He walked back to the condo. The piles of leaves were taller, browner. He watched a man with a leaf blower shepherd them into the street. No one ever takes responsibility for the leaves, he thought. They belong to everyone when they’re green and to no one when they fall. The honey locust was nearly bare. The rainy day had sent the majority of her leaves to cover the sidewalk in a slippery yellow jacket. He had finished tiling the bathroom and painting the spare bedroom. Finished spackling and patching and grouting. He had told Allison that he was going to leave next week. She had been happy on the phone. She said she had found a good coffee shop in their neighborhood and that she was nearly done unpacking. The only thing missing was him.
 

 

That night, Sarah arrived at 7. Hair in a perfect ballet bun, hand brushing tears from her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. Just everything, I think.”

He carried her to the bedroom, where she folded her limbs into his lap and shuddered.

“It hurts,” she said.

“I know.”

She blew her nose. “I’m having my blood drawn tomorrow.”

“For the testing?”

“Yes. Jonah doesn’t want to talk about it. He says we’ll deal with it when we have to.”

“He wants to be sure there’s something to worry about.”

“There’s already something to worry about.” She sat up. “Wouldn’t you want to prepare? Decide how much you think you can handle in advance. A wife who hits menopause at thirty-six because she’s had her ovaries removed? A wife with scarred replacement breasts that have no nipples and can’t tell when you touch them. Did you know that?” she asked. “I didn’t know that until I looked into it. Reconstructed breasts have no sensation. It’s not like having a boob job; it’s having foreign, zombie organs strapped to your chest so that you can continue to fill out your clothing. So that you don’t make other people uncomfortable with your frankenchest.”

“No,” he said. “I didn’t know that.”

“I’m pretty attached to mine, you know.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed,” he said.

She laughed lightly, ruefully, and looked away from him.

“If I see another pink ribbon, I think I’m going to vomit,” she said. “I can’t think of a worse time to be diagnosed with breast cancer than fucking October. Did I tell you? Someone brought in pink ribbon cookies to work the other day and left them in the kitchen. The tray was upside down and I saw them and thought, hey, look at those pink nooses.” She laughed. “I think if I have to choose, I’ll just wait and let it come for me. That’s the way it’s always felt anyway, like this disease is stalking the women in my family and one day it will come for me too. At least then I’ll have a few more years of getting off left before I have to trade mine in for tattooed nipples.”

“I’m sorry.” He pulled her close. “I really am.”

“I know,” she said.

“When will you know?” he asked.

“A couple of weeks.”

“I could stay,” he said. He felt his chest compress at the promise. He held her and thought about buying new furniture. About starting over not in California, but right here. Sarah could help him pick out a new couch and nightstands. He would hold her after all the leaves had gone, straight through winter into spring when they would pop out again as new green buds. She would wear the blue dress again, except this time he would help her zip up the back before they went out for dinner and a walk down the boulevard. She would point out a tree full of green and white blossoms and say, “that’s a good one,” and she would kiss him like the Renoir, all soft edges and big eyes that said she loved him.

She shook her head. “You have to go. I’m afraid Jonah will find out and I’ll lose both of you. I wouldn’t be able to survive that, I don’t think. I think all of my pieces would float away, and I wouldn’t be able to put them back together.”

He felt a lump in his throat and looked away. “I know,” he said.

“I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to be sorry.”

“But I am sorry things are the way that they are. Sometimes I wish I had met you a long time ago. That I had met you first.”

He sighed. “I think about that too.”

“But I didn’t meet you first, and you didn’t meet me first, and things are what they are,” she said. “And I have to go.”

He wiped her cheeks. “Stay for now,” he said.

She nodded.
 

 

“What time are you leaving?” she asked, leaning back on the hard bench.

“After lunch.”

She nodded. “California is very far away.”

He nodded. “It is.”

She looked at him. “One day, after we’re widows, when we’re old and our skin is all wrinkled and leathery, you should come find me.”

He laughed. “I will.”

He thought about the honey locust leaves, yellowing closely together on their branches, and thought it would be nice to yellow with Sarah until they slipped and fell and the sidewalk grew slick with them. He thought he would like to lie on the ground and turn to compost with her.

“I will miss you,” she said. He heard the tears in her voice, but she did not allow them to fall. She stood and pulled his head to her chest and held him. Then she lowered her lips and it was like the Hopper. He saw the door open to reveal the ocean and knew she was on one side and he was on the other, but he could not tell which was which.

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