The wind made music as it twined its way through the trees, little tinkly noises that formed a wave of sound, hundreds upon thousands of leaves sliding on leaves and fluttering in the air. The grass was musical as well, rustling in the breeze, dancing slowly, languidly, back and forth, swaying ever so softly. The squat gray-haired woman and her Ichabod of a husband sat on the porch of their tiny bungalow and listened to the music of their lawn, as they had done every night for years upon years, rocking gently in separate chairs.
The woman, whose feet were tapping absently to the subtle rhythm of the leaves' languorous slipping and sliding, broke the silence first. "Lark's home late again," she said to her husband.
"Mhm," Link replied absently, squinting at something far away and perhaps beyond his sight, his startlingly blue eyes watery.
Tracy knew exactly what Link was staring at – or, rather, wasn't staring at. She had ogled what wasn't there many a time, God knew. Even now, as she adjusted her hearing aid, she thought she faintly heard grandchildren – tiny voices reaching unimaginable pitches as tiny legs rocketed around the vast lawn and tiny bodies heaved, gasping for breath from running so hard. She couldn't be sure, though. She didn't have any grandchildren to speak of.
She sighed, a deep world-weary exhalation that spoke of too many heated discussions concerning children and too many arguments with her daughter.
Her daughter… Tracy still felt goosebumps on her arms when she thought about her daughter. But Marcy Edna Larkin, more commonly known as Lark, hadn't been the daughter she'd imagined. When Tracy was little and didn't know what diet pills were, she had played endless games of mommy with her dolls. She had pretended to bottle-feed her baby dolls, practiced her first tap steps with a Betsy McCall (which had since been lost to the gargantuan pile of junk in the back room of her father's shop), dreamed about Broadway with her special favorite Ginny wrapped tightly in her pudgy arms, and learned the lindy hop with her mother's Raggedy Ann swinging from one fist. All the while, she had assumed that having a daughter would be just like that – she would finally have someone to dance with.
Lark hadn't been like that. She was all knees and elbows, even when she was a baby. She showed far more interest in NET programming than the Lawrence Welk Show as a toddler, and was hooked on nature programs and NOVA by age ten. She was an early-blooming scientist in a family of dancers. So, naturally, she clashed with her parents a lot. Even thirty-five years later, Tracy still had the occasional dream about the time when Lark locked herself in her room so she wouldn't have to go to ballet class.
When Tracy had figured out that Lark wasn't going to be the daughter she had always dreamed of, she had wanted another baby, even more intensely than she had wanted Lark. But her doctor had said, "No, it's too risky. You had gestational diabetes with Marcy, and that became real diabetes. The effects that another baby would have on your health would not be good, to say the least." Tracy had been heartbroken and had quietly sobbed on the entire car ride home. Link had just driven, silent and numb. He didn't like seeing Tracy unhappy, but he never knew how to fix it.
He had tried, though. When taking care of Lark became too much of a strain on their already meager combined income, he had gone back to school, to the local community college. Link had always been good at math – it had its rhythm, its methods, its steps just like dancing did – so he figured he would teach math. Taking care of other people's snot-nosed kids was a small price to pay for taking care of his snot-nosed kid. His snot-nosed kid was special.
So he had taught algebra 1 and geometry for precisely thirty-eight years. Tracy had cooked and cleaned, twirling around the house with her salt shaker and feather duster. It wasn't much of a living, but they managed. Especially since Lark had excelled in every subject at school and gone to Stanford on a full ride. As much grief as she had given them, they were thankful that they didn't have to bankroll her education.
Now Lark was a research scientist, studying radiation oncology at Johns Hopkins, and her parents barely saw her. She was unmarried, and she declaimed on many a family occasion that she wasn't a bit interested in marriage and/or all it entailed. She was devoted to her work, more devoted than either Link or Tracy had ever been to dance, far more devoted (though they hated to admit it) than they had been to each other.
That had been kind of inevitable, though. After all, Link and Tracy had gotten married as community college freshmen, basically straight out of high school. They had thought, at the time, that they just couldn't wait. Six years, one child, and countless unpaid bills later, they had begun to question their own wisdom. It had been rather earth-shattering for both of them to discover that the foundation of their lives for six years wasn't as stable as they thought it was. But even so, they never divorced. They never even separated. They just kept plodding through their lives, more than occasionally wondering what would have happened had they just waited a couple more years or found jobs or seen other people in the college's cafeteria one day, a lingering fondness for each other and a mutual love for Lark just enough to hold them together.
Now, as Link and Tracy listened to the wind in the trees, each choreographing their own little dance to the beat, they were haunted. Not by the ghosts of their histories, not by the ghosts of grandchildren past, present, or yet to come – for they knew, both of them, that grandchildren were out of the question. No, they were haunted by the ghosts of what never happened, by the glimpses they'd caught of the paths they could have taken, by the staggering possibilities of what-could-have-been. Those were somehow more troubling than any credit card bill or medical diagnosis.
This time, Link broke the silence by standing up, his rocking chair making an ungodly creaking noise. He walked stiffly over to Tracy, favoring his right knee slightly, and rested a wrinkled hand on the arm of her chair. Tracy looked up at him as her chair slowed to a stop, and even with his dirty glasses Link could see the tears brimming in her foggy brown eyes.
He extended his other hand.
She smiled and grasped it tightly as she stood up. Together, they walked to the center of their porch and started to sway, arms twining around shoulders as wind twined around branches, leaves tinkling almost like wind chimes. Together, they spun slowly, shuffling their feet, knowing that after all these years, after all the heartache and heartbreak, at least they still had someone to dance with.