April Jones

Buy the ticket, take the ride

28

1

Missing (still in progress)

The garden in the backyard was way overdue for some weeding and harvesting, but three days of rain and brutal wind had kept Julia from tending to it. Now that the sunshine had finally returned, she was ready to get outside. She hated being cooped up for too long, especially with a toddler. Of course, that wasn’t something she’d ever say out loud. She couldn’t admit that spending too much time with her little boy would drive her up the wall. Not even to her own husband. And certainly not to the other moms in her circle, the ones who were always posting photos of their LOs — their cutesy little acronym for “little ones” — rolling around in gymnastics, taking swimming lessons, or their tiny hands covered in homemade, edible, vegan paint using a recipe they found on Pinterest.

It wasn’t that Julia didn’t like doing those things; she just didn’t love them. She had her limits, and one full day home alone with her son was about all she could take. Yet here she was on her fourth day in a row. Wednesday, it rained. Thursday, it rained. Friday, it rained. Saturday, the wind had mellowed into a cool breeze and the sun warmed their tiny suburban yard to a comfortable 82 degrees.

Julia threw on a pair of leggings, one of Marshall’s marathon t-shirts, and her worn out Converse sneakers with the grass stains on them. She pulled her hair back into a ponytail, grabbed the sunscreen out of the bathroom closet, and headed down the hall to Carter’s room where she found her little boy sitting in the middle of the floor, surrounded by the plastic blocks his Nana and Pop-pop had given him on their last visit. He stopped chewing and slobbering all over a big yellow block long enough to bang it against the red one he’d been clutching in his other hand.

“Whatchya got, Carter?” She squatted down to his level as he held up the yellow block, dripping with toddler drool. “Is that a block? Can you say ‘block’? Say ‘block.’” She dragged the word out with exaggerated mouth and tongue movements. “Buuuhhh-LOCK,” she repeated.

“BA!” Carter grinned at her, proud of his new half-word. “We’ll work on that ‘k’ later, little man. How will you ever learn to recite Shakespeare in preschool if you can’t even say ‘block’?” Julia clutched her imaginary pearls as she mocked the Southern drawl of Calista Grace Campbell, the unofficial leader of the neighborhood playgroup. She picked up her son and carried him to the bathroom, sat him down on the counter, and slathered sunscreen all over his chubby arms and legs. Carter had inherited his daddy’s pale blond hair, leaving his scalp vulnerable to the summer sun. Normally Julia would rub a bit of sunscreen into his head too, but she hated the idea of having to wash his hair later so she grabbed a hat from the rack by the back door on their way out.

While Julia gathered her gardening supplies from the large wooden trunk, Carter ran to the corner of the yard to fetch his giant tow truck, another gift from Marshall’s parents. As he picked up the truck, the water that had formed a pool in the back of it poured down the front of his shirt. “So much for keeping him clean,” Julia muttered to herself. She went back to digging through the trunk, trying to find her gardening gloves and hoping they weren’t soaking wet. The trunk, built by her husband and his father, was sturdy but not necessarily waterproof. When Carter was just a baby, Julia would often sit on the trunk while he was napping, and she would just enjoy the silence. The trunk was just under his bedroom window so she could hear him if he happened to wake up and start crying. Oh god, the crying. She knew babies cried a lot but she had no idea just how many decibels such tiny lungs were capable of reaching. She wasn’t adjusting to motherhood as well as she thought she would, and the backyard became her escape, her sacred place. She sat out there so much that Marshall bought her a padded seat cushion and the trunk became a bench. Sometimes she would take a book out there with her and try to read even though her attention span wasn’t what it used to be. She blamed that on the sleep deprivation. It was during one of her backyard retreats that she got the idea to start a garden. She had always loved digging in the dirt as a kid so why not do it as an adult? She thought that maybe once Carter got older, he could help her, that it would give them something to bond over. So far, he still wasn’t showing much interest in the garden. He preferred playing with the trucks and balls that littered the back yard, and Julia was perfectly content with trading her hopes of bonding for some silence and solitude. So she let Carter run around while she worked on the garden herself.

(to be continued...)

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