Ice crystals blanket the plants in the garden and it’s pouring down ice-cold rain on Marigold’s first day of school. Of course, rain is nothing new: it pours nearly every day, unless it snows.
“Bye, Mom!” Marigold calls as she races to the bus. I’m on the phone with Felicity, and by the time I hang up, the bus is already turning around and heading off towards town.
“Have a great day at school!” I call after the bus.
When Marigold gets home, I ask how school was, and she says fine. Then, she turns around and starts talking with Riley, only I can’t see Riley anywhere.
“Who are you talking to, Bunny?”
“Mom! Riley! He’s right here! Duh!”
I shrug. I always encouraged her to use her imagination, so if she wants to pretend that Riley is there, I suppose that’s fine.
Only when it’s time for bed, Marigold is running through the house whacking the air with her pillow.
“Go to bed, Marigold,” I say. “And did you do your homework?”
“Yes! Wumph! Oh. That hurt!” And she giggles and races outside.
She spends half the night pillow fighting with Invisible Riley. By the time I finally manage to get her settled down and into bed, we have only a few hours until the school bus comes, and she still needs to take a shower and have breakfast. I decide to pack an extra sandwich in her backpack and let her skip the shower so she can squeeze in a little more sleep. She’s going to be one tired bunny by 4:00 p.m.
As she settles into the backseat of the bus, leaning against the corner and closing her eyes, I regret that I didn’t do a better job establishing regular schedules for us when she was little. It was no big deal back then if we stayed up all night reading, and so often, even when we were both so sleepy we could hardly keep our eyes open, I would fall for “one more page, please?” I guess I taught by example that it was fine to stay up all night, as long as you were having fun. Now, we’re paying the price.
As the bus drives off, I see Riley, sitting innocently on the porch. I pick him up and put him away. We’ll have to have some limits. When Marigold gets home from school, I’ll explain that first comes homework, then eating, then bathing, then sleeping, and then, if there’s any time in the morning, after breakfast and hair-combing, then Riley can come out to play while she waits for the bus.
I hope she accepts these limits without fuss.
Around mid-day, I look out and see a dog standing in the field in the pouring rain. He’s very cute, with a little borzoi tail.
I head out to him to see if I can persuade him to come in out of the rain.
He follows me home, but he won’t come in. I hope he sticks around until Marigold gets home. She’s been asking if we could get a dog, and I’d love to adopt a stray.
“Oh! Puppy!” she says when she gets off the bus. She approaches him slowly, talking in a gentle voice. I can see that she’s a natural with dogs. I don’t need to coach her at all. She knows just how to make Stray Dog’s acquaintance.
Soon they’re playing tug-of-war, and I’m thinking how nice it will be for us to have a four-legged friend.
She’s able to persuade Stray Dog to come inside, and he joins her while she plays house.
While she plays, I explain to her about the new Riley rule. She seems relieved.
“That’s a good thing,” she says. “I love Riley, but to tell the truth, he was being kind of a pain. He wouldn’t let me do anything but play with him. I like to play with him, but I like to do other things, too.”
I give Marigold a kiss and read her a story before tucking her in.
After Marigold goes to sleep, I find Stray Dog curled up on my bed, and my heart opens like a rose. I had no idea having a dog around would make me so happy.
It’s too wintry outside for me to garden, so I started a tiny indoor garden.
The plant is very strange. I was fooling around with some seeds I found, using the science station I have to see if I could splice the genes. And the resulting plant is something completely new to me! The fruit looks a little like a durian, but I’m too cautious to eat it. At any rate, growing the plant lets me stay connected to the garden during the long season when the plants are dormant.
At Marigold’s birthday party, I had a revelation: I realized that I’d been faithful to Dante since I met him, and I realized that I like this.
When he comes by, I confess to him that I like being true to him.
“I simply can’t cheat on you, Dante,” I tell him. “It’s just not possible.”
“You’re eternally faithful,” he says. “Me, too, to you.”
“Well,” I say, feeling suddenly very bashful, “since we’re faithful anyway, what do you say we make it official-like? Would you, maybe, become my boyfriend?”
We head inside to the big bed. I feel overcome with happiness, making it for real. No more pretending that I’m looking for someone alive, no more thinking “in time” or “what if.” It’s now, and we’re a couple.
Later, before I fall asleep, I think how lucky I am. This is Big Love. Maybe I’m nuts, but at that moment, it seems even more special that we’ve stayed together despite the odds. For something like this to last, beyond the grave, it means it runs deep. Maybe this is what they mean when they say “soul mate.”