Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Part of an Ongoing Piece, Part II

My brother told me that the funeral was pretty standard. Relatives showed up in black and gray and some in white, stood around in dresses and suits, some cried, they lowered the casket, and then my brother drove my Dad up the hill to the old house. It was wood paneled with a low sloping roof and square windows. As kids my brother and I used to pretend it was a fort. Our little hill gave us such a solid vantage point over the rest of the town. You could see everything from that hill – all the little houses in the valley snaked together tightly by little town streets. And the row of rectangular stores lining main street. And all the people. My brother said that on that day, after he helped Dad into the house, he looked down at all the houses in the valley. Everything looked grey and cold. All the people were just slowly moving lines of color along main street. All the cars were floating by. And above the drug store, the American flag flapped loosely in the wind.

He called me the day of the funeral, which was the day after he drove home. He told me the situation, about how mom had died in a car accident, and probably shouldn’t have been driving at her age anyway, but she went out for Dad’s medication and her car went skidding through an intersection, got T-boned by a high schooler in a Ford, and how she was just gone in an instant. People said that my father’s sickness had run her so ragged that she was just like a rubber band stretched too tight. Pluck it too hard and it just snaps and ceases to function as what it was created for. A rubber band was created to hold things together. My mother was created to hold my father together. And my brother, being the more responsible one, being the one closest to home, was called upon to take our mother’s place in caring for our father.

I left the day after the day that the first bombs dropped. Within a day of the war starting, my apartment in the city didn’t feel like a very safe place anymore, so I packed up my old minivan with a couple of duffel bags, shut the hatch tight, and left the big city for home.

Dad and Ira were waiting for me on the porch with the front door open as my minivan wound up the long gravel driveway up the hill and settled next to Ira’s old Pontiac. Ira was standing with his hand on Dad’s shoulder, Dad sitting in the wheelchair with his hands politely on his lap. Both had a day’s worth of scruff on their faces, Ira’s nearly black and Dad’s nearly white, but both had the same sharp nose and warm brown eyes.

“They’re dropping bombs,” my father called to me from the front porch.

“I know,” I called back, as I circled around the van to the back hatch. My shoes crunched on the gravel and my red tie blew loosely in the wind.

“We’re not in the city any more,” my Dad called to me. “Why don’t you loosen that noose a bit.”

I circled the knot on my tie with my fist and grasped it tight, gave it two tugs, and it slid down an inch. I unbuttoned the top button on my shirt and with the release I took my first clear breath of Small Town air. Not entirely pure and clean, but crisp and warm, even in autumn.

Ira stepped down from the porch and made his way towards the minivan. He was wearing a white v-neck t-shirt and slim khakis with running shoes. His hair was long and dark an unruly – I don’t think he’d had a haircut in the last three months that we had lived there.

“It’s good to see you,” he said, smiling. He held his wide arms outwards and enveloped me.

I smiled back, and accepted his embrace, our arms encircling the other diagonally. He seemed to be twice my size. He squeezed me tight, patted my back three times and said again right into my ear, “Damn good to see you.”

“Same,” I muttered.

We each grabbed a duffel bag from the back of the van and crunched up the gravel driveway towards my father on the front porch. He was smiling, his teeth yellowed and aged, the liver spots on his face wrinkling in the corners.

“My boys, my sons! Wonderful! Now let’s get some dinner, and start discussing emergency plans. When they start bombing us, I want to turn this place into a fort.”

He spun his chair around and Ira followed him as he wheeled himself into the front door. I turned around after stepping up onto the wooden porch, and turned back towards the town and looked down at all the old buildings and houses below us in the valley. Peaked roofs and shingles, chimneys with small clouds of smoke drafting out of them, and I thought of the way Dad said the word “fort” and thought of the old days, when Ira and I would stand on the hill and look down at the town.

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