Pavane for a Suburban Mother

On a Saturday, the parking lot of farmers’ market is like a giant playground filled with bigger, meaner kids all waiting to knock into you. There is nothing more intimidating than a Main Line mother in a Land Rover who is gunning for the same parking space you’ve scoped out. She’ll cut you off without a thought, while jabbering away into her cell phone, completely oblivious that she’s driven the wrong way on a one-way lane to do it.

Someone honks at me when I cross the parking lot and block the progress of her SUV to an open parking space. I jump a little, scoot between the parked cars, and count myself lucky that I wasn’t run down and left like a grease spot on the asphalt.

Once inside the bustling farmers’ market I wander from stall to stall. I’ve forgotten what I wanted, but I meander among the bright green and yellow gourds and fat orange pumpkins, the fresh bunches of crimson radishes and deep purple eggplants. The flower stalls feature ghosts and witches scattered among the bright fall mums. Halloween has come to the farmers’ market. I can smell apple cider in the air along with the usual coffee.

I buy carrots, apples and butternut squash along with a cup of warm apple cider. Then I manage to find a lone table squeezed into a corner of the small lunch section and stare out into the parking lot.

Usually I see at least ten or more people I know at the market, but today I have been mercifully anonymous. I’m not sure what’s happening to me. Why I find it easier and easier to slip out of my life and into this quieter place. I stir at the cider, and feel my eyes fill with tears I blink away. I am a stranger in my own life.

I suppose the problem is that I’ve always drifted along with the current because I’ve been afraid. I’ve never wanted to stand out. I’ve always wanted to blend. No controversy please. Nothing unpleasant.

I dance along the edges of friendship, because friendship is a tenuous thing. It slips away quick as a whisper. I am a good friend, but I never hold on to anyone too tightly. I never talk too freely, nor drink too much. Not even with my husband, especially not with him. We dance our stately dance, always in perfect time, always in step, never quite touching.

Each year seems to weigh more and more heavily upon us, and the silences, the things unsaid, grow deeper and darker. The children John was so eager to add to our little circle have enriched us at a cost. Every year I feel as though a little portion of myself has chipped away. I am no longer me. I’m John’s wife or someone’s mom. It is little wonder that I must be introduced to John’s co-workers over and over again.

I swallow the dregs of my cider and stand up, gathering my packages. The air feels a little colder as I walk to my car. In the bright sunlight, I am little more than a passing shadow.

Turkey Vultures

Emily heard the heavy thud out on the deck, quickly followed by a second, and she hurried to the French doors to look out. Her hand rising to her throat, she took a step back at the sight of the two turkey vultures squatting on opposite rails of the deck, their red heads sunk down between their shoulders as they stared at the door.

Thomas meowed at her feet and stretched his paws against the glass.

“Look at those nasty things,” Emily said. “Something must be dead close by.”

She hated this house. With its long winding driveway, it was built deep in the woods that drew closer around it every year. Colin liked what he called “the serenity”, the wildlife that came right up to the door: the deer, the foxes, the squirrels and chipmunks. The lack of crime.

Emily grew up in the city. The pigeons in Washington Square had always been enough nature for her, but she understood Colin’s logic. After all, she had been mugged right in front of their city townhouse. She hadn’t been hurt, but Colin was upset.

“My God, Em, we aren’t safe by our own home!”

“But this could have happened anywhere,” she said.

After she gave birth to Hannah then Will, Colin said it was time they moved out of the city because kids needed open space. “The schools are much better. We can go public or private. We’ll buy a house close to the train, so you can go in town whenever you want,” he said.

“But my job. It’s just so inconvenient to drive in and out.” Emily loved working for the food bank. True, it didn’t pay much, but she felt productive writing grant proposals. When she needed to work from home, it wasn’t a problem, and nobody cared if she brought the kids in with her.

“Darling, you don’t need to work,” Colin said. “When the kids get older, then you can go back full time. If you’re bored, volunteer at school. Get to know the other moms around here.”

But there were no other moms because their house sat alone down this long driveway on three acres of ground that bordered the park. The women in their neighborhood worked. It wasn’t a development, so there were no children.

When the time came, they chose a well-known private school for the kids, and Emily dutifully volunteered for as many events as she could manage, but she never quite felt that she belonged. Her comfortable jeans and tee shirts seemed too casual, but she never seemed to find the right sort of things, even when she shopped at the same stores as the other moms. When there was a project or a committee forming, the women were quick to call her, but afterward Emily found herself alone.

“You’re not trying hard enough,” Colin said. “We go to these school parties, and you talk about things that don’t interest them. No one cares about the food bank. You should take up tennis or golf. Join a book club.”

Emily did what Colin suggested and made a few friends, but she always felt as though she were wearing a mask. As the years passed she thought she was becoming a different Emily and supposed that was a good thing. She threw birthday and holiday parties, and after a while began to get lunch invitations on a regular basis. Maybe Colin was right. She just needed to change her attitude to become a brittle, social Emily.

Still, sometimes like today, she’d catch herself dreaming of sidewalks crowded with people, the little boutiques and cafes, the museums.

From far off, Emily heard a bang and remembered they were shooting deer in the park because the population was getting out of control. A three-day campaign had started yesterday. The shot startled the turkey vultures, and they took off in a flurry of wings.

She shivered, but went back to tidying the house. She finished four loads of wash, popped a chicken into the oven, and figured it was time to get the mail.

When she opened the front door, another bang startled her, and she stood staring towards the park. Colin said the deer were destructive; there were far too many of them, and the herd needed thinning.

“Whenever you think how pretty they are, remember deer ticks,” he always said. “Nasty buggers they are.”

Colin tested positive for Lyme Disease last summer. Now he warned everyone about the dangers of deer ticks.

A deer scrambled across the driveway, followed by a second and third. Goodness, there was a whole herd. They disappeared down the small hill on the right. Emily waited until they disappeared before she headed up to the box.

A last deer crashed the through the trees, stumbled, and landed almost at Emily’s feet. The deer’s sides heaved for a moment before she gave a great shudder. She gazed up at Emily with unseeing dark eyes.

Blood begin to spread around the deer’s body.

Two men dressed in dark clothing with orange caps and vests came through the woods. “Sorry ma’am,” one said. “This one was wounded. She was a runner though. We’ll get her out of here right away.”

“She’s on my property! I have children! Someone might have been killed!”

“No, ma’am,” said the first man. “She was shot in the park and took off.”

“It’s horrible. Horrible.”

“Sorry you had to see this, ma’am,” the second man said.

The men hefted the deer and headed back through the woods, their orange-capped heads sinking down between their shoulders as they bore her weight. The deer’s head tipped back, and Emily stared into her lifeless eyes. The deer seemed to whisper to her.

There is no escape.

Behind Emily, the big house loomed, dark and silent. Below, Colin’s Volvo turned up the hill, and the children tuck their heads out the windows of the car, arms flapping.

They’re coming to pick my bones, Emily thought.