Heather Dewar


Heather Dewar is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review, New South, Blue Lyra Review, The Dirty Napkin, Utne, The Common Review, and the Chicago Reader among others. She holds an MA in English from Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English and an MA in creative writing from Northwestern University. In 2015 she was named a finalist for the Minnesota Emerging Writers’ Grant. She lives in Minneapolis.


The story is about a boy and his dog and the wait for spring. At first, the shadows are long, the earth brown. The boy looks cold, blown, forlorn. He plants a handful of seeds and looks up at the sky. He wishes for rain. There are problems—the gloom, the waiting, the time it takes for change—but from the very first page, there is hope. Even certainty. Ginny chooses the book because of this—the certainty—and because it is March in Minnesota and the children will be feeling it too: the long wait for spring. At 4:30 on a Tuesday afternoon they gather around her—15 or 20 of them, two-, three- and four-year olds. When David pushes through the library doors, his trench coat dappled with rain, she has only just opened the book.

She pauses. Although the library’s entrance is easily 30 feet away, she feels the cold he’s brought in with him. It flushes her spine and tightens her chest. Her hand, which holds the book, begins to shake. The children will think she is drawing it out, giving them time to look, but in reality, for several moments, she can’t speak.

He says her name. “I’m here to see Ginny Strom.”

It’s strange to hear him say it, her whole name, to someone else. It’s as though he’s asking for a doctor or lawyer instead of his wife. The children begin to fidget, their waiting worn thin. She turns the page.

“She’s doing the children’s story time. Over there.” Cheryl will be sitting at the front desk checking in books, as she does every day at this time. She sits just out of sight, but Ginny can imagine her, eyeing David, curious but not overly so, pointing him in the right direction. David met Cheryl once—at a holiday party they attended years before, when Ginny first started the job—but David won’t remember. She doubts Cheryl will. Cheryl is not particularly interested in other people’s lives. She doesn’t gossip. It is one of the reasons Ginny has taken comfort in working here these past eighteen months. She works in a place where people don’t pry.

“Thank you,” David says, and the part of her not focused on the book watches him walking toward her.

She shows the children a picture of a rabbit and a red wagon full of seeds. The boy and his dog peer down at the ground. “How long,” she says, “do you think it will take for the seeds to grow?” She loves this part of the book: the boy’s glasses are perfectly round, his winter hat, red. The boy is reticent and kind, his dog sweet and loyal.

The children call out answers, their voices like skittish birds. Eliot’s voice used to sound that way, when he was excited or happy, or scared. The day she visited his class to read to his classmates, Eliot sat by her feet and then walked with her to the door. He had not been embarrassed by her, the way some children are by their mothers. He had not been old enough yet, for that.

She adjusts herself in her seat. The next pages show rain, then a gradually brightening sky. The boy and his dog worry. The sweetness of this—that the boy would worry, that the dog would care—comforts Ginny. She’s been desperate for this, solace, like a child in search of her favorite stuffed toy. She turns more pages. The sunny day, the one the reader has been waiting for, arrives. The sky is an effortless blue. The boy sails on a swing. Two mice sit in the foreground, their tails entwined. Ginny holds the book up high. There are words, and the period that ends the book, but she doesn’t read the words because she can’t. David stands, waiting, at the edge of the alphabet carpet.

One of the children, a small boy in a blue-and-white striped shirt with a smear of applesauce on his front, raises his hand and speaks. “Why did it take so long?” He leans forward, legs crossed, far enough she imagines he will tip forward and roll beneath her feet. Usually she looks forward to this, the things children say, but today, her mind works slowly. It lurches to find an answer. “Spring,” she says, finally, “takes time. It takes a lot of work.”

The boy narrows his eyes: he doesn’t believe her. Eliot had never believed her, either. When she told him not to be afraid of the dark, when she promised a monster did not live beneath his bed. She feels guilty, now, for this, an aching, useless guilt: the lie that the world is safe.

“Is the snow coming back?” A little girl in a pink dress with mismatched leg warmers asks this question. A purple scarf trails from her neck to the carpet beside her. “How long is it going to be sunny?”

Forever, Ginny wants to say, although this, of course, is not true. The sun will not last. Like life itself, it will pass. “The snow isn’t coming back,” she says, and then, gently, to answer her own self-reproach, “not for a while at least.” She wishes the girl would keep talking, the children stay gathered around her. It’s not that she’s afraid of David—David is not, has never been, a person to fear. It’s that she’s afraid of what he will say—what she will say—once they finally begin to talk. “Would anyone,” Ginny says, “like a stamp?”

Usually, she tells the children to form a line but this time, she allows them to huddle. She carefully pushes up their sleeves and stamps their forearms so that, when they wash their hands, the image will stay. Today’s stamp pictures a piano: today is Chopin’s birthday. Ginny knows things like that: Winston Churchill Day, Anzac Day. National Doughnut Day. On Mexican Independence Day, eighteen months before, Ginny dressed Eliot in red and green. At breakfast she showed him pictures of children in traditional Mexican costumes parading down the street. Before he climbed on the school bus she kissed his cheeks and told him goodbye in Spanish.

The children disappear just as quickly as they came. They’re collected, or chased, bundled into their coats and then gone. Ginny stands from her chair. She collects the plastic shakers strewn over the carpet. She stows the stamp and stacks the books.

“I’m sorry I surprised you.” David stands near the center of the abandoned rug. The shoes he is wearing are new—did he buy them? Did the other woman—Susan?—buy them? The thought sweeps her over with sadness. He waits and then says, “We need to talk.” He speaks as though the words—their melodrama and also their understatement—make him tired.

She picks up a mitten left behind on the rug. She straightens and greets him, “Yes.” Despite her attempt to sound steady, she can hear it in her voice: wobbliness brought on by nerves. It sounds as though she’s drunk.

“We don’t have to talk here,” he says, quickly. He gestures out the window, towards the coffee shop across the street. He feels sorry for her, she guesses, and also, afraid of what she will do. Ginny has not returned his calls since the day he moved out, six weeks before. In the time since then she could have gone mad—perhaps, she already has.

She puts the books on a cart and pushes it past him, over the alphabet carpet and towards the shelves beneath the far windows. She’s not sure she wants to be anyplace else—now she’s over the shock of it, talking here somehow feels better. The library is neutral, safe. They will not have an argument here, although arguing has never been their style. She wheels the cart to the wall and stops.

“Ginny,” he says, from behind her, and she hears it again in his voice, his fatigue and his frustration. For a moment, again, she can’t speak. On the other side of the window David’s Volvo sits parked beneath a maple, its exterior slick with rain. From here she can see the hairline crack in the windshield’s right corner, the expired sticker for a Minnesota state park. Inside, it smells like coffee and the leather of David’s briefcase—just looking at the car, she can smell it. For the first year she had worked here they had driven together: Eliot to school and then Ginny to work. Before she climbed out of the car, David had kissed her goodbye. She had loved those mornings, the three of them together, the pieces of her life in place.

She turns from the window. “Yes,” she says, resolute. She owes him a conversation. She owes it to herself.

He clears his throat and says, his words deliberate and at the same time, apprehensive, “I’m sorry about Susan.”

In spite of herself, she flinches. It’s not what she thought he would say, but also—it doesn’t surprise her. She knows that Susan embarrasses him—even as she is angry with David, she understands his own infidelity makes him cringe.

“You must be angry.” He speaks as though it’s a question. They have fought over this, Ginny’s feelings. How, she has asked, can he go on when Ginny can’t even get out of bed? His attempt to reach out to her now makes her jittery and also, it makes her regret. It was stupid of them to fight over that, when what was driving them both mad was grief. She fumbles a book and then drops it. David leans to pick it up and Ginny stares down at the top of his head, the place where his hair has gone thin.

He straightens and holds out the book.

“The cold,” she says, “has been hard on the jasmine.” She hasn’t looked at him yet, not really, but now she does. He reminds her of a photograph her grandmother kept, of her grandfather just back from the war: drooping and weary, resigned. The first time she saw him, in a lecture hall when they were freshmen in college, he had looked like Charles Lindbergh, tall and blonde and ready to fly. She clears her throat. “I’ve been trying to keep it alive.”

The garden has always been David’s. Each morning in spring he stood in the window and looked out at their yard, assessing the progress and change. David is patient and diligent, willing to wait. Each year he brings the jasmine inside—a plant that should never survive in Minnesota—and all winter he fights the dry air to keep it alive.

He hesitates and says, not unkindly, “Do you want me to call Samantha?”

Samantha lives down the block. She is a sixty-something woman who used to help with the plants. She is round and ruddy and lives in a house that reminds Ginny of an old, abandoned cabin on a lake. An orange kite hangs year-round from a hook on her screened-in front porch. Three seasons of the year, her yard seems to shine.

Ginny shakes her head no, although Samantha could probably help. She does not think she can stand the sight of Samantha in their house or their garden, alone. Samantha had used to bring Eliot strawberry popsicles; she had knelt with him and played tic-tac-toe with a stick in the dirt.

David lowers the book in his hand. “What else?” He means about the house. It’s not what he came to talk about but she can see him deciding, perhaps with relief, that this is what they will say.

She turns back to the cart. “The hinge on the kitchen cupboard came loose. I was able to fix it. The shower needs re-caulking. There’s the problem with the roof.”

David nods, accepting this. When it came to the house they had been a good pair. Ginny made lists and on Saturdays, she and David sat down and checked items off. Theirs is a tragedy, she thinks. They are victims of fate. Their marriage has not been perfect but it would have survived if Eliot’s death had not blown it apart.

She smoothes the bindings of the books she’s shelved. “Have you moved in,” she says, “with Susan?” Her back is to him. It’s the only way she can ask.

For a moment, there’s silence. She imagines what he must feel: surprise? Guilt? Shame? Finally he says, “Yes.”

She expected this answer—where else would David be staying?—but still, it cuts her with grief. With her back still turned she says, “Where does she live?” She doesn’t know why this is so important to her but it is something she desperately wants to know, something she’s returned to again and again over the past six weeks, as though where Susan lives is more important than Susan herself, the fact of Susan—a person she’d previously known only as David’s colleague—standing beside him, holding his hand, her forehead pressed to his lips. Ginny had discovered the two of them that way when she arrived, unexpected, to pick David up from work.

David clears his throat. “Susan has a condo downtown.” The way he says it, as though he’s talking about the two of them, he and Susan, makes her wince. She’s grateful her back is turned. She imagines the place: tall ceilings, hard wood floors, a view of the river. She had been to a party once, in a condo like that: the kind of place you move to when your children are grown, or if you’ve never had children at all.

What she says next sounds ridiculous, and, in fact, is not entirely true. “I’m planning a trip.” She pushes a space between two books. “To Africa. To teach.” It’s true she has applied, although not that she’s been accepted. She prays David will not laugh at her, or treat her as though she is crazy: she is 43 years old and her son has been killed on a school bus, flung from his seat when the driver swerved off the road. Her husband hasn’t touched her in over a year and now, worn out from waiting, he’s moved on to someone else. Even she cannot imagine herself teaching anyone anything.

When David remains silent she turns, his stillness giving her courage. “I needed a change.” This too, feels like understatement. Since Eliot died she has doubted whether she is even alive. What she needs is not change but life itself.

His face is a wash of confusion. “When?”

“In the fall,” she says quickly, and the speed with which she says it makes her believe it must be true.

David looks as though he does not understand and for a moment she is tempted to confess: perhaps she will go, perhaps she will not. Then, as though suddenly dizzy, he crosses the floor and sits on the cloth-covered seat behind her. David was an athlete in college. He was recruited to campus to play soccer, and now she is struck by the way his body still moves, quickly and with effortless grace. She wonders what he is thinking, if her news makes him happy or sad or relieved.

After a moment, Ginny sits too. She leaves a space between them. David’s palms are pressed into the seat as though he’s holding himself up, or as though he will spring from the bench and escape. He stares past the books and back to the alphabet rug. In the now nearly-empty library, she can hear the worn sound of his breathing.

“Won’t you miss it here?” he says, after a minute has passed.

She knows what he means. David is asking whether she will be able to leave the places Eliot lived—the place where Eliot was alive. She had told him, early on, she could never go: to leave was to leave him behind. But truth has settled inside her like stone: Eliot is dead. What she has of him is inside her. “No,” she says, and stops short of explaining. She’s too afraid she will cry.

David falls silent again, accepting this, and as the stillness draws out Ginny closes her eyes and imagines: Eliot peering out from the fort she has made him of blankets, his hair standing straight with static, his laughter like sunlight that fills every room in her heart. She wants to hold him, every day she has wanted to hold him, but outside she can hear the shush of cars in the street and when she opens her eyes she is alone again, with David.

“Do you have papers,” she says, finally, “you want me to sign?” She has wondered this from the moment he came through the library doors, if he’d come to ask for divorce.

David sighs and shifts back in his seat. He picks up a book that’s been left on the floor, a newly repaired copy of Charlotte’s Web. “No.” He shakes his head and she wonders what he means, if divorce is not what he wants or if he simply does not yet have papers, but she is grateful to him for this, the way his face changes into something nearly sheepish. He looked this way the first time they made love, when they were twenty years old and in college. They came home from a party covered in sand, a beachcomber’s ball in the basement of a fraternity. Her roommate was gone from the apartment she rented off campus and she remembers that, too: the excitement of being alone with David. Their lovemaking was careless and happy, the culmination of dating and waiting and knowing that, eventually, this was what they would do. She had woken to find him sweeping. His hair and his clothes were rumpled and there was sand on the floor and in her bed and all the way down the hall. “I don’t want to leave a mess,” he had said, grinning, and then he had leaned the broom—it made her laugh to think of him wandering down the hallway in his boxers, in search of a broom—against her desk and crawled across the bed to kiss her.

Cheryl’s voice crackles over the intercom. “The library will be closing in five minutes.”

David stands from the seat. He sets the book on the cart. “I will call about the roof.” He turns and looks at Ginny and in his face she sees sadness and something like assent. “I’ll call,” he says, simply, and Ginny knows that he will. He turns and walks, quickly, to the library’s doors. Cheryl locks them behind him. Ginny waits for the sound of his feet on the pavement and then grabs hold of the cart and pushes. She steers through the shelves and back to the alphabet rug. Her heart is beating too fast and she stands still for a moment, trying to breathe. She lets go of the cart and looks down at her feet. The book about spring remains on the rug, its cover worn and tattered. She kneels and picks it up. She opens to the first page and then flips to the last, the sentence she hadn’t read. She takes in the boy on his swing, the dog with his bone, the birds atop a milk carton feeder. This, she thinks, is the ending she wants, the one where time and perseverance win. She walks with the book still open in her hands and when she reaches the shelves, puts the story back in its place.

Ginny was with me for a long time before I found a way to tell her story. I knew she struggled with a particular kind of grief, but it wasn’t until I came across the children’s picture book And Then It’s Spring, with words by Julie Fogliano and pictures by Erin E. Stead, that the details emerged.