I approach it slowly, overcome by fear and desire, warned to step carefully over the uneven earth that on this hillside haven set behind the rusting wrought iron fence , its master lock dangling askew, peers out through the trees to the Kanawha river flowing unknowingly through the valley.
The stone is set in line with the others, neatly incised, a name, English and Hebrew, two petunias, cornered, in perpetual bloom, a beloved sister and aunt, and unstated, unknown perhaps, a mother whose son, gently touching the stone, washes her with my tears, and we speak of love in silence, and I, a child of sixty-seven, embrace my mother for the first time, and I am finally and for the first time, complete
It was a small house, that much I still remember clearly, not wide, what some called a railroad flat, but ours had two floors, as if two railroad cars had been stacked one on top of the other.
We, luckily, had the bottom, or at least that’s what my father said, and his varicose veined legs applauded his selection of our new home.
I was less convinced as Mrs. McCarthy upstairs was a Reubenesque lady, that was my mother’s term, her sons were every bit as large, and they seemed to walk about at all hours, mostly over my room, leaving me to wonder amid the creaking, when the ceiling might suddenly blanket me.
That never happened, and I have no idea what became of the McCarthy’s, but I would have buried my father last year if my step-brother had bothered to give me the location of the body in his text telling me of his death.
So I am again an orphan, but in the process of building a new home as wide as it is long, and with only a single floor, and the birds have promised to be tread lightly at night.
He would arrive as I was still struggling to convince the dog that he didn’t need to drag me around the neighborhood, that he knew the backyard well enough.
I’d lose the argument in the end, that was a given, but he’d concede me enough time to wolf down breakfast, and I’d hear the small door in the wall open and then the clatter of bottles that the milkman deposited there.
Now it’s paper cartons from the grocery, the dog and several successors are now in whatever Valhalla is set aside for canines, and I suspect I may be getting lactose intolerant, which has nothing at all to do with how I now spend my mornings, with toast and a cortado on the patio, deep into my New York Times, trying to remember my long-gone youth.
It was a Thursday in August when he first noticed it. It was an unusually cool day, not the sort you’d expect in the middle of summer, but he knew the weather was ever more unpredictable. He was certain it hadn’t been there the day before, but he was surprised it was still there the day after, albeit ever so slightly larger. When he asked the elders about it, they merely laughed. “It is what you get for suddenly giving him a bedtime after dark,” his father said, “wait until he discovers the stars.”
As a child, I could never understand why, when I knew that it ws time to go, my parents were never ready, always needed one or two more things; and why en route, we were never quite there even though I had waited the ten minutes more they said it would take.
But I had nothing on my beloved dog Mindy, who would stand by the back door, leash in moth and growl, wondering, no doubt why I always need more time, it wasn’t, she was certain, because shoes were necessary, or a rain jacket, she got by just fine without them, and why my last bathroom stop had to take precedence over hers would always be beyond comprehension.
As a child I know the winters must have been milder, as it was never too cold to have my parents take is to Sheridan Park where my father would drag the old wooden toboggan up the chute adjacent to the stairs as we ran ahead, and smile as we hurtled down seeing how far we could go across the snow packed runway.
After an hour, when our hands were blue, the mitten clips long since defeated, he would once again smile as we drove to Louie’s for a foot long and a couple of orders of curly fries.
I’m thinking the weather changed right about the time my parents packed off to Florida, as if God had given them some Noah-like warning that winters would soon get ugly, or maybe He was just trying to help Detroit, since my step- siblings had to have certain cars, while I struggled through winter in the north in my leaky, rusting Opel.
I sing a shattered song of someone else’s youth the melody forgotten the words faded into odd syllables heard in my dreams. The coyote stands at the edge of a gully staring at me and wondering why I slip from the hogan through the hole punched in the back wall slinking away in the encroaching dark. The priest, his saffron robes pulled tight around his legs in the morning chill, stares as I run my hands across the giant brass bell feeling its resonance. I hear the dirge as sleep nips at the edge of my consciousness grabbing the frayed margins of life