Try To Remember
They headed out of the kitchen together, though Claire stopped and went back to return the butter to the refrigerator: It’s going to be hot today. Later on, it would be that pause she’d remember, banal and ordinary, as if in turning back she’d somehow veered off course into the wrong future. Because that’s where she was when Phoebe came running in to pour a last cup of tea into a travel mug. The firstborn had her father’s red hair and an energy that made the kitchen hum. Claire had had that energy once, still did, inside, somewhere. She’d learned to push it down and quell it because a mother must move forward effectively, quietly pacifying whatever jumps and jerks or threatens to fall apart. Phoebe doesn’t know that yet, Claire told herself, adding with a touch of rue: She’ll find out. The firstborn and her father had long ago been so close that Claire had found it necessary to teach herself not to mind. She’ll find out that a mother must think without alarm of yet another leaking thermos or a teacher’s report that reads, “immature for five.” Claire smiled at that. She herself was definitely immature for fifty, far too young for any years called Golden.
“Phoebe!” she called after the light-footed girl and gathered up a paperback of Herman Hesse’s Magister Ludi from the top of the refrigerator with “Phoebe Fairchild” written dashingly across the title page. She felt the years roll off her: There’s nothing to worry about. They’re fine, the girls, off to New York together, fine. Even though Phoebe doesn’t seem too thrilled at carting Bess into her life and even though Bess has always followed after that red-haired firecracker who seldom looked her way. They’re grown up now. Stay calm a couple minutes more and the number of items animate and inanimate for which you’ve been responsible for a quarter of a century will reduce. Your old self will bubble up. Call it the Yellow Years, shine on.
Outside, a wiry man with surprisingly white hair waited by a car. Harvey had already loaded Bess’s enormous carpetbag into the trunk, as well as her stereo and tapes, which were packed in a very heavy box with recently devised – he’d made them himself – rope handles and wheels. He liked to take care of his daughters.
Bess came out of the house and stood unmoving, looking up and down the cobbled sidewalk. What was she doing? He watched her take a step, her movements considered, unerringly right, like her mother’s. His own were quick, sometimes too fast, sometimes a beat behind.
“Lots of room!” he called out to Bess and indicated the open trunk. She shrugged as she stepped into the street. Maybe a little scared, he told himself. She was the kind that hung back at first, played guard instead of forward, looked things over. The firstborn was more like himself, center forward or wing, plunge in and see.
Phoebe ran out of the house toward the car, her carroty hair crinkled by one of those processes known to women that gave it a rippling effect like something out of Botticelli, if he had the painter right.
Claire came out of the house last. He looked at his watch. They were on time. He shut the trunk, walked around to the driver’s door, and lowered himself into the seat.
“We’re hitting bottom, Daddy,” Bess said in her full, satisfying voice behind him. It was an old family joke from their days at the lake when, in the boat, he’d mistaken the branches of a moldering tree beneath them for the shoreline.
“Next stop, life,” he replied, easing off the cobblestones and heading toward Rittenhouse Square.
“God, Daddy, relax!” Phoebe said in her breathier, anxious voice.
Did he appear tense?
Harvey crossed Market to JFK and onto the elevated boulevard that spanned the Schuylkill to the white-columned railroad station on Thirtieth Street, where he pulled into a parking space. Inside the great marble expanse, they walked side by side, the parents in the middle with Harvey pushing the stereo and balancing the carpetbag. Beside him, Phoebe twisted an ankle above her fairly gala shoes and flung out a hand toward her father’s arm, balanced herself, continued on. Claire adapted her pace to Bess’s so that halfway across the station those two were walking just a bit behind the other two. Strangers might have noticed in the striated light of the cathedral space how alike Claire and Bess were in movement, how alike Harvey and Phoebe. There are variations of these alignments in all families, even, sometimes, when children are adopted, but such simplifications can be misleading. A happy family, one might judge; why isn’t mine like that? Another would hazard only that this was a family that had not known tragedy.
Copyright 2014 @ Zane Kotker | All Rights Reserved