.” Sara reached for the bowl and headed with it back to the kitchen. “I had forgotten to eat all day.”
“I can see that.” Christine motioned to the boxes that filled the floor. “Already?”
“I…I just needed to get it done. Do you have anywhere to be right now?” Sara suddenly found the idea of a meal all alone incredibly depressing.
“I don’t actually. I asked Mark if I could come alone, thinking that maybe you would want some company. If it were me, I wouldn’t want to be alone my first night at home without Mark. Now, where is your bottle opener so I can open this bottle of wine? We’ll take some glasses on the screened porch while Miss Jane’s casserole is heating up.”
If Sara believed in blessings, she might just think that God had sent these people to her. First Miss Jane and her mail, then Mr. Hart being so understanding, and now Christine just being a good friend. Life looked so much less bleak now than it did when she woke up this morning.
“The wine opener is right here,” Sara said, opening a drawer. “And the wine glasses are in this cupboard. I’ll get them.” She grabbed the glasses from a tall shelf and handed them to Christine. “It is white wine, right?”
“Oh, yes. Nothing else will do on a hot summer day except maybe hard cider and Vinnie’s pizza. Do you remember the time that you, William, Mark and I went to Vinnie’s before that show at the Lucus, but we never left the table? That was a great night. It was so hot out, the tourists were in full force in City Market, and that waitress kept giving us the evil eye, but we just kept ordering more beer and cider. Man, we had such a great time.” Christine had poured the wine while she was talking and now handed a glass to Sara. “To William.”
“To William,” Sara responded, a catch in her voice as she raised her glass.
Christine picked up the bottle. “Come on, let’s go bask in the Southern heat.”
Sara and Christine walked to a door off of the living room that went out to a small screened porch with a swing and a bistro table. Sara sat in the swing while Christine grabbed a seat at the table, setting down the wine and propping her feet in the other chair.
“You know, I think that night was the first time the four of us went out together. I seem to remember a couple of times we were together at our houses for dinner, but then we decided to go to the show at the Lucus.” Sara was remembering how great that night was.
Christine corrected her. “No, that’s not what happened. We ran in to you and William waiting for a table at Vinnie’s. Don’t you remember? And we decided to sit down together. Then we realized we all had tickets to the same show, but we never made it. And I’m so glad. That really is one of my best Savannah experiences.”
They sat in silence for a moment. “It’s hard to believe he’s gone,” Christine said, looking over at Sara who was swinging with her eyes closed.
“I know. He has been the most important part of my life for so long that I don’t really know who I am now.”
“I think that will take time.” Christine put her feet on the floor. “Don’t you remember when you and William first met? How you were independent and self-reliant? You were a senior in college when you two got together, right?”
“Well, you made room for him, but you were still you. It was the same with me and Mark. I had been single and on my own for a long time. I mean, my parents and siblings were a part of my life, but I had been paying my own way. When Mark came along, it took awhile for us to fit each other into our worlds. But we did it. I suppose now you’re just doing that in reverse. You have to go back in a certain sense to who you were before he came along. You have to remember that girl who paid her own bills.” Christine looked suddenly apologetic. “Oh, gosh Sara, I’m sorry. Here I am, lecturing you about how to be a single person, when I still have Mark. I must sound so condescending.”
“No, no, you make sense. You’re the first person who’s talked to me like I wasn’t made of glass. Like I wasn’t going to break down every time he’s mentioned.” Sara smiled. “I mean, I might break down, but so what. Isn’t that part of grieving? Being able to talk about the person and hear them talked about? He is gone, but you’re right. I have to figure out a way to make life work.”
Their glasses were empty and Christine got up to refill them from the bottle.
“Well, this one’s empty. You got anymore?”
“Nope. But I do happen to have some cider and I bet that casserole is ready. Let’s eat out here on the porch where we can really sweat.”
“Sounds good to me.” Christine looked towards the quiet road that ran in front of both of their houses. “I love this street. I’m so glad you guys moved here.”
“Me, too.” Sara said as she headed inside to fix their plates, and she meant it. Loving this place like she did was going to make it that much harder to leave.