There were ashes on my cuffs and the hem of her skirt when we left the Community Center, and a dusting of traffic in the road preceding the interstate. When a small boy on a bicycle brushed past on the sidewalk, I gave him a light, untellable push against the shoulder and betwixt that and the child's velocity, his momentum brought him downward and toward the street. I shut out the sounds of the traffic and the shuffling tick-tick-tick of my wife's heels, and listened in the event I might hear a bone in the boy's tiny body shatter. But before the child could collapse upon the street and break something, the bicycle connected instead with a small tree planted just over the lip of the curb, and he was caught in the branches, falling easily to the grassy dirt amidst a tangle of weak wooden limbs and leaves.
My wife held her face in her hands as I helped the boy up to his feet. His expression was simple; confusion creased his brow, under which embarrassment painted the cheeks red.
He thanked me for my assistance, and I told him that one ought to be more careful.
My wife cried as I held the automobile door open and she slipped inside. The hem of her skirt fluttered momentarily in the breeze as she bent. I pushed the door closed, quite softly, letting up once the nearly silent click of the locks coming into place sounded under the blanket hum of cars whirring past on the interstate, and the faint cries of children playing in the meadow across from the Community Center.
On the way to our dinner reservation, I placed my hand on her knee and smiled to her. She smiled back at me, with dried streams of tears sparkling orange and brown on her cheeks in the late afternoon sunlight.
For just a moment she reminded me of her mother.
I squeezed her knee just a touch and smiled again. And as before, she returned the smile, closing one hand over mine as we drove past the bland white boxy structure of the Sheriff's Station, its unassuming deadpan twin the town laundromat, and after that, still squeezing my wife's knee, we passed a small crowd of people cheering wildly as they fought for a better view, assembled like a steaming cloud of brutal glistening and jabbing fists and wide white teeth and flowing spit and shouts on a street corner viewing two ruffians at physical bouts with one another.
The wake had been solemn, and without much emotional bloodletting. People had said hello, then said good-bye, and the womb that had birthed my wife would be interred and that would be that. I pasted a cut-out of her mother's casket face in my mind, propped up alongside a cut-out of my wife as she was now sitting beside me, and they were virtually identical. A shudder creased my body and if not for the steering wheel to get in the way, I might have doubled over inside the drivers seat. My wife, in time, would come to look like her mother. This I pondered, while sifting through the day's events. I had spent the better part of two decades beside this woman. Listening to sobs and watching tears, watching the sun set day after day. And I pictured her on her death bed, repelling me with her bared teeth and bitter words. Blaming me for her sicknesses.
And how I would always remember our first date, so long, long ago. When I took her to the mill after the parade and we kissed in the moonlight without so much as knowing each other's last names.