The father blames himself day and night rerunning the ring road of his limbic system, digging grief grooves. Overriding, underlying every other experience. Softness of sweet wife pressed against him frozen in bed by those reckless words. Autumn colors triumphing in the trees gray in the fog of those words. Woodsmoke taste of Scotch bitter as the words rise again like bile. Why aren’t words like an errant fishing line? Aim amiss, hook and fly headed for rotting stump, reel them back, cast again. No. Once spoken, never called back.
Poring over the power of words—By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned. Judgment by tongue. As a man speaks so he is. The boy once brought him a painting of something he’d guessed was a tree. No, Daddy, the boy said, sad-eyed, sad mouth, it’s a mountain. Overhear him later tell the mother, See my tree? Mountain diminished to tree by word alone.
The boy, almost-man, face shiny-tight with pleasure, three summers’ sweat for a Harley Softail, Twin Cam 88 engine, shotgun duals. Called the color “vivid black.” Father’s fear erupting in shrapnel, That motorcycle will be the death of you. Eyes darkening, lip trapped by teeth, son turned away. Why didn’t the father take back those words, tell son his fear, praise the effort if not the purchase?
Months later slick wet road, spray of gravel, enemy motorcycle upended, crushed, soft body catapulting off saddle sliding down road, settling into posture of sleep, wheel slowly spinning.
A MOMENT’S REGRET
The last stingy afternoon sun barely squeezing through dusty windows, my husband and I, with his parents, drinking down the last of the day. She on her second large whisky sour sharply shatters our quiet communion—I was pretty once, you know. Don't laugh. They even asked me to enter the Miss Oklahoma City pageant. Her sudden leap backward to imagined lovely youth (ancient photos reveal no such beauty) too great for us facing her shriveled eighty-pound reality. Slumped on the couch, greedily sucking amber liquid through wrinkled lips, eyeglasses cruelly cutting into beaked nose, wiry yellow-gray hair a week past the salon and disheveled from an afternoon nap.
We don’t laugh. Worse. No one willing to affirm her momentary delusion, our silence stretches thin until snapped by her snort. She rises in the heaviness to mix another drink, the words someone should have said—Of course you were pretty. We have only to look at your grandchildren to know that—strangled stillborn.
Who could have spoken? Her husband? In a recorded family history, he mentions marrying his lovely Lucille before continuing the narrative of career and sons. But she is Louise. Lucille, apparently still heart-cherished, the girlfriend who preceded her. My husband? A loving son who’s nevertheless never called her pretty. Me, then? Probably. I should have guessed that one day I too would sit in grudging sunlight with grown sons and their lovely women, have to learn to bless the beauty no longer mine.
McDonald Observatory, Fort Davis, Texas
Ten vacationing friends at
Saturday night star party,
joyful expedition, a universe
expanding before our eyes.
Dark cold night, telescopes reveal
binary stars, the moons of Jupiter,
Saturn's blurry rings.
Phone call interrupts our viewing;
on this planet, a mother has died.
Kindnesses—private office offered,
coffee and water, long-distance calls,
arrangements, airplane reservations.
Circle of hands clasped in prayer,
universe contracts to one still room.
SuzAnne C. Cole is a retired college instructor with an MA from Stanford. Her fiction and poetry have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes and her essays have been published in Newsweek, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, Baltimore Sun, Personal Journaling and many anthologies. She likes writing, painting, and traveling.