I will recall this as a happy time. I can do that. I doubt that Gloria can, will ever be able to. Why I keep the picture, this picture, in the drawer. Gloria never goes near the drawer. I think she knows why, even though she won’t say, but I think it would kill her, or close to.
It actually was a happy day, that day, that beginning. The coat was new. You know little girls and their clothes, little girls like things like a new coat. And this one, well, Gloria had actually made it, finding the pattern and cutting it, then stitching it, close by hand, tiny stitches, you can see it, the workmanship, the love in that coat, and in the way she’s smiling you can tell she appreciated it, loved what her mother had done, her mother had made. For her. Sally. I can say the name, I can write the name. I will recall the name.
Sally would be a grandmother today, in the way of things. I would be a great-grandfather, and she would be a grandmother. There would be Easter egg hunts in the back yard and Christmas Eves with 12 fish and birthdays and anniversaries and me and Gloria, proud but quiet, you know, sitting back, watching, standing guard over the past, eager for the future. It would have been good, you know. Good.
As it was, as it is, well, we talked about it, but Gloria didn’t want any more. “One’s enough,” she said. “And there won’t be any more like that, that’s for sure.” I said, I always said, “I know. But maybe different. Maybe a boy.” “Boys run too fast,” she said. “Boys play too hard. Something would happen, and I couldn’t, I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t feel a moment’s peace.” I almost told her, it doesn’t matter, it’s always something, you have to be prepared, you read these days about everything, shootings, or kidnapping, or some teacher they’ve got their hands all over the kids, it’s not safe, ever. So maybe it is all for the best, just me and Gloria, and the memories, and the aches about what might have, could have, would have, should have been.
I can’t stand pigeons to this day. Gloria, too. We see those people, old people mostly, sitting on a bench with a bag of bread crumbs, want to take them, slap them, take their bag of crumbs, tell them how pigeons are rats with wings, I tell them that, loud, too. “Stop feeding those rats with wings,” I say. Gloria, she doesn’t mind. Sometimes she says it, too, when she’s off on one of her walks, sees some old stranger thinking it’s cute or fun or whatever to feed the birds. Of course it isn’t about health, really, it’s about how they fly.
You get a flock, see, around you, or around anything or anyone, then, say, a dog comes along barking, or someone moves or something, two or three of them fly up, then it’s 10, then the whole bunch of them, rising and swirling and moving, sometimes coming back to the same place where they left, other times, other times, other times moving away, moving like a cloud that goes in front of the sun.
Gloria’s good, you know. She never says, has never said that it’s my fault, not even in a look, not even so much as a glance. And I don’t think that, can’t think that, won’t. I just carry it, inside, bereft, long past the sobbing and the tearing grief. Just focused on my Gloria, on helping her get through the days, hoping that she won’t spend too much time in Sally’s room, still there, of course. Why we never moved. Why we stopped having company. Too many questions.
You can’t tell by the picture I took, the picture I got developed after, the picture I keep in the drawer. But the next thing that’s going to happen is Sally is going to yell and stamp her feet, and those pigeons are going to swirl up and around her like a cloud of feathers, and she’s going to laugh and laugh and then begin to run, looking up at the birds, laughing and laughing and, so simple, you don’t think you need to say to a child “Always watch out for the curb. Always be sure you know where you’re putting your foot.” Because they know, they walk, you walk with them, they are, by their very nature, sure footed. Except.
She missed her step, at the curb, and fell, straight like a little tree. Her hat flew off, the bread crumbs soared into the air like snowflakes, and she was on her stomach, there between the cars, the kind of fall where a child gets up and starts to cry and you go “There There There” and brush them off and say something like “That stupid curb.” But she was, instead, just very, very still. The crumbs around her head, and the pigeons already landing and trying to peck them up.
So I decided I would write this, put it in the drawer with the picture, all the way in the back, and maybe, finally, I wouldn’t have to think about it any more. But is it ever time for not thinking about your daughter, running in her new coat, with the birds in the sunlight?
Published in Lovers & Other Strangers, Winter 2014. Purchase here. Also available at Forbidden Planet NYC and Barnes & Noble Union Square. Image courtesy of Lovers & Other Strangers.