When It Happens to You Online - Molly Ringwald

THE HARVEST MOON

AS FAR AS GRETA KNEW, there was nothing in the sky that night.

Lying on her back in the bathroom on the cool of the white marble tiles, she heard the summons again. Her husband tapped the horn of the car: one long, noisy beep followed by two shorter taps, as if in apology. She strained to close the zipper on a pair of jeans without pinching the soft flesh of her midsection. It was a task she found both onerous and humiliating, primarily since she had purchased the pair less than a month ago, having gone through the same depressing experience with every other pair that lay folded in her dresser. Another short beep to remind her (in case she had forgotten) that her husband and daughter were waiting in the idling car, but this really had been sprung on her, and there might be photos. She wanted to at least make an attempt at presentability. There weren’t many photos of the two of them anymore, not like the early days, before Charlotte was born. Now any photo seemed to be taken from their six-year-old daughter’s height—hardly a flattering angle: the upward tilt of Greta’s crooked smile, and the heavy lower lids of Phillip’s distracted and vaguely startled eyes, as though he didn’t quite expect to find himself there.

Finally she managed to maneuver the zipper most of the way but left the top button unbuttoned. She pulled her oversized T-shirt over it and grabbed a sweater on her way out the door, stuffed it into her bag, and ran to the car. Phillip had backed it out of the driveway and waited at the curb.

“Sorry,” she said through the open window.

“We’re going to miss it, Mama!” Charlotte pouted.

Greta glanced at her daughter strapped into the backseat, still dressed in her pink gymnastic unitard and flip-flops. The air had begun to cool and Greta could see the gooseflesh on Charlotte’s skinny arms.

“Did you pack her a sweater?” Greta asked Phillip.

“I thought you did. Isn’t that what was taking so long?”

Greta didn’t answer, ashamed that she had packed a sweater for herself but not for Charlotte.

“I can go back,” she said, but Phillip was already driving down the street, away from children’s sweaters and dinner half-prepared. She tried to remember if she had locked the door behind her but figured that they would be gone for such a short amount of time, the chances of a break-in were unlikely.

“I’m not cold,” Charlotte insisted. She had her legs stretched out onto Phillip’s seat in front of her.

“I know, honey, but we aren’t outside. Put your feet down.”

Charlotte dropped her legs in a dramatic fashion. “Daddy lets me.”

Greta studied the side of her husband’s face. Squinting into the sun, he almost looked as though he were smiling. But his jaw was rigid. Greta could tell that he was grinding his teeth and thought about reminding him of the warning their dentist had given Phillip at his annual checkup but decided against it. He careened down the hill, running through yellow lights on their way to the ocean. Charlotte made excited noises that increased in volume with each turn.

“Whoaaaaa . . . whoaaaa!” She exaggerated with the movement of her body as though they were thundering along a roller-coaster track.

“What do you think, the ocean or the mountains?” Phillip asked.

“Well, I hope the ocean because that’s where we’re headed,” Greta said.

Phillip glanced over at her, did a quick inventory of her face, and then looked back at the road.

“I mean, this is your thing,” she said. “I didn’t even know anything about it.”

“They only happen every twenty years,” he said quietly. “It seems like a shame not to at least make the effort.”

“That means that the next time there’s a harvest moon, I’ll be a grown-up!” Charlotte told her mother. “Right, Daddy?”

“That’s right, sweetheart.” Phillip smiled at her in the rearview mirror. Greta watched the lines appear around his eyes and along the sides of his mouth as he smiled. It made his face look like it was melting, softening, but then just as quickly his jaw set and the determination reappeared.

“What makes this one so special is the fact that it’s so close to the equinox,” Phillip explained in a louder voice so that his daughter could hear him from the backseat. “Usually it’s days, or maybe even weeks apart, but this time it’s only six hours!”

“ ‘Equinox,’ ” Charlotte repeated gravely.

Greta was sure her daughter didn’t know the word. She turned around