Rebecca Beeson drove 18 miles each morning to work in a men's clothing store in town and came back each evening in time to fix her husband's dinner. It was a job that had paid for a second automobile, a funeral for an aunt and a new stove, but it left her depressed and stranded now, at fifty-six, as if it were a clear defeat, invisible but keenly known to her.
Her husband operated a gas station and logging supply shop in Beaver Creek, a small town on the river where they lived. They had no children, the only time she'd been pregnant the baby was stillborn, which had caused Cawley Beeson a kind of dismay from which he'd never recovered. Maybe this wasn't a place to raise children, he'd thought. He lived as though he were waiting for wounds to heal before moving on.
He hardly noticed, when she helped him in the shop on Saturday's, that someone often came by with wildflowers her, or to tell a story, to ask if she'd seen the skunk cabbage in Watson's field or the pussy willows blooming, sure signs of spring. Cawley appreciated these acts of kindness, while he finished a job for whoever it was, as a duty done that he had no way with.
Men were attracted to Rebecca in an innocent but almost hungry way, as though needing the pleasure she took in them. Because there was never a hint of anything but friendship, their attentions both pleased her and left her with a deep longing, out of which, unashamed, she lay awake at night in a self-embrace of fantasy.
Late at night, when he couldn't sleep, Cawley would roll over to her and try to speak. Sometimes he would begin to cry and sob in anger at a loss he couldn't find the words for. He cried against her nightgown and drove his fist weakly into his pillow. On these nights she held him until the pain ran it's course, and said nothing about her own yearning.
She had hoped that at some point they could go away for a while, in a deeply private place she wished to go to Europe, alone; but she could not bear the thought of his loneliness, and did not believe that in a journey together there could be any joy.
One summer evening while Cawley was in the living room reading, she sat on their bed with her face lowered to a glass bowl of dried blossoms in her lap. Twenty years of anniversary roses, flowers from her first garden, wildflowers from men who were charmed by her. She felt the tears run the length of her nose. She wished to be rid of it, and rose with the bowl and left.
In the dark yard by the side of the house she walked down to the river and stepped in, wetting her dress to the waist. She scattered the first handful on the water, the pieces landed soundlessly and tettered away. She flung the dry petals until the bowl was empty, then dipped its lip to the current to swirl it clean.
Of the flowers she threw on the water, some floated down to the log jam, and washed up on a stump that had been cut with a saw, and had a fading dark stain on it's surface. They stayed there until the first fall rain washed them away.