The Gathering Brood 3/22/2020

Heading Out

Meet Natalie

If she did go to Emily’s it meant risking missing the Port Jefferson ferry. Even now, it was going to be close. The very idea caused her to press a little harder on the gas pedal.

If there was any justice at all, Natalie was getting her just desserts for what she’d put her mother through as a teenager. Even though Bethany was still very young, she already showed herself to be a determined five-year old. Now she was on her third trip out to the Caravan, this time lugging several Barbie dolls, including Nurse Barbie and Astronaut Barbie, along with their wardrobe and paraphernalia. Natalie sighed, following with a tuna casserole.

            “We’re not staying overnight, Bethany,” she said. “You really need to bring all that?” Even as she asked, Natalie knew what the response would be.

            “Somebody might rob us,” Bethany said, standing next to the vehicle.

            “No one is going to rob us.” Natalie wondered if the psychologist, who was taking a hefty chunk out of her paycheck, was doing her job. “Besides, I don’t think robbers are looking for Barbie dolls.” She slid open the side door of the Caravan.

            “You don’t know that,” Bethany said, climbing up onto the seat and placing her toys all around where she’d be sitting.

            Natalie went to the back and opened the hatch, placing the casserole on the floor. It’d been months since she’d bothered counting in order to keep her patience reined in.  She didn’t think it was worth the effort since it only made her all the more eager to scream once she reached number ten. Besides, there’d be no arguing with the little girl whose father had been taken from her two years earlier without so much as a warning. Even though Bethany rarely talked about Greg anymore, his sudden absence was an obvious void in her life, one that she attempted to fill with toys, games, stuffed animals and every Barbie doll manufactured.

            Natalie headed up the driveway and called back to Bethany while jingling the keys as proof that she was locking the door. “See?” She pushed the key into the chamber with great fanfare.

            “Wait!” Bethany shrieked, clambering out of the vehicle and running toward the house. “I forgot somethin’.”

            “What?” Natalie said through gritted teeth.

            “Let me in!” Bethany squealed.

            There’d be no arguing. With another sigh, Natalie unlocked the door. While Bethany ran up the stairs and could be heard scrambling around her room, Natalie surveyed the house she and Greg had bought months before Bethany was born. It was a modest Cape Cod, something the realtor had referred to as a “starter home.” The word “starter” had thrown Natalie off her game. It meant she was expected to continue with what she’d begun, which had never been her style. Still, she agreed with Greg that it would be perfect, and they were soon a married couple expecting a baby while living in their new home. It had a dizzying effect on Natalie. Settled? It was the biggest mess she’d gotten herself into.

“Bethany, what on earth are you doing?”

“I’m coming!” Slow and cautious footsteps could be heard navigating the stairs. When Bethany came in sight, she was lugging Barbie’s playhouse.

“Bethany Jane, do you really…”

With wordless determination, her pigtails swaying, Bethany took guarded steps down the stairs, huffing past Natalie and going out to the vehicle.

“Be easier if we just brought the entire damn house,” Natalie mumbled as she locked the door. When she got to the Caravan, she found Bethany standing there waiting for her. “That’s got to go in the back,” she said, taking the playhouse from her daughter. “Now get in!”

Bethany scrambled in and got onto her knees facing the back, watching Natalie place the playhouse next to the casserole.

“Come on,” Natalie said, slamming the back door shut. “Get your seat belt on. Aunt Denny’s gonna wonder if we’re coming or not.” She walked around and climbed into the driver’s seat.


Oh, dear god, now what?

Bethany didn’t wait for a reply. “Christina’s dog has puppies.”

“You told me that yesterday,” she said, turning on the ignition. “And the day before yesterday.”

“Can we get one?”

“What did I tell you yesterday and the day before yesterday?”

“But I’ll feed it and comb its hair and everything.”

Everything? Will you clean up its shit? “Hey,” she said, “I brought your Barney CD. Want me to put it in?” The purple dinosaur grated on Natalie’s nerves, but it wouldn’t be as annoying as the whine of a five-year-old. Bethany said a disheartened okay.

Soon they were on their way and while Barney sang about how much he loved everybody, Natalie debated taking a detour past Emily’s apartment to see if she’d left or not. She glanced at her watch. If she did go to Emily’s it meant risking missing the Port Jefferson ferry. Even now, it was going to be close. The very idea caused her to press a little harder on the gas pedal.

A reunion should be something to look forward to, but so far, the day had meant nothing but work. Still, she knew she’d be treated with kid gloves in her state of widowhood. And with such a young child! True, her mother was the one who’d been the center of attention during the last few years, but the loss of Natalie’s husband threw everyone a curve ball. Comments like, “He was so young” and “Just goes to show you, when your number is called there’s nothing anyone can do about it” were muttered as Natalie sat thunderstruck in the funeral home staring at her husband’s lifeless body. There wasn’t a day since she didn’t think of Greg, wishing she’d had a chance to say what she’d wanted to say to him. Two years and she still couldn’t get the image of him lying dead in bed out of her mind. One moment, vital and expecting—what? Pleasure? A release? The next, an aneurysm seizing his day. His life.         

The psychologist said it was normal for a grieving wife to be angry; that was one of the stages. But she was supposed to have moved from anger to acceptance by now.

Of course, Natalie wasn’t one to follow the norm.

“There’s the boat, Bethany!” she said some time later. “See it?” There were several cars waiting to board and she pulled up behind the last one. “This’ll be fun.” She could be optimistic when required. “Maybe your Aunt Em is already on.” She followed the slow-moving line of cars, stretching her neck to see if she could spy Em’s beat up Camry, until a shriek from the backseat caused her to slam on the brakes.

“What now?”

“I forgot Pooh! Pooh’s not here.”

Natalie clutched the steering wheel. “Of course he’s here. You brought everything.”

“No! No, he’s not!”
            “You sure? Look in your bag.” Please, please, Pooh, be in the bag. To turn back now would be beyond reason—to an adult anyway.

“He’s not here.” Tears came to Bethany’s eyes. “He’s not going to be home when I get back. I know it.”

“Maybe…” Think, Natalie think. Only two more cars to go and they’d have to board the boat. “…maybe he wanted to stay home today. Maybe he wanted to just relax around the house.”

The tears grew into sobs, Bethany’s tiny body trembling. “He hates being alone. He’s waiting for me.”

Natalie slammed the car into reverse, whipped it around and pulled away from the boat. If she didn’t go back, Bethany would be inconsolable all day and Natalie didn’t have the energy to deal with that.

            “Mommy? Are you mad? Mommy?”