Fly Away Page 41


She started slowly, and did things in order. She wrote to her daughter’s business manager and told him she was moving into her parents’ old rental house on Firefly Lane. It had been vacant for years, so she saw no reason not to claim it. As soon as she’d mailed the letter, she felt a slim thread of hope. Each day when she went to the mailbox she thought: She’ll answer. But in January of 2006, the first year of her sober life, she heard a businesslike, I’ll forward your monthly allowance to Seventeen Firefly Lane, from the manager and not a word from her daughter.

Of course.

Her days that first winter were a confusing mix of despair, discipline, and exhaustion. She pushed herself harder than she’d ever pushed herself before. She rose at dawn and worked in the big, flat field until nightfall, when she fell into bed so tired she sometimes forgot to brush her teeth. She ate breakfast (a banana and an organic muffin) and lunch (a turkey sandwich and an apple) in the field every day, sitting cross-legged in the tilled black earth that smelled like fecund possibility. In the evenings she rode her bike into town and attended meetings. Hi, I’m Dorothy and I’m an addict. Hi, Dorothy!

As odd as it sounded, the roteness of it soothed and comforted her. The strangers who stood around after the meeting, drinking bad coffee in Styrofoam cups and eating stale store-bought cookies, became friends. She’d met Myron there, and through Myron, Peggy, and through Peggy, Edgar and Owen and the organic farming community.

By June of 2006, she had cleared a quarter of an acre and rototilled a small patch of earth. She bought rabbits and built them a hutch and learned to mix their droppings with dying leaves and what little food leftovers she had into compost. She stopped chewing on her fingernails and traded her obsession for marijuana and alcohol into one for organic fruits and vegetables. She had sworn off much of the world, thinking that a life without modern choices would suit her newfound self-discipline best.

She was kneeling in the dirt, tilling with a gardening trowel, when she heard someone call out.

She put down her trowel and stood up, brushing the dirt off her oversized gloves.

A small, older woman was crossing the street, coming toward the gate. She was dressed in dark-washed jeans and a white sweatshirt that had been bedazzled to read: WORLD’S BEST GRANDMA. Her black hair had a skunklike streak of stark white along the part, and framed a round, apple-cheeked face with a pointed chin.

“Oh,” the woman said, stopping abruptly. “It’s you.”

Dorothy peeled the gloves off and tucked them into her sagging waistband. Wiping the sweat from her forehead, she walked to the fence line. She was about to say, I don’t know you, when a memory struck.

I’m lying on the sofa, spread-eagled, with a mound of weed on my stomach. I try to smile at the do-gooder who has just walked into the house, but I am so high all I can do is laugh and swear. Tallulah is bright red with embarrassment.

“You’re oven-mitt-girl’s mom,” Dorothy said quietly. “From across the street.”

“Margie Mularkey. And yes, to my daughter’s horror, I sent her over here with a hot casserole in about 1974. You were … indisposed.”

“High. And probably drunk.”

Margie nodded. “I came to see what was going on over here. I didn’t know you’d moved in. The house has been empty for a long time. I should have noticed, but … we’ve had a tough year. Been gone a lot.”

“I could keep an eye on the place for you. Collect your mail.” The moment the offer slipped out, Dorothy felt exposed. A nice woman like Margie Mularkey, who welcomed neighbors and probably quilted, would never accept help from someone like Dorothy.

“That would be nice. I’d appreciate it. There’s a milk box on the porch. Maybe you could put the mail in there.”

“I could do that.”

Margie glanced away. She was looking down the empty road, staring right into the sun through her big tinted glasses. “The girls used to sneak out at night and ride their bikes on this road. They thought I didn’t know.” At that, her legs seemed to give out on her and Margie crumpled to the ground.

Dorothy opened the gate and went to the woman, helping her to stand. Holding on to her elbow, she guided the woman down to the patio area in the backyard, and into a dirty birchwood chair. “I … uh … haven’t cleaned the outdoor furniture yet.”

Margie laughed dully. “It’s June. Summer just started.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.

Dorothy sat cross-legged on the weed-choked cement patio, watching a tear slip down the woman’s round cheek and splash on her veiny hand.

“Don’t mind me,” Margie said. “I’ve been holding this in too long.”

“Oh.”

“Katie, my daughter,” Margie said, “has cancer.”

Dorothy had no idea what people said at a time like this. I’m sorry seemed pathetic and obvious, and what else was there?

“Thank you,” Margie said into the silence.

Dorothy breathed in some of the secondhand menthol smoke. “What for?”

“Not saying, ‘She’ll be fine,’ or, worse, ‘I’m sorry.’”

“Bad shit happens,” Dorothy said.

“Yeah. I didn’t used to know that.”

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“How’s Tully?”

“She’s with Katie now.” Margie looked up. “I think she’d like it if you went to see her. She just quit her TV show.”

Dorothy tried to smile but couldn’t. “I’m not ready. I’ve hurt her a few times too many. Don’t want to do it again.”

“Yes,” Margie said. “She’s always been more fragile than she seems.”

They sat there a little longer, saying nothing. Finally, Margie stood. “Well. I have to get back.”

Dorothy nodded. She rose slowly and walked Margie off the patio and up to Firefly Lane. As Margie started across the street, Dorothy said, “Margie?”

Margie turned back. “Yes?”

“I’ll bet she knows how much you love her. Your Katie. That would mean a lot.”

Margie nodded and wiped her eyes. “Thanks, Cloud.”

“I’m Dorothy now.”

Margie smiled tiredly. “Dorothy, I hope you don’t mind me saying this: time passes. Trust me. Strong girls suddenly get sick. Don’t wait too long to see your daughter.”

Twenty

In October of 2006, rain fell from swollen clouds day after day, turning Dorothy’s carefully tilled fields into a black and muddy mess full of cloudy puddles. Still, she went out every day, rain or shine, to care for this ground that had become the whole of her focus. She planted garlic and a mixture of winter rye and hairy vetch to cover the wet ground. She prepped the beds for crops she would plant in the spring, lining them with dolomite and layering compost down. She was busy planting when a floral delivery van turned into the driveway across the street.

Dorothy sat back on her heels and looked up at the Mularkey house. Rain threaded the view, fell from the brim of her hat in fat beads that obscured the black ribbon of Firefly Lane.

The house was empty now, she knew. The Mularkeys were either at the hospital or Kate’s house every day. Dorothy had picked up their mail and stacked it carefully into piles and placed it in the silver milk delivery box. Several times she’d found the box empty and the mail gone, so she knew Bud and Margie were home occasionally, but she’d not seen either of them or their car in the past month.

She put down her trowel and stood up slowly, peeling off her gloves. Tucking them into her waistband, she picked her way out of the garden and walked across the patio and along the side yard toward the driveway.

She was at her mailbox when the delivery truck chugged back down the Mularkeys’ driveway and turned left onto Firefly Lane.

She walked across the street and up the gravel driveway in her oversized rubber boots. To her right, the rolling green pasture fell away from the farmhouse and ended at the split-rail fence that delineated the property. As she approached the white farmhouse’s welcoming front porch, she couldn’t help thinking that this was the house that came closest to home for her daughter and Dorothy had never even been inside.

The porch was full of flower arrangements. They were on the floor, on the tables; one was even on the milk box. Dorothy felt a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. She plucked the envelope from a bouquet near her and opened it.

We are so sorry for your loss.

Kate will be missed.

Love, the Goldstein family

Dorothy had no idea why she felt such loss. She couldn’t even summon a picture of Kate Ryan in her mind. Nothing came to her but a memory of stringy blond hair and a quiet smile.

Pot and alcohol. They’d stolen so much from her, and never had she missed her memories more.

This would break Tully’s heart, pure and simple. Dorothy might not know much about her daughter, but she knew this: Kate was the ground beneath her daughter’s feet, the rail that kept her from falling. She was the sister Tully had yearned for and never had; the family her daughter had wanted so desperately.

Dorothy prayed the Mularkeys didn’t come home to a porch full of dead flowers—how depressing would that be? But what could she do to help?

She could reach out to her daughter at last.

The thought filled her with a tenuous, unexpected hope. Maybe this terrible moment would be the time to show Tully that she had changed. She hurried back down the driveway to her house. It took less than thirty minutes on the phone to find out the funeral plans. It would be held in a few days, at the Catholic church on Bainbridge Island. In a town as small as Snohomish, the news of a death of one of their own moved quickly.

For the first time in as long as Dorothy could remember, she prepared for an event. She rode her bike into town on October fifth—in the pouring rain—and had her hair cut. She could tell by the way the young girl clucked and tsked that she thought Dorothy’s hair was too long and too gray, but Dorothy had a long history of being too something and she was okay with that. She didn’t need to come out looking like Jane Fonda, all impossibly young and fit. She just wanted not to embarrass Tully, to show her daughter that she’d changed.

So she had her hair cut to shoulder-length and let the blackbird girl in the motorcycle boots dry it until it fell in pretty waves. Then she went to one of the small local boutiques on First Street (where she endured more clucking and tsking) and purchased a pair of simple black pants and a matching turtleneck. She had the clothes wrapped up in plastic bags and carried them out to her bicycle. By the time she got there, her hair was ruined again, but she hardly noticed. She was too consumed with the conversation going on in her head.

It’s good to see you again.

I’m so sorry for your loss.

I know what she meant to you.

I’m sober now. Two hundred and ninety-seven days.

She bought a book on how to help a loved one through grief. Most of the sentences would sound ridiculous coming from her: She’s in a better place. Time will help. Prayer can be a comfort. But some of it she could try: I know how much she meant to you. You were lucky to have her. She underlined some of the sentiments and practiced saying them to a mirror, pretending all the while not to see how old and broken-down she looked, the toll drugs and alcohol had taken on her skin.

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