Marc Hudson


Marc Hudson’s work has appeared in The Seattle Review, Qarrtsiuni, Echo Ink Review and Hot Metal Bridge. His story “Timo’s Creations” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He writes and builds gardens for other people in southern New Hampshire.

Habitable Space

Doyle wants to make a baby. Emily likens this urge to an illness. A mental illness. The onset came exactly one month after he was struck by a car while riding his bicycle to work. He stands at the mirror buttoning his shirt. “I was thinking of painting the spare room,” he says.

Emily doesn’t answer. The spare room. At least he hasn’t begun calling it the nursery.

He wraps his arms around her. “You’re beginning to crack,” he tells her. “I can feel it.” It was weeks before he could hold her without wincing. She’d almost forgotten what it felt like.


“It’s all different,” he says. He has said this many times now, staring at some point on a wall. “It was brutal and ridiculous. He beeped his horn. Beeped his horn while he plowed me into a mailbox!”


The idea for the book occurred to her a week before Doyle’s accident. Driving home from the dentist she noticed a wooden cross in the grass just off the shoulder of Route 7. Memorials sometimes sprang up in the wake of collisions, erected Emily guesses, by bereaved family members. She thinks it might be interesting to photograph some of these tributes, learn a little bit about the victims, make a book out of it somehow. Possibly, the photos might merit a gallery exhibit. Emily is a graphic designer by trade, a photographer by avocation. She has postcards selling in some of the shops downtown. The postcards feature a pair of mannequins posing around the city; Artemis and Mazy, she calls them. Mazy has a tattoo on one ankle of a surly-looking bunny.

Doyle thinks the idea is morbid. “Who would buy a book like that?” He notes the timing of the project coming just as his baby-hunger has begun to overwhelm him, suspects that it’s a retreat on her part, this ‘channeling of the dead;’ a heavy handed countering of his sudden biological imperative. She tells him that the timing is coincidental, but Doyle isn’t sold on the concept of inspiration striking out of the blue. He thinks the project is premeditated, a conscious decision, a rubbing together of sticks rather than a serendipitous spark.


That night, at dinner with friends, he announces that they are contemplating parenthood. The room is immediately filled with ahhhs, a little chorus of verbal back slapping. Most of their friends are baby-people. They shop out of box stores, speak in euphemisms. They wear sweatpants on weekends, look disheveled and sleepy. Their houses smell powdery and fecund.

“Once you start, you can’t stop,” says Melanie Boyd.

“Like dominos falling,” says her husband, Ted.

Melanie and Ted inhabit a fourth floor walkup. Doyle was winded from the climb, had to recover himself before he let Emily knock. He doesn’t like to talk about the accident, doesn’t want anyone to know that it haunts him. He’s gone back to riding his bike to work, but the routine has lost its allure. He no longer feels invincible, leaves the house an hour early to avoid traffic, is tense after the ride home. Tuesdays and Thursdays he drives to work to give himself a break. As soon as he was back on his feet he insisted they trade the Nissan for a Volvo. No matter that he was struck while riding his bicycle. Emily knows that Volvos are baby-cars, knows what he’s up to.

Melanie Boyd continues her baby-praise, her voice an octave higher, wine glass swinging from her fingertips. Used to be they would sit around getting high, drinking margaritas, dancing and laughing. “For the first time in your lives you’ll feel like you’re a part of something that’s bigger than you are.”

Emily wants to poke Doyle in the ribs for bringing this up, wants to flick his scar with her finger. She resents this tactic; the use of their friends as a lever, as if the application of genial intimidation might make her understand how out of sync she is. She feels forced into playing along for fear of looking like the heretic in a room full of baby-people. Doyle is one of them now, granted acolyte status merely by expressing a desire to rear a child. Emily manages to smile, her upper lip sticking to her teeth. Doyle is leaning forward, hands on his knees looking from Ted to Melanie, grinning like a fool. When he looks up, he seems almost surprised to find her there. He changes the subject. “Has Em told you about her book?”

Once again the room fills with little bleats of surprise. “What about?” asks Angie Dill, a free spirit, a breeder of Pomeranians.

“Roadside memorials,” says Emily.

They all gaze at her expectantly, trying to puzzle out what she has said.

Peter Gayle owns a bistro downtown. “Roadside what?”

“Memorials,” Doyle says. Emily examines his mouth for traces of a smirk.

“You mean those crosses people put up at car crashes?”

“Crosses, wreaths, mementos.” Emily sees them processing the details.

“Huh,” says Angie.

“Hate those things,” says Melanie.

“Who’s your audience?” Ted asks.

“Morticians,” quips Peter Gayle.

Emily doesn’t expect them to understand. “It’s not a coffee table book. It’s art.”


Melanie asks if it’s supposed to be edgy.

Emily squints at her. “It’s an examination of grief. Expressions of grief.”

“But art?”

“You can’t help but be moved, one way or another.”

“It won’t sell,” Peter tells her.

“It isn’t meant to,” says Angie. “Is it?” She doesn’t wait for Emily to answer. “It’s the sort of thing that gets one noticed.”


When Doyle is on top her Emily puts her hands on his hips and imagines she can feel the missing piece of bone at the edge of his pelvis, the small declivity under the base of her left thumb. He is gentler now, slower, tells her that it has nothing to do with pain, that what pain he has is almost an afterthought compared to what it was in the weeks after the accident. Their lovemaking is subdued. Doyle wants the moment to last, wants to stay connected, linger inside her for as long as he can. The scar on his chest is pink; an exclamation point, the mark of something momentary and brutal, something she cannot fully understand. Sometimes she just wants him to be rough, wants to grapple, clutch. But the urgency has gone out of him. He needs to feel protected, enveloped. He wants to make a baby.


She takes her camera and drives out to Route 7 looking for the cross. She parks the Volvo on the shoulder. Cars pass. It isn’t a busy road, but Emily feels self-conscious, wonders what the other drivers think of her—the young woman with her camera poking along the side of the road. The memorial is unremarkable; a slender cross painted white, surrounded by a ragged carpet of witch grass and clover. The withered stalks of an old bouquet lie at the base, bound by a tattered ribbon. A coffee cup has settled nearby, flattened into an envelope, imprinted with tire tracks. Emily squats, takes a few pictures. She feels a bit like a thief. There is nothing on the cross, no inscription, or if there was, it has been claimed by the weather.


“What about names?” Doyle asks. This is another of his tricks, his baby-traps. He is trying to hit a fly with a section of newspaper, trying to spare its life, to stun it rather than kill it, so that he can release it outdoors. He wields the newspaper loosely, slapping at the air as the fly zips from one side of the room to the other. There is more gray in his hair since the accident. Emily notices the little slivers of white as he moves past the window.

She is curled on the sofa, a book in her hands, wanting not to play along. “How about Baby?”

“Ha.” He stops what he’s doing, squares his shoulders. “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

She chuckles, in spite of herself.

“What if it’s a boy?” he says.

“Everybody would call him Babe, like Babe Ruth.”

“Babe Ruth had an actual name.” Doyle swats at the fly as if he is conferring blessings.


She takes out classified ads in the newspapers asking people to email her with locations of roadside memorials. Emily makes up a story about an anthropological study on grief. Within a week she receives half a dozen emails. She takes the Volvo and goes hunting. The sites aren’t easy to find; few of the directions are specific. Rather, the senders tend to give a town, a road name, a landmark near which the memorial is located. Doyle hates the idea of her going off in search of these things, parking in breakdown lanes and wandering around. “I’m not wandering,” she tells him.

To Emily these places feel sacred and sad, public and bereft. There is nothing uplifting about a memorial at the edge of a road. Cemeteries at least have something communal about them. Only two of the markers that she photographs have names on them. One has a photo of a young woman taped in a plastic bag. She is smiling a wide squinty smile, two people on either side of her cropped away, only their severed shoulders visible, pressed against her. The name Amanda is written in cursive along the horizontal bar of the cross. A few of the markers have flowers planted around them, signs that the spot has been visited; grass trampled, cards left, moldering.


They go away for a weekend at the ocean, to Doyle’s parents’ cottage. It’s late spring and the water is too cold for swimming. They have the beach to themselves. They lie on the sand. Doyle takes off his shirt and the scar is stark and pink against his skin. Gulls squeal. The waves toss brown foam on the shore. The cottage will be theirs when his parents are gone. This is yet another of the seeming epiphanies, another of the baby-reasons that Doyle has struck upon since the accident. It would be unjust, he reasons, not to share such a place with a child. The beach yields a carnival of discoveries: intricate shells, jewel-like nodules of glass, fingers of driftwood, bleached crustaceans—to say nothing of the myriad things that dwell beneath the waves. Emily concedes the argument. It may be that she is weakening, the carapace around her heart becoming brittle. Perhaps she’s just tired. She fought off her own biological imperatives three years before, her body suddenly wracked with some subterranean need to yield a life. She thought she was going mad. Neither of them had desired children, but Emily had not been prepared to do battle with something so innate. Doyle had remained stalwart then, pulling her through, Emily channeling all of her energies into her work. Now it is Doyle yielding to imperatives, craving the fierce love that comes with the stewardship of something so small and helpless. “It’s a conceit,” he used to say of parenthood, “couples scratching around for legacies. It’s the ultimate narcissism.” Emily has never carried the argument to these lengths. She has three sisters with five children between them. Nieces and nephews have always seemed like enough.

“What flavor?” Doyle asks. “Boy or girl?”

“What flavor? Do they come in mochachino?”

“No, really.”

They are on their way home, Doyle driving with an abundance of caution, hands at ten and two, extra space between their car and the car in front of them. He signals when he is about to change lanes, chastises drivers who drive too fast or pass on the right. Shades of her father, Emily thinks.

Doyle chews his lower lip. “I’d be totally happy either way. I really don’t have a preference.”

“That’s very Zen.” Emily is squinting. She has become adept at spotting memorials, like a bird watcher, one eye always tracing the roadside. “Pull over.”

Doyle flinches, taps the brake pedal. “What’s the matter?” He spots the marker only after he is half-way into the breakdown lane, a slender cross decked with flowers. His cheeks and nose are pink from the sun; a little mask out of which his eyes peer with a look somewhere between accusation and disappointment. “Oh, Jesus,” he says, already committed to the shoulder, the traffic sailing past them. “Jesus Christ, Em.”

She is leaning over the seat, digging for her camera in a pile of coats and blankets. “I’ll only be a sec.” Emily climbs from the Volvo, buffeted by a surge of air from a tractor trailer hurtling past. Tendrils of hair trail behind her. The cross is newer than the others she has photographed, draped with a garland of artificial roses and grape vine. There are votive candle holders seated at the base, glass cylinders blackened by spent flames. There are skid marks in the road, two faded dashes. A jagged swath of turf has been plowed up, the scar ending in a swale below. Emily takes her photographs and hurries back, reviews the pictures on the camera’s display.

Doyle mumbles something, mashes the gas pedal and slips back into traffic.

Online she puts the pieces together, searching the archives of newspapers for accounts of the accidents. The names of victims appear on the screen: young and old, male, female, single, married. She looks at their obituaries, gets to know them, if only a little. The photographs she has taken are stark. There is nothing about them that smacks of sentiment. The memorials are a chronicle of loss erected amidst the detritus of a busy world. Emily wonders what they are meant to impart; if they are intended as cautionary tales, or, as she suspects, simply emotional dowsers. She phones a man named Peter Fitzgerald, head of the DOT, to find out what their policy is on roadside memorials. He explains that the state does not have a specific policy with regard to such things—that shrines and markers of that nature erected in the aftermath of a traffic fatality are technically speaking, litter. He clears his throat when he says this, tells her that highway crews are nonetheless sensitive to such things and will usually let them remain for a few months, provided they don’t endanger the public.


She shows her photographs to the owner of one of the galleries downtown. Emily has had a couple of them matted and framed to give a sense of the finished work. The woman asks to see the black and whites. She prefers them to the color photos, feels that they have more impact, that the contrast gives them weight. She thinks the photos might work in a group show. The mannequins, Artemis and Mazy sit in the corner of Emily’s studio, Mazy seated in Artemis’ lap, one black high heel dangling from her toes in a way that is both carefree and weirdly sexual. Emily tries to imagine Artemis and Mazy lugging around a plastic child; Artemis with bags of diapers, Mazy with a stroller, stopping to breast feed—the infant’s rigid mouth searching the hard smooth hillock of her breast for a nonexistent nipple. For Emily there is nothing cheeky or jaunty about the image. Three seems one too many. Every morning she places the pill on her tongue. After so many years the act feels innate. Brush teeth, swallow pill. So ingrained is the ritual that stopping would require some kind of fundamental rewiring. She tries to imagine how it might feel to leave off, quit. Vulnerable is the only word that comes to mind, like cliff diving. The thought of it leaves her palms damp. Doyle has eased off on the baby-talk. Emily suspects that this may be another of his tactics—that without the pressure of expectation, she will heed the falsetto call of motherhood. If anything, her work has hardened her, the proximity to death, to tragedy. Caring for Doyle too, has sapped her of a desire to nurture, sharpened a need for independence.


She goes about calling them, the families of the dead. The first person she reaches is a woman named Melinda Cruz. Her husband was killed in a crash on his way home from work. Emily examines the photograph of his memorial; a plastic Mary in a grotto, forlorn red geraniums planted in the ground, spitting fire. She goes to see Melinda Cruz at her home, a tidy place surrounded by chain link fence and a strip of lawn. Emily photographs her standing at the gate looking down the street as if she is waiting for her husband to come home. A couple of families don’t want to talk. Another has a number that is no longer in service. Some who do speak, like Melinda Cruz, tell Emily that the memorials are a comfort to them, that it is better than driving by and seeing nothing, as if their loved ones had simply vanished, as if the spot on which their lives were lost had no significance at all. They understand that the memorials will be taken away. They tell her that they will make their peace with this when the day comes.


A few more emails come in, some with new information, others telling her of the places she has already been. The gallery owner tells Emily that she would like at least ten photographs for a group show. Emily has seven. She goes out to follow some of the new leads, considers the possibility of having to travel outside the state. One day Doyle hides her pills. When Emily confronts him he denies touching them. He stands in the bedroom doorway declaring his innocence. The look on his face is one of manufactured concern, as if Emily has lost her grasp on reality. She counters each of his denials with an emphatic “bullshit,” until he finally comes clean, insisting she’s become obsessed with death.

“Not me,” she says, “you, ever since the accident.”

“Not at all,” he tells her, recounting for the umpteenth time the experience of being bull-ridden into a mailbox. By the end of this recitation his voice has risen nearly to a shout. “It’s about life,” he says.

It feels as if the ground is shifting beneath her. The argument is seismic, flies in the face of every significant conversation they’ve had over the last ten years. “You’re talking about a job. A twenty four-seven, three hundred sixty five days a year job. And after a while, it stops being cute,” says Emily. “Everyone stops cooing. They go back to their lives and we’re left with the responsibility of raising a child. I don’t want to be standing here in two years saying ‘what the hell did we do,’ just because you feel vulnerable.”

Doyle’s eyes are glassy. He licks his lips, seems ready either to burst into tears or bury a fist in the wall. “And I don’t want to be sitting here in twenty years feeling like some part of my life went unlived. Fucking roadside memorials,” he shouts. “Whatever happened to cd covers and business cards? Whatever happened to propping up Mazy and Artemis around town and taking their picture? I don’t get what you’re doing.”

This was just the part of her that he had always liked—the part of her that he didn’t get. It used to excite him. Now it frightens him.

“It isn’t like you’d be sacrificing a career,” he says.

Emily flinches. The invalidation is cruel. Even the delivery is cutting, the offhanded way with which the words are meted out, as if he is saying something obvious and agreed upon—a statement of fact and not a withering condemnation of everything that she has made of her life up to now. Doyle leaves, not for a breath of air, or a walk, but actually leaves, packs a suitcase and goes, a shirttail flapping from one corner of his luggage like an epileptic’s hand.

She finds the tenth marker on a rural route an hour from the city. Emily almost gives up, drives past the site twice before spotting the cross in a copse of trees just beyond a hard curve in the road. The cross stands in the shadows, a heavy object, carved from a single block of wood with a chainsaw, the edges rough with feathers of heartwood. There is a scarf wrapped around the top—black with flecks of color scattered along the length of it, like sparks. A few beech leaves from the previous winter have settled in a hollow between the folds. The cross leans to one side as if the earth around it had jerked to a stop and its momentum had carried it forward. As she takes her photographs a pick-up truck passes. It slows and stops just beyond the Volvo. A young man gets out, tall, grim-looking. No one has ever stopped as she has gone about her work. The presence of the man throws Emily off, stifles a spark, interrupts a connection, not just to the plot of land, but to something broader and deeper. She can only snatch at moments, hunt for clues. There is a reverie that encapsulates her on these occasions, a channeling of sorts. She hasn’t realized until now how invested she becomes during these visits.

The man slinks through the shadows thumbs in his pockets, watching her. “Help you?” he asks.

Emily conceals her disappointment behind a short smile. It may be that he thinks she has broken down, has stopped to offer assistance. She lifts her camera. “It’s all right. I’ve just stopped to take some pictures.” She goes on shooting.

He comes closer. “Who are you?”

“I’m sorry?”

His arms are at his sides, bowed a little at the elbows as if he might fling them into the air, send her running. “What’s your business here?” He wears a denim jacket, frayed at the cuffs, faded, is handsome in a malicious way, everything about his face sharp and thin, as if his skin were stretched over some sort of alloy. His eyes have the green coolness of a late frost over tender leaves.

“Did you know this person?”

He makes a sound, a soft burst of air through his teeth, as if to suggest that the question is foolish. “You could say that.” He straightens the cross, plunges a boot heel into the ground to shore it up. Robins forage in the leaf litter beneath the trees, making noises that belie the fragile architecture of their bodies.

Emily notices a tree at the extreme left of the copse with its bark torn off. The tree is not small, has been growing there for some time, its shaggy hide thick and plate-like. The pith is mauled, splinters rising up and out like quills. “I’m sorry,” Emily says.

“What do you know about it?”

“Nothing. I just stopped to take a picture.”

“What for?”

There’s a canister of pepper spray in the glove box of the Volvo. It was a gift of sorts from Doyle, another of his attempts to insulate himself after the accident, to swaddle the things he loved in an imaginary layer of bubble wrap. She wonders if she could beat the man to her car. “Did you put it up?”

He rolls his shoulders, squats down, takes a cigarette from the pocket of his jacket, lights it. “I made it,” he says. The tone of his voice is neither prideful nor reflective.

Emily tries to sound casual, her heart beating fast. “Who was she?”

He squints at her through the smoke. “We were together.”


“You writing a book?”

“Sort of. A book on grief—expressions of grief. A book of photographs.”

He slaps the top of the cross with the flat of his hand, drags on the cigarette from one corner of his mouth, exhales from the other, never taking it from his lips. “She was hard of listening.”

Emily doesn’t ask him to elaborate. She is reminded of the fight with Doyle, the one in which he’d shouted at her, as if making a point was simply a matter volume. “I’m sorry,” she says again.

He snakes his fingers through the tassels at the end of the scarf, gives it a little tug. He tilts his head back, gazes at her. His eyes are unblinking, watching and revealing nothing. “She liked to drive fast,” he says. “Physics is a bitch when you take this corner at sixty miles an hour. Her parents went to pieces. I made it for them, the cross.” The cigarette bobs in his lips. Bits of ash fall gray as dust.

“What was her name?”


A car passes. And then another. Emily is aware of an exhalation of breath from her lungs, as if she has been holding it in the whole time. She asks the young man if he will stand beside the cross, and he rises, slowly. She takes his picture. He is something of a natural, unaffected as he is: sharp-boned and handsome.

It is her favorite of all the pictures, deceptively touching –the black and white image of the hard angled young man standing beside a cross, looking past her, pale eyes seemingly lit from behind, a pool of shadow in one cheek. At the gallery show it is the picture that is commented on the most, the one that people linger over, want to know more about.

After the show has had its run, Emily gathers the photographs and the notes she has taken. She removes the photos from their frames and together with the notes deposits them at the bottom of a file cabinet in her office. Buries them. She breathes easier. Doyle has taken an apartment across town. Emily is looking for something smaller. She cruises the city with Artemis and Mazy in the back of the Volvo, the mommy-car reduced to shuttling mannequins around the city in a quest for habitable space.

The idea for this story arose from a conversation I’d had with a friend about the memorials that sometimes spring up at fatal crash sites. I can think of few instances where reminders of tragedy and loss come so fully out of nowhere, where grief is manifested as randomly and publicly as with these sorts of memorials. I thought it would be interesting to write a story about someone who makes a project of photographing such tributes. It wasn’t until I’d nested that idea within the larger context of a couple on the downhill slope of a long relationship that the piece began to take shape. Emily’s identity as an artist, her commitment to her craft and her focus on a project revolving around tragedy and loss seemed a good counterpoint to Doyle’s brush with death and his subsequent obsession with making a baby.