Outside in our little orchard today, the one we planted together six years ago, sweat running down our backs as the heat rose up from the ground to meet us, I noticed the grape vine I bought my husband for Father’s Day several years ago had sprung to life again. Though every year it looked as if it would die, he tended it, digging around it, building a little trellis for his vine that never produced any fruit.
I went out pruning because the weather was cool, a good day to get those low-lying branches on the apple tree off the ground. With my hand pruners, I began trimming here and there, finally running into a bough so pregnant with green fruit that it touched the dirt. “Tsk,” I said to it, knowing it would have to be sacrificed for the good of the tree. Where were my big tree trimmers? Last year I’d had two, short-handled and long-handled; but this year, they were nowhere to be found. Some child had doubtless taken both to the forest, working on some fort or project, and they lay out there, rusting.
I returned to the tree, grunting with effort. The branch wouldn’t budge. Going back to the pool house for the hand saw, I felt tears threatening behind my eyes. “Why is everything so hard?” Back to the tree, saw in hand, I attacked the branch with vigor, but the saw had a mind of its own and wouldn’t cooperate. It cut here, there, over here again, criss-crossing the branch until it looked as scarred and beleaguered as I’ve felt since my husband died. Was I going to cry about it or find the proper tool? I threw the saw on the ground and marched to the barn, where my husband’s shop is (was), and where my son-in-law and the workers for the company I owned until last week were loading cabinets, tools, and machinery into the van I also signed over to him because I’d no longer need such a large vehicle. The workers turned their backs to me, reinforcing my feeling of being a discarded appendage of the man they called their boss, emphasizing as if in bright lights the message, “UNWANTED,” the mandate to GET LOST.
My son-in-law greeted me and I told him haltingly that I needed pruners, feeling a stranger on my own property. He looked at me quizzically. “Pruners, the big ones. I’m pruning the apple tree, the branch is on the ground. The kids must have taken mine, so I wondered if they’re down here.”
We looked around but found no pruners, so cussed the kids together and laughed a little. He began walking toward the house with me, to the orchard. “I can do it,” I said weakly, knowing I couldn’t do it without the big pruners. We arrived at the tree and he held his hand out for the hand pruners. I put them in his hand and with one heft, he had the offending branch off. Tears came to my eyes, but I turned away so he wouldn’t see. I’m weak, and yet here I am, left to handle such a big property without my big man. This is what I thought. I thanked my son-in-law and he recommended more locks on the tool sheds. I thought to myself that maybe fewer children would be the practical solution, but kept this little joke to myself.
I continued with my pruning, doing what I could with my weak woman’s hand and my small hand pruners. As I pruned, tears ran down my face for the first of what I was sure would be several crying jags throughout the day. As I made my way from tree to tree, an unhappy peace settled on me: This is the way things are now that my husband is dead. I don’t know how they will be in the future. I only know how they are now: they’re difficult and terrible, and my loneliness is intense even while surrounded by family and friends. They all have one another, and they have me; but I have no one whose always-open arms welcome me. The one whose arms always welcomed me is dead.
Arriving at the grape vine, I examined it to see whether it needed any pruning. Its little tendrils had grown here and there, anchoring it firmly to the wire trellis my husband built. Suddenly I noticed foetal grapes growing underneath first one leaf, then another, and then another: our first grapes. Grapes my husband didn’t live to see, grapes I would harvest.
“Look at these, sweetie,” I murmured to him. “Just look at what’s growing now.”