Sadie’s leash slips from Mark’s hands. He’s stepped onto his driveway—it’s a Monday—and the morning light slams at his aching temples, seems to pulse at the back of his head when he bends to pick up the lead. Sadie waits for him, wagging her stub of a tail. Outside it’s a warm December morning. The sun and unseasonable temperature have caused a sudden melt; it’s like watching water run down a drain. The subdivision where his family lives is a mishmash of mid-century ranches and Dutch Colonials, some with wreaths on their doors and string lights in their evergreens, some without. There are no sidewalks. Mark shambles after Sadie, a terrier mix, who is following his son, Oliver. Through squinted eyes he watches his son skitter around the shattered ice and zagged slush on the road that leads to the bus stop. It is unforgivingly bright. Mark steers Sadie between the deeper puddles but yanks her from the Walters’ lawn—she’s briefly airborne—where the melted snow reveals patches of zoysia. As they pass the house, Mark glances at the side porch, at the fake terra-cotta urns whose mums, even more withered since last Tuesday, when he entered the house and then Shauna Walter, she having just finished her period and not feeling it, stand forgotten. Unpacked swimsuits and flip-flops covered the bed. The Walters left for Fort Lauderdale the next day.
Up the street, Oliver halts at a trash bag. It’s been dumped near the recycling bins behind the subdivision’s entrance. The wrought-iron lettering reads FOX CHAPEL ESTATES and is strangled by garland. What looks like a heap of scrap wood peeks out from the plastic. Sadie catches up to Oliver, sniffs at his find, at his boots, and noses in and out of the pile. Oliver pulls off his thermal gloves, then looks up at his father and says, what is this stuff, all of this super great stuff, and removes a toadstool from the pile. It’s wooden and painted stop-sign red, its umbrella cap speckled with white dots. Fishing around the bag, he pulls several more objects from it, some broken, some cheerfully intact, and looks at each with astonishment.