(originally appeared in Beetroot Magazine)
Her mother told her she was a quick birth and that she was born just after midnight. Her father was a security guard. His arms were small but Gillian remembered them being like a gorilla’s.
Her best friend in fifth grade was Rebecca Herrington. Rebecca had a sinister giggle. They were best friends for eight months.
On family vacations Gillian’s parents took her into the country to a small town called Leverett. Leverett had one traffic light, a Methodist church, and three stores that all had deli counters. Gillian talked to a man outside Baker’s Five and Dime. He told her she ought to grow up and use her brains, not her back. She looked at her father as if to confirm that this was a sound idea, but her father stood silent with his eyebrows raised. In the car when they were alone her father said, did you listen to what the man told you?
In tenth grade she read about Rosie the Riveter and wanted to become a welder. Her college offered few welding courses so she dropped out and became an apprentice at Mr. Bolano’s metal shop. She fell in love with Frederik, Bolano’s son. Gillian and Frederik didn’t understand each other and this made them want to kiss a lot. She told Frederik to go off to school and he did. She spent a lot of time alone for the next few years. She built things and listened to the same twelve albums over and over.
She volunteered at the YMCA. She met Erik there and he walked her home everyday. She welded him small metal sculptures which he named and put on a long shelf in his apartment. After two years Erik proposed. Gillian always thought marriage wasn’t for her, but it felt wrong when she thought of saying no to Erik. They married in Leverett.
Her mother passed away just after Gillian’s thirty-fifth birthday. Her father walked slowly from a bad knee. He didn’t speak much. I love you papa, she said and hugged him as he stared out. Erik said her father should move in. Gillian was happy and put her hands to Erik’s face as she did when he was being sweet, but her father passed before his things were moved.
Their first child, Amelia, was born on a Tuesday. You came out quick, Gillian told Amelia. Amelia’s little brother, Thomas, was born when Amelia was five. Is he a baby? Amelia asked. Yes, he’s a baby, Gillian said. Amelia was good at math. She drew a lot of pictures of the houses in their neighborhood. On Thomas’ first day of school he missed his stop and stayed on the bus until it got to the end of its run. The bus driver took him back to the school where Gillian was waiting for him.
Gillian developed a lesion on her gall bladder. She was some variation of ill for three years. When Amelia was old enough to babysit Thomas, Gillian and Erik took trips to Leverett. Why don’t we move up here, Gillian said. And move the kids? Erik said.
Erik retired when he was fifty-five. Gillian sold her metal sculptures on the side. Amelia graduated with honors from college and was studying to become an architect. Thomas dropped out and was hired as a line order cook. Gillian worried for Thomas. Erik told her he would find his way. Maybe we’ll take a real trip, Erik said. Europe, Gillian said.
At noon Gillian felt under the weather and went to bed without supper. The next day she pulled weeds from the flowerbeds. Erik made grilled cheese sandwiches. They ate the sandwiches with milk and nodded at each other all the things they were thinking. In bed, Gillian drew some sketches for a building and made a mental note to tell Amelia about it. Erik fell asleep while the lights were still on.
Gillian died in her sleep. Amelia flew in from Chicago and Thomas drove up. Her body was cremated and the family gathered but there was no formal service. Amelia and Thomas helped Erik move into a smaller place. What about Leverett? Amelia suggested. I’ll be fine here, Erik said. His new place was a one-bedroom apartment a town over. He settled in to new, uncomfortable routines. He hung Gillian’s sculptures around the apartment. The older ones he put on a shelf like he had years ago. The leaves changed. He went downstairs to shovel every time it snowed, but the building had a service that cleared the snow early in the morning, so he looked forward to warmer weather.
In the summer he drove up to Leverett and walked down Main Street. He bought a pickle at Baker’s. It was sour and tasted good. The sun was out and the town smelled of pine. Cars drove slowly by. There were metal cherubs hanging from a wooden railing in front of the store. They swung in the breeze and hit each other, their chimes ringing out.
Erik thought to stay for supper. There was a good diner on the edge of town. Plus it was close to 63, the winding country road back. But then he realized it would be dark by then and there would be nothing to see out the window anyway.