Spring. vi

Three weeks later, Joseph stayed over at Grandma and Grandpa’s house while Susan and Elijah went on their anniversary vacation. He had a good time there and he spent most of the time looking at his pocket knife. When he and Grandma baked cookies and Grandpa sat at the table reading the Bible, he tried using the pocket knife to cut the dough. Grandma didn’t let him, but she told him that he could use it to do a special chore out in her garden. After they were done baking cookies, Grandpa closed the Bible, got up from his chair, and opened the sliding door to the backyard. He showed Joseph where the chicken wire in Grandma’s garden had to be cut, but that he had to be very careful not to cut himself. Are you old enough, you think, Grandpa said, not to cut yourself? Of course, Joseph said, almost offended. Of course I can do it without cutting myself.

Grandpa said, alright then, and went back inside. Joseph cut the chicken wire and looked up at the sky and felt an odd vibration in his chest. He didn’t know how to describe it. The clouds rolled in the pink sky like dough rolling in flour and the trees breathed a warm wind on the back of his neck. He looked back at the back door to see if he was still not alone. Grandpa was sitting at the kitchen table and Grandma was standing at the island. Joseph wondered if there was going to be a storm, or maybe even a tornado. He worked faster, so that he could get inside quickly.

But there was no storm and not even a tornado. He finished the work, which was an odd job, he thought, and went inside. Grandma was very pleased with him and she gave him the first cookie. Grandpa asked him to sit on his lap and he did it. He fell asleep in Grandpa’s lap. The last thing he saw was his pocket knife on the table under the light.

He didn’t understand entirely what happened the last day. Grandpa was taking a nap and Grandma told Joseph to go wake him up. He knocked on the door, but Grandpa didn’t answer. So he opened the door a little bit and asked, Grandpa? but Grandpa stayed in bed looking up at the ceiling.

Joseph came back in the kitchen, feeling an odd vibration in his chest, and with an unsteady voice, as if he was not allowed to say it, “Grandpa’s sleeping.”

Spring. v

They are all led to a white table cloth and Joseph finds Mom’s arm, but not for long, because Mom tells him to sit next to Dad and she tells Grandpa where to sit. Joseph sits next to Grandpa, who is sitting at the end of the white table cloth. Men in white and black suits push their chairs in and Grandma, who is sitting across from Joseph, likes this, but he does not. Mom is sitting next to Grandma and Dad sits next to Joseph. The table cloth they sit at is in the middle of the restaurant, which is really just one large room with high ceilings with high chandeliers. Everyone begins asking questions to each other, except for him. He just plays with the edge of the table cloth.

After a man comes by to ask them what drinks they want, he is just good with water, they keep asking questions. Dad says this place reminds him of the one place Grandma took us before she died.

When did she die, Mom asks.

Oh, I don’t know, Dad says, looking over at Grandma, like three or so years before we met? Grandma nods and so does Grandpa.

Whose mother was it, if you don’t mind…

It was mine, Grandpa says, with his elbows on the table and his old hands folded in front of his mouth. He sort of nods his head and Mom says, oh, I’m sorry. What was her name, if you don’t mind…

Her name was Rudy. She was one tough lady, I tell you, Grandpa says.

Yeah, Dad says, she was physically capable and just mentally strong until the very end. She refused help most of the time. We would go over to check up on her and she would say, yes I’m fine, now go on home.

I can’t believe I have never asked this or don’t know this, Mom says, but how did she die, if you don’t…

Brain hemorrhage took her in her sleep, Grandma says. The words are surprising to hear from her mouth. I did not expect Grandma to talk. I look at her and she has her reading glasses on so she can read the menu, her eyes are just reflections.

Grandpa is silent but then he just says yep, good lady. There is silence, but then Dad touches Joseph’s shoulder and says, I remember when I was your age, I would stay at her house when my mom visited friends and Grandpa was on business trips. She would take me to her church and they had this kid’s church that I absolutely loved. They would ask us a lot of questions and give us candy when we answered. One day, then Dad looks at Mom, I figured out a way to work the system. I would ask the youth pastor questions back, you know, just trying to get him to ask me more questions, and eventually I had so much candy, I would eat it all and get sick when I got back to Grandma’s house.

What was she like, Mom asks Dad, looking at me and smiling.

Oh, Dad says, looking at Grandma and Grandpa, she was like Grandpa said, one tough lady and good too, but she was also full of stories. She had been through so much in her life, but she was still willing to give herself and always give herself. Dad, you would know more about this, how would you describe your mom?

Grandpa is looking at the bread basket that a man sets in front of him. He takes a roll and bites it. And he takes awhile to respond, but everyone waits for him. He takes a sip of water then says, Oh, Mom was an angel. I really believe she was actually an angel. Not much else to say. They say angels take the form of humans. Mom was, was an angel.

Everyone, except for Joseph who is looking up at Grandpa, is looking down.

She was ready to go when she did and I am glad she went in her sleep. She is with the Lord now, I know that, Grandpa says. I see Dad bite down hard on a roll of bread. Grandma nods her head. Grandpa says, And after all the surprises in my life, I think I’m ready to go be with them, too.

Dad, don’t…

Um, Mom says quickly, interrupting Dad, well what about your dad?

Mom’s face turns red and takes a drink of water.

My dad, Grandpa says, Oh, only God knows about him.

I mean, Mom asks, clearing her throat, what was he like?

Oh, what was he like? Grandpa says, God, my dad was a hard hard man. He died before Elijah was born. He died even before I met Lucy. He was a depressed alcoholic and an abuser and an adulterer. He took his own life.

Mom knows this and so does Joseph and they both look down. Dad does not like when conversations are negative and Joseph can feel that he is trying to avoid a negative conversation.

Are you ready to order, asks a tall man in a black and white suit. He stands in between Grandma and Grandpa.

Yes, I think we are, Dad says.

No one is ready to order. Everyone asks what the specialties are for today. There is some sort of steak sandwich and Mom and Grandpa get that, but Grandma and Dad get the wedge salad. Joseph has his dad ask the man if they have macaroni and cheese, which they do. The man goes away and says that he will be back to refill their glasses.

Grandma takes a sip of her wine. Mom leans forward with one elbow on the table cloth in the direction of Grandpa.

So, when you say that you have gone through surprises, Mom asks Grandpa, what kind of surprises do you mean?

Oh, the kinds that most people don’t know about, Susan, the kinds of things that people don’t like to think about.

Like, what do you mean, Susan asks.

Dad takes his phone out and looks at his phone under the table. Grandma sips her wine, leaning back.

I have seen things, Grandpa says, things I don’t like to think about anymore.

I’m sorry, I didn’t know. I’m sorry I brought it up.

No, no, it’s fine. As a Christian, I believe those forces don’t hold power over me anymore. I believe Christ reigns in me and because he reigns in me, I now reign over the forces that once had me.

Mom leans back in her chair. I’m sorry to have brought it up, Mom says.

Dad puts his phone away and I hear it click. Dad believes he was possessed by a demon, Dad says.

I, I didn’t know. You never told me, Mom says. And that surprises me, I don’t know, just because I ask a lot of questions about you guys and about what your lives were like. I like to know what happened to people and how it makes them who they are. But this never came up?

Mom is always asking people about themselves. She almost only asks questions. She says she likes to know about people, because the more you know about their past, the more you can guess about their future.

That’s because it never happened, Dad says.

Grandpa still has his elbows on the table. Elijah, he says, I am not the only one. We are all possessed, I believe. I know. I saw my own demon with my own eyes and I touched him.

Grandma sips her wine. Her glasses are big reflections and she is smiling.

Well, that’s just great, Dad says.

There is silence, except for the tables around them.

Dad, anyway, we are here for your birthday, Dad says, and I brought a gift for you.

Dad sets a wrapped box on the table.

Oh, thank you Eli, Grandpa says. Dad hands him the gift over the flower vase in the middle of the table and he takes it and sets it next to his chair. Can I open it after dessert, Grandpa asks.

Sure, Dad.

“So, Joseph,” Grandpa asks, “How was your school year?”

“It was good.”

“Yeah? What was your favorite class?”

“I think I like Spanish the most.”

“Spanish! Why Spanish? I was never a language man myself.”

“Well,” Joseph says, “I like the teacher. Her name is Mrs. Ramirez. She is really nice.”

“What makes her so nice, do you think?”

“I don’t know. I think she has a lot of kids in her classes.”

Grandpa nods his head.

“That can help,” he says, “especially if the kids like her and don’t disobey.” Joseph nods.

“Well, Joseph, I know you’re here to celebrate my birthday. And I appreciate that,” Grandpa says, “but I brought something for you.”

Grandpa takes a pocket knife out of his pocket. It has a blue ribbon wrapped around it.

“I was just cleaning through my old things in the attic and I found this. I used it all the time for work. It’s a handy tool.”

Joseph takes it from him and immediately pulls it out of its sleeve and seeing the different knives and tools.

“I remember you telling me that you wished you had your own pocket knife, so I thought I would give you this one,” Grandpa says.

Joseph smiles and gets up from his chair and hugs Grandpa. He kisses Joseph on his messy black hair and rubs his old hand through his hair. “I love you, buddy,” he says, “you’re my little bud, aren’t you?”

Our Lake Temples

Wicked hearts! We swing our arms like rows as we wade into the sunken temples of our future selves, the stones our hands carved out from the mountains we saw as children, that land now a deep and walled ditch in the ground filled with a lake of memories and the wailing faces of friends who wanted us to stay, but refused to go with us, and now we wait someday for the drop-off as we push our bodies forward, when our feet will lose the bottom and our hands will wave above us like slow sinking sails, because we told ourselves we had to keep going, but all we ever do is fall back into what we left behind.

What Did Dad Fill Them With?

Samuel slept in Dad’s green lawn chair,

while fragments of light in the mason jars

on the fence flickered with the moving shade of the trees

like anxious lanterns at night. He put them in his will,

not the dress shirt draped over Sam like a blanket,

when a cloud put its hand over

Dad’s backyard, the pale empty jars,

and a framed picture in the grass of Dad

smiling, two ballpoint pens in his pocket protector,

sitting on the edge of his university desk, hands clasped,

as if waiting for the cool breeze that a silent cloud

sometimes brings.

Spring. iv

They arrive at Elijah and Susan’s around eleven thirty. They pull up into their driveway and Abraham turns off the engine. He waits for Lucy to find something she is looking for under her seat. She pulls out a square box covered in a wine glass wrapping paper.

“Oh, sweets, when did you do this?” says Abraham.

“I just got it, you know, around.” Lucy giggles. “Here,” she says, “take it. You can open it now.”

He takes it from her and kisses her on the lips and it makes a big smacking sound. He peels back the wrapping paper with its little glasses of red wine and it is a wooden plaque with lyrics to a song carved into it.

“Oh, sweets. Lu.” He brushes his old fingers over the words carved in the wood. “…a dream by strangers quickly told…”

“We can put it over our bed,” she says.

They kiss for minutes before they see the living room curtains drawn back. There is a little boy in the window. He sees them in the car and waves. Grandpa Abe waves back and the little boy walks away and the curtains fall back and the front door opens. They get out of the car and the little boy runs down the stairs to Grandpa. Behind him is a blonde-haired man in a pin-striped suit wearing a glossy pink tie. He is holding a small box. Behind the man is a tall black-haired woman, much taller than the man, in a champagne-colored dress. She is holding a bouquet of flowers. Grandpa hears a number of voices say, “Happy birthday!”

Grandpa bends down on his bad knees and lets the boy hug him. Grandma hugs her son in the pin-striped suit and just as soon as she does that, the woman in the dress takes Grandma by the arms and puts the flowers in her hand.

“These are for you,” says Susan.

“For me?” Grandma asks, “Why do I get flowers on Grandpa’s birthday?” She laughs.

“Because, just because we love you and we’re appreciative of you and taking care of him and I don’t know.” They hug again.

Joseph steps away, but is caught between Dad hugging Grandpa. He looks out between their legs at Mom and Grandma talking and pointing at the flowers Mom bought from the gas station this morning.

Dad and Grandpa stop hugging and Grandpa asks, “So, where are you taking us? Are we under-dressed? You guys look pretty fancy.” Grandpa looks down at Joseph and rubs his big hand through Joseph’s combed wet black hair. Joseph is wearing a white dress shirt that is too small for him and a blue clip-on tie that he hates.

“God, Dad. No, you’re not under-dressed. You are looking good, just fine. We’re going to Cezanne. It’s a French bistro. You’ll love it – oh, Mom, you’ll love it too. Susan and I, it’s our favorite place.”

Grandpa and Grandma nod at each other, smiling. “I’m sure we’ll love it.”

 

They all get in Dad’s car. Grandpa sits in Mom’s seat and Dad drives, but Grandpa wants to. Joseph sits in the backseat next to Grandma. Next to her is Mom. It is weird that Mom is sitting in the backseat and it is a little funny. Grandma smells very strongly of perfume, but Mom and Dad told Joseph not to comment on it. He feels proud that he is mature enough not to comment on it. He is getting better at not commenting on people. He only talks about it later.

Grandma tries talking to Joseph on the way there, but Joseph does not turn to her. He only looks out the window, watching the trees wave past, and saying “yeah” to any question Grandma asks. Not all of the questions are yes or no questions. She moves all of the conversation over to Mom.

Joseph does not care about the trees. He is listening to the conversations in the car. Dad asks Grandpa how his week was and how the drive was here. Dad wants to know if Grandpa is still a good driver. Grandpa says oh, that it was a good drive here and well, you know Mom. She loves adventure and so, we stopped at a cemetery on the way here. In the backseat, Grandma is talking about the cemetery too, telling Mom about it. And the two conversations mix when Grandpa asks Grandma to describe how beautiful the view was from the top of the hill. It sounds gorgeous, Mom says, you’ll have to take us there. No, Grandpa says, we decided that you kids are gonna have to bury us there. So, I guess in a way, we will take you there, as long as you promise to take us there! Joseph hardly remembers the conversation. It was something about graveyards.

 

They walk into the bistro, Cezanne’s, and Grandpa takes off his hat and combs his wispy white hair with his fingers. Grandma unravels her scarf and Mom rubs her arms, because she is cold. She didn’t know that it was going to be this cold. Of course it is, Grandma says, it’s still winter! No, Winter ended yesterday, Joseph says. Either no one hears him say it, or they are so shocked to hear him say more than one word, they cannot speak one themselves. Dad is talking to some man in a black and white suit. Joseph looks around and he wants to stay close to Mom and Dad, because he was told that he had to be on his best behavior at Cezanne’s. The walls are wood panels and there are trees in pots. A man in a black and white suit comes by and asks Grandma and Grandpa if he can take their coats. Grandpa lets him take his coat and he takes a dollar out of his back pocket, but the man will not accept the dollar. Grandma does not let the man take her coat. She turns around and gives her coat to Mom and Mom says thank you.

Spring. iii

They get in their car drive past the park, past the brick middle school, past the housing developments, and they break out and there is cornfields. Lucy watches the lines of green on the brown ground tick by and the trees lining the fields are growing buds. The square farmhouses sit behind the bare spotted arms of trees like they are good friends. Abraham does not slow at an intersection because there are no cars around but Lu, she gets nervous and frowns. She says nothing, but has grown to expect it.

Past the cornfields, past the farmhouses, on the outskirts of another town, there is a gate to a cemetery on the top of a hill. The path from the gate goes up to the top of the hill, where there seems to be a small memorial or maybe a boulder. Lu sees it coming towards them, but Abe keeps driving.

“Abe, look; a cemetery.” She grabs his shoulder and points, the tip of her finger touching the windshield.

“I see it, I see it.”

“Don’t you want to stop by it? Walk around? Look at the names? I think it’s very appropriate to be reminded of death on a birthday, especially one so late in the game.”

“Oh, alright.”

She does not care about being reminded of death. All she wants is to see the view from the top of the hill out on the rising waves of crops. Lucy always did this to Abraham and that is how they fell in love. She always wanted to see things with him. When they saw the same things without talking about it, that is when she loved him the most.

They pull up to the gate and he turns off the car. Lucy looks up and down the road before opening her car door. There are no cars on the road, not any they saw at all. Abraham is at the gate, seeing if he can unlock it, so that he can drive the car up to the top of the hill.

“It’s locked, dear,” she hears him say when she gets out of the car. He stands at the gate with his hand on the lock and holding his hat. His coat flaps in the tight wind blowing from the shallow fields.

She says nothing, but walks up to him.

“Then we’ll have to go over the stone wall and walk up it.”

“Right now?”

“Why not? We have time.”

He takes his hand off the rail and looks at his watch. It is 7:23am. They have time.

“Well, we don’t have much time.”

“How long does it take to get to Elijah and Susan’s?”

“About three hours, but there could always be traffic,” he says.

“I wouldn’t be too worried about traffic on a Wednesday morning, especially if a storm is coming in.”

He shrugs his shoulders and goes to the low stone wall. He puts one leg over it, then both, and from the other side he takes Lucy’s hands. She puts one leg over the wall, then both, and she kisses him.

“What was that one for?” he asks.

“I didn’t tell you happy birthday yet today. Happy birthday.” He kisses her.

“If there’s no traffic, then, do you think we have time for more than kisses?”

“Not in a graveyard, Abraham.”

“Why not?” he asks.

“It would be too cold!” she giggles. They stop talking, because it is getting harder for them both to speak in the wind.

They walk up the path together to the top of hill. She has her arm around him and he has his arm behind her neck. He plays with her ear with his fingers. They walk slowly past rows of stones, and up past them, and their eyes sometimes hold onto names or dates they see.

Hess Lewis, 1912-1973.

Miriam Chalmers 1897-1920.

Michael Cantid Jr. 1989-2014

Samuel Riley Belahaim 1956-1999

Caleb Warner 1996-2014

Doloris Vine 1922-2010

Joshua Williams 1901-1978

Angela Riesznoski 1963-2011

At the top of the hill, they forget about the gravestones and all of their attention is turned to the boulder.

“Is there a plaque on it somewhere?” Lucy asks, working hard to move her lips. Abe takes his arm away from her and he walks around the boulder. He kicks it in some places without any particular reason. He puts both of his feet at the bottom of it and puts his hands in the middle of it. He puts his ear to it.

“What are you doing?” she asks.

“Oh, nothing,” he says and laughs, “No, no plaque.” He comes back to her and puts his arm around her shoulders. They turn from the boulder and look out, between the naked arms of the dead trees, at the distant lines of thin green.

“I bet this is a beautiful spot in summer,” Abe says.

“Isn’t it beautiful now?”

“Yes, but to see all of the corn. Imagine being the farmer of all this corn. So much work. But if you came up here? You could see it all,” he says.

“I would prefer not to have all that work. It would be stressful to be a farmer. Your whole livelihood depends on the weather.”

“That is why farmers have an ancient tradition of praying.”

As they speak, they are working with their lips. They let their lips rest for a moment.

“Abe, I want you to bury me here. With these people.”

“Well, alright. Only if you promise to bury me here, too. With you.”

“We’ll have to ask the kids, then.”

In the distance, past the fields, there is a square farmhouse. It looks at them.

Spring. ii

If he was a girl, Susan was going to call him Joy. Since he was a boy, she called him Joseph. Susan waited a long time to have a child. She thought that her first child would probably be her last and if she had to choose, that only child would be a daughter.

Elijah tells Joseph that he loves him as he walks away. Joseph says he loves him too, but he does not look back. Joseph walks down the dark hall to his bedroom and Susan watches her son open the door and close it. More than my son; my life. How can I live without him, apart from him? I don’t know.

“Tomorrow will be good,” Elijah says, making sure that they are not too negative about his dad’s birthday. “Joseph will get to see his grandparents.”

Susan puffs air out of her nose. A laugh. She stares at the edge of the carpet before the kitchen floor. Elijah watches her from under the lampshade, with his chin resting on his fist. He is waiting for her to say something. If she looks at him, she will not be able to see his hair, only his forehead. It will make her laugh. But she does not look at him and she says nothing, so Elijah continues her thought, because they have talked about it before. “He never sees his grandparents. Do you think Mom even knows how old he is?” He makes a small laugh.

Susan shakes her head, “No, but how should I know?”

“You shouldn’t. She should. I did just think of something. This is not an accusation. I am guilty of it, too, if it is a problem. Do you think we are being fair when we don’t want them driving up here, but still want them to see Joseph? Isn’t it our fault? In a way?”

“Eli, what are you asking? Why are you pushing this?” Susan asks.

“We want them to see Joseph, but we don’t want them driving.”

“I don’t want them to see Joseph. I mean I do. I don’t care. But they could see Joseph every day and not have any relationship with him. I want them to want to see Joseph. I want them to make an effort to see him. I want Abraham to call on the phone and say that he hasn’t seen him in a long time and that he wants to. I want your mom to bring him up more often in conversations. I love your dad, but he has trouble showing affection. I don’t know…”

“No, you’re right. It’s just, I think that is an unfair thing to want – what I mean is, they are getting older and it is harder for them to drive places.” Elijah stops looking at Susan and they both look forward, their gazes meeting somewhere near the dining room table.

“Eli, you are not listening to me. I am not asking that they drive here. All I want is for them to express an interest in their grandson; more interest at least. We show interest in them and, you know, in relationships there is a back and forth. I don’t know. If they were more aware of things like that, they would be interested in our son. He’s all I – I mean all we – care about. If your dad wants to really know who we are and what we stand for, he should try to get to know his grandson. I don’t know who I am anymore outside Joseph. All I ever think about is Joseph and I want him to have a relationship with his grandparents, especially his grandpa. I don’t know.” Susan does not want to look at Elijah, because grandparents are a source of conflict for them. She does not like that Elijah brings it up so much. Why can’t he just let it go?

“They are interested in him, Dad just has trouble showing affection. His dad never showed him affection growing up. He never had a relationship with his grandpa – and neither did I. Even as his son, he had trouble. You know that Joseph is important to him and he loves him.”

“Did he ask specifically for me and Joseph to come to lunch with you?”

“What?”

“Did he say that he wanted to go to lunch with the three or something?”

“He said he just wanted to spend time with the family.”

They say nothing.

“I think I’m going to bed. Anyway, tomorrow will be good. I’m glad they will get to see Joseph. It’s about time. How many questions do you think your dad is going to ask him?”

“Does it matter?”

Susan gets up and stands in front of Elijah. “Goodnight, Eli. I love you,” she says, leaning over to kiss him on the lips, “Tomorrow will be good.”

Abraham and Lucy W live hours outside the city. They live in a one-story house with blue metal siding. There is a concrete landing going up to the door where a flower pot sits. There is hardly enough room for both of them on the landing. They dance around each other when Abraham opens the front door and pushes the screen door open. Lucy buttons up her green wool coat. You can see her riding boots. She tucks her scarf into her coat while she looks down at the flower pot. Abe is just closing the screen door.

“What were those last summer?”

“Daisies,” she says.

“Are you going to replant them? I like that pot.” He bought it for her last spring.

“I don’t know. Maybe in a few weeks.”

Abe walks down the stairs before her, but she looks back at the living room window. She sees the reflection of the gray clouds between the glass panels.

“Hey Abe?”

“Yeah?”

“Shouldn’t we close the curtains? It’s still pretty cold out and you know the windows bring in a lot of cold.”

Abe turns around to see her standing on the landing in her riding boots.

“No, it’s really not that cold, dear. That’s just you.”

“Then for me, please?”

Abe sighs and walks up the stairs and goes inside. She stays on the landing and watches him draw the heavy curtains inside. He comes back out. She sees him in his brown overcoat and hat. He looks handsome.

“You’re sweet,” she says. She smiles and he kisses her, tilting his hat back.

“Oh, I know.”

Quote 4: Ted Kooser

“The Industrial Revolution did not reach imaginative writing until recently, and today black clouds of soot belch from the smokestacks over the creative writing schools. Poems get manufactured and piled on the loading docks where many of them rot for lack of transport. Wouldn’t we all be better off if there wasn’t such an emphasis on productivity?

“At a party, I once heard a woman say that it was “criminal” that Harper Lee had written only the one novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. What peculiar expectations we’ve developed for our writers! “Criminal?” We ought to be thankful Lee used her time to write her book as perfectly as she could, that she didn’t rush a lot of half-finished books into print.

“So just relax. There’s plenty of time to do your writing well and, if you’re lucky, to make a poem or two that might make a difference.”

-Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual, pg. 148

Note: This is only a small bit of the good in this book.

Spring. i

That day, Abraham W turned sixty-three.

His son, Elijah, calls him the night before so that he and his wife and his son, Joseph, can sing him happy birthday. He also calls to ask him what he wants for his birthday. Abraham tells him that all he really wants to do is spend time with the family. Alright, how about lunch tomorrow, Dad? It’s on me, Elijah says. I think I can do that, Abraham says, as long as I can bring the misses? Elijah laughs. Yes, you can bring the misses, and I’ll bring my misses. Susan has work off tomorrow and Joseph can afford to take a day off of school. Abraham laughs. Oh, I’m sure he’ll mind that.

Elijah asks him where he wants to eat. Oh, how about someplace nice downtown? Show us your favorite place to take Susan? Are you sure? asks Eli. We can come to you, Dad. It’s your birthday, you don’t want to drive on your birthday. Seriously, we’ll come to you. No, Lu and I won’t mind the drive. I don’t get to drive all that often and I like to drive. Are you sure Dad? Yes, I’m serious. Eli doesn’t think Dad is a safe driver anymore. Why don’t you and Mom just meet as at our place and we can drive to the restaurant together? Dad laughs on the phone. What’s funny Dad? Oh, Mom is dancing in the kitchen. She is trying to get me off the phone. Ha! Hey Dad. What? What time should we expect you and Mom? Oh, I don’t know. When can you have us? Really, anytime. I don’t think I’m going into work tomorrow. Just come some time before noon. Oh, noon? Does noon work? Yes, noon works. I’ll see you at noon. Okay I love you. I love you, too.

Elijah sets his phone down and rubs his eyes. “Oh, Dad,” he says.

“What is it?” asks Susan from the kitchen doorway. She is rubbing her hands in a green dishrag. She smells the rag and makes a face.

“Dad. He is so hard to talk to on the phone. I don’t know what it is. He just talks so quiet and he gets distracted.”

Susan holds the rag at her side between two fingers. “Don’t let it annoy you.”

“It doesn’t annoy me at all! It’s just funny. He’s aging more quickly, I can tell. Like his mind is still there and he still has a good memory, but he is just a bit careless. No inhibitions, none at all.” Elijah draws both his legs under him, so that he sits cross-legged in the armchair. Susan throws the dishrag into the kitchen sink and comes into the living room to sit in the other armchair. She crosses her legs and folds her hands on her lap. She swings her left leg contentedly. Elijah turns on the lamp between them and they talk to each other under the lampshade.

“Maybe he’s just relaxed or finally at peace. He worked so hard for so long to provide for you guys and now that you provide for yourself and he can see that you are mature and responsible, he has nothing else to be anxious for. But I don’t know.”

“No, that’s good. I think you’re right.”

Susan holds back a smile by pursing her lips and looks into the kitchen at the sink under the fluorescent lights. She expects Joseph at any minute to come to the sink with a glass of water. They say nothing to each other. They are not thinking of anything to say, because they never feel the need to talk if there is nothing to figure out. If there is no problem, why talk? If there is nothing new, why talk? But there is something new and Elijah almost forgets to mention it.

“So, hey,” Elijah says, swinging his hand towards his wife. Joseph stands at the sink and puts a glass under the faucet. He is in his pajamas, a white t-shirt and flannel pants that he has outgrown. Susan turns her head to Elijah and gives him that look when something is wrong, big eyes. “Dad and Mom are going to be here sometime before noon tomorrow to meet us for lunch.”

Susan looks confused. “Is your dad driving?” Elijah nods his head with a slight smile. “Why didn’t you tell him that we could drive to them? I would have been more comfortable with that.”

“I did tell him that.”

Joseph finished his glass of water, but he is still standing at the sink with his hands in the sink.

“Joey, stop playing with the bubbles. It’s nine o’clock. You should get to bed.”

“I am going to bed,” he says. He looks at his mom and for a moment she sees her dad. Joseph inherited all the traits of his grandfather; pitch black hair and mute blue eyes. It would not be so shocking if Joseph’s father was not fair, she thinks.

“Okay, hun. Hey, before you go to bed, come here.” Joseph comes into the living room and leans himself in front of her chair, so that she can hug him. She brings him closer and pats him on the back of the neck. Joseph thinks it is an awkward angle and he wonders why he ever kissed Mom and Dad every night before bed. “Oh, my sweet little Joy,” Mom says, “I hope you never outgrow hugs.”

Quote 3: George Moses Horton

“George Moses Horton, Myself”
I feel myself in need
   Of the inspiring strains of ancient lore,
My heart to lift, my empty mind to feed,
   And all the world explore.

 

I know that I am old
   And never can recover what is past,
But for the future may some light unfold
   And soar from ages blast.

 

I feel resolved to try,
   My wish to prove, my calling to pursue,
Or mount up from the earth into the sky,
   To show what Heaven can do.

 

My genius from a boy,
   Has fluttered like a bird within my heart;
But could not thus confined her powers employ,
   Impatient to depart.

 

She like a restless bird,
   Would spread her wing, her power to be unfurl’d,
And let her songs be loudly heard,
   And dart from world to world.