1 The world's a world of trouble, your mother must have told you that. Poison leaks into the basements and tedium into the schools. The oak is going the way of the elm in the upper Midwest—my cousin earns a living by taking the dead ones down. And Jason's alive yet, the fair- haired child, his metal crib next to my daughter's. Jason is nearly one year old but last saw light five months ago and won't see light again. 2 Leaf against leaf without malice or forethought, the manifold species of murmuring harm. No harm intended, there never is. The new inadequate software gets the reference librarian fired. The maintenance crew turns off power one weekend and Monday the lab is a morgue: fifty-four rabbits and seventeen months of research. Ignorance loves as ignorance does and always holds high office. 3 Jason had the misfortune to suffer misfortune the third of July. July's the month of hospital ro- tations; on holiday weekends the venerable stay home. So when Jason lay blue and inert on the table and couldn't be made to breathe for three-and-a- quarter hours, the staff were too green to let him go. The household gods have abandoned us to the gods of juris- prudence and suburban sprawl. The curve of new tarmac, the municipal pool, the sky at work on the pock-marked river, fatuous sky, the park where idling cars, mere yards from the slide and the swingset, deal beautiful oblivion in nickel bags: the admitting room and its stately drive, possessed of the town's best view. 4 And what's to become of the three-year-old brother? When Jason was found face down near the dogdish—it takes just a cupful of water to drown— his brother stood still in the corner and said he was hungry and said that it wasn't his fault. No fault. The fault's in nature, who will without system or explanation make permanent havoc of little mistakes. A natural mistake, the transient ill will we define as the normal and trust to be inconsequent, by nature's own abundance soon absorbed. 5 Oak wilt, it's called, the new disease. Like any such contagion—hypocrisy in the conference room, flattery in the hall—it works its mischief mostly unremarked. The men on the links haven't noticed yet. Their form is good. They're par. The woman who's prospered from hating ideas loves causes instead. A little shade, a little firewood. I know a stand of oak on which my father's earthly joy depends. We're slow to cut our losses.
From The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep. Copyright © 1996 by Linda Gregerson. Reprinted with permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.