6:30 AM

I roll over in bed, touch my wife’s hip, and press myself against her rear. She has a nice rear. I’ve read it’s normal for men to be excitable in the morning, and I’m grateful I still have excited thoughts at age seventy.

My wife puts her hand on mine, but stops me when I start to pull her nightgown up.


7:00 AM

I make toast and coffee and poach eggs for breakfast because it’s one thing I can do well that is special. I lift the eggs from the water with a slotted spoon and slide them on the toast when she walks into the kitchen. Hedda smiles and kisses the air beside my cheek. Her lips are too red, but they are nice lips for a woman who is almost seventy.

“I’ll be at work late,” she says. “We have a reception for a visiting Civil War scholar this afternoon.”

She works at the historical society, doesn’t ask if I’ll come to the reception because she knows I won’t. I wonder what is wrong with my cheek that she won’t kiss it. I shaved well this morning because she complains about the stubble. Hedda pecks the air beside my cheek again when she leaves.

“I got a new razor,” I say. “It’s electric but gives a good shave.” I want to show her that I can mend my ways. I think it deserves consideration.

“Good,” she says. “Nice breakfast. I’ll see you around seven.”

Hedda is always calm. It’s a necessary trait for a farm wife. Providing a steady income is a good thing too, because you can’t rely on corn like you can rely on cash. You have to be ready for rough times. During forty-five years of marriage she has only asked me to make dinner and listen while she talks about her day. After she leaves I wash the breakfast dishes. In fall and winter and early spring I do most of the cooking and housework. She takes over when I’m in the field working twelve or fourteen-hour days.


8:00 AM

I walk out to the barn and my tractor. Today I’ll start forming the maze in my cornfield, one I planted especially for the project. I’m using an acre of land, and the maze won’t be as clean as it would if I’d hired professionals, but I want to do it myself.

I’m using a grid system to design the maze and flatten the corn precisely. I drew a picture of nine daisies on a piece of graph paper and disconnected some of the lines to form the maze, then I planted the corn east to west and north to south to mimic the lines on the graph paper. I had to wait until now to start the maze–the corn is high enough to cut, but not too high.

I’ll use the grid like a map while I’m driving through the field to flatten the corn. Yesterday I put colored flags every ten rows around the field to help me keep track of where I am. It’ll take a few days to finish since it’s precise work, but it’ll be spectacular.

Hedda will protest, say this is a waste. She’s seen corn mazes on the front page of the local paper and thinks they’re frivolous, but I have ninety-nine more acres of corn so it’s not bad to one as a memorial for Camille. She used to own the flower shop downtown. She was my friend. I need to do something for her since I’m pretty sure I was the last person to see her alive. That comes with a level of responsibility, since Camille was the sort who’s hard to forget.

She thought corn mazes were magical, so this one will be free for everyone in town.

I start the tractor and motor into the field, imagine Camille sitting next to me. Her blond hair was going silver, but she had a light complexion so it looked good on her. Camille was a slim woman and wore bright colors, because she bright colors made people happy, and happy people were more likely to buy large bouquets. Camille smiles and nods at my grid.

“It’ll be fantastic,” she says, patting my arm.

“I’m sorry I didn’t do this while you were alive,” I say, glancing down at the grid. “I know you would have liked to walk through.”

It would make more sense if we made memorials for people before they died so they could enjoy them, too. I drive slowing, consulting the grid often as I form that first petal.


10:00 AM

After shaping one daisy I walk inside for a glass of water and notice Hedda left her lunch in the fridge. I call the Historical Society, ask if she wants me to bring her the sandwich.

“I’m fine,” she says, “I have snacks. I might not even have time for lunch. Too busy.”

“It wouldn’t be a problem for me to drive out there,” I say.

“Stay home,” she says. “Don’t trouble yourself.”

Hedda likes to keep things simple and be self-sufficient.

I drink two glasses of water and go back outside to keep working on the maze.

I liked Camille a lot, won’t lie about that, but I needed to marry someone like Hedda. She’s never very upset or cheerful. A level woman. Camille blossomed and wilted too easily. When I walked in the flower shop I knew her mood, if she was having a good or bad day. She was cordial to customers, but didn’t hide her emotions around me.

“Myrna came in this morning and said I’d put the wrong flowers in her arrangement,” Camille told me a week before she died. “She doesn’t know a calla lily from a chrysanthemum. That’s the problem with some of my customers. They order flowers without knowing what’s what, then I get blamed when it doesn’t look like they expected.”

I offered to get her a donut from the café across the street.

“You’re a dear man,” she said.

I liked that.

Sometimes Camille’s emotions were scary. Once she threw three plastic buckets across the shop when a shipment of white roses arrived frozen. I was the only other person there, took refuge behind the register in case she decided to throw anything else.

“I’m sorry if I scared you,” she said afterwards.

“It’s okay,” I said, peeking out from behind the counter.

“The wedding is in two days and I need those roses,” she said.

“I understand,” I said, my pulse still a little fast.

Hedda’s parents were farmers. She’s serene during hailstorms and droughts and fluctuating prices. We’ve worked together for forty-five years. Not all marriages go that way.

“The stress of owning a business gets to me sometimes,” Camille told me.

She couldn’t have handled farm life like Hedda does.

When the fields were too wet for me to work, I drove into town and spent two or three hours with her at the flower shop, chatting and carrying buckets of water. I liked being useful. Camille called me a dear man and touched my arm, but she was the sort of person who touched people when she spoke to them. It was unsettling at first, but I got used to it. Later she gave me little side hugs, and I got used to that, too. I was waiting for a full-body hug, but wouldn’t have initiated it myself.


12:00 PM

After shaping one and a half more daisies, I eat Hedda’s forgotten lunch. Most of the year I eat lunch in the kitchen and listen to the radio for company, but during planting and harvesting I eat in the tractor.

Camille died in October, after I’d taken my field corn to the grain elevator. The day before she died I stopped in the flower shop to get a bouquet for Hedda. It was the anniversary of our first date. I forgot it every year, but this time I was going to remember.

“How sweet,” Camille said as she wrapped the roses. “You’re such a dear man.”

I was pleased with the smile Camille gave me when she told me to have a lovely evening.

I presented the roses to Hedda before dinner.

“Our first date was on the twentieth next month,” she said, “but I love the flowers.”

She kissed me on the lips. A nice long kiss. We hadn’t kissed like that in thirty years. With our one kid out of the house there was nothing to stop us, but Hedda got home too late and fell asleep too quickly for those kisses to be a regular occurrence.

I found out about Camille the next morning when I drove into town to buy bread and mustard. The flower shop was closed. I figured she was sick, walked across the street to get a donut at the café, and heard she’d had a heart attack. Fatal. I couldn’t cry. I was in public. Everyone in the café said nice things about Camille, how she was kind and sweet. I nodded, knew if I tried to say anything I’d break down.

I cried later. In the barn. I cried over those touches on my arm. Those side hugs. I wanted to hug back, but worried about my hand brushing against her hip in a way she might find uncomfortable. I worried what Hedda would think, me crying over another woman, then I cried harder because I didn’t know if I would cry like this over my wife.

It’s better I didn’t marry Camille. She was swept off her feet by an elementary school gym teacher. He knows better than me what there is to miss about her from day to day. I’m like a no-name guy in Romeo and Juliet, one who loved Juliet but didn’t say anything to her, didn’t get himself killed like Romeo, but stood outside that tomb as the lovers were lying inside and said Oh damn. Romeo and Juliet is the only play I know anything about. They made us read it in high school. I was the monk, only remember that I gave Juliet poison and set everything off.


2:00 PM

As I form the fourth daisy, I start and stop and consult the maze grid to make sure I’m in the right place. So far so good. It’s a warm day and I get tired more quickly than I used to, but it’s a good tired.

“I appreciate what you’re doing,” Camille says as she sits beside me. She rests her hand on my arm. I won’t let myself imagine any other contact. Certainly not a full hug.

“Once the maze is done,” I say, “I’ll hire a helicopter pilot and a photographer to fly over and take pictures.”

“Are you worried what Hedda will think?” says Camille. She always asked about the health of my wife when I was in the flower shop.

“I know what she’ll think, that the daisies are gaudy and it’s a waste.”

Camille pats my arm again. I miss her side hugs. Not many people around here hug a lot. Our parents didn’t raise us that way. We believed in having space around our bodies.

“Too much space,” I say.

I think of my wife and her air kisses. I’m sure Camille never kissed her gym teacher husband like that. She gave him full-mouth kisses when they got up in the morning and when they got home from work and before they went to bed. As they ate breakfast and dinner, Camille was either cheered over the flower shop or ranting darkly about customers. Her husband had to deal with those fluctuations.

All of Hedda’s days are reasonable. This is good, because she is steady when corn prices are high or low, steady when we’re getting too much rain or too little. I fret and pace. She smiles gently and kisses the air beside my cheek. A perfect arrangement. What I thought I wanted.


4:00 PM

After finishing the fifth daisy I take a break, drive into town for coffee and four donuts. The glazed kind Hedda likes. They’re half price at the cafe after three in the afternoon. I like the frosted cake donuts, the ones Camille preferred. I walk past the flower shop. It’s dark inside. I don’t know if anyone will want to take it over.

At the café I see Frank. He used to farm the field adjacent to mine, but he retired four years ago. Frank tips his seed company cap to me and asks how Hedda and I are doing.

“We’re fine,” I say. “Married forty-six years next month.”

Frank nods and smiles.

I sit alone at a table and eat my donut. I used to eat them while sitting with Camille in the shop. Sometimes I was there four days a week. I worried there might be rumors about us.

“Don’t worry,” Camille said. “People know you’re honorable. Your wife trusts you.”

“Yeah,” I said.

Hedda didn’t mind the time I spent with Camille.

“She has so much work in that shop,” said Hedda. “It’s good you can help her.”

But I wanted there to be rumors about Camille and me. I wanted everyone’s head to turn when I walked into the café. They know me too well. I am not the sort of man who’d have an affair. Too cowardly. Too shy and old and moralistic. Besides, Hedda would have been hurt if I’d had an affair. At least I think that would be the case. She loves me, doesn’t think I’m capable of cheating, and really I’m not. No one would want me. But I want to be wanted.


6:00 PM

For dinner I make pork chops. Hedda will be home at seven after the presentation she knows I didn’t want to go to. She will kiss the air beside my cheek, so it doesn’t matter whether or not I shave before her arrival. I wonder when she’ll notice I’ve been working in the field, shaping those daisies. Sometimes she’s so tired she only thinks about dinner, but she works hard so I can’t blame her.

After the pork chops are in the oven, I walk out to the unfinished maze and wind my way through the corn. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts a wet fall. I’m worried. Hedda is calm. She says everything will be fine. She always says everything will be fine.

I stand at the end of a pathway and cry, want to get all those tears out before she gets home, because she’s the person who should have been my wife, because nothing should have been different.