My father stands at the kitchen island, buttering scraps of paper with a Sharpie. He is humming, sweeping the pen through the soft butter and spreading it carefully, working through a pile of scraps collected from around the house.
"Is this going to be enough?" he asks. My mother stands at the
sink, peeling carrots. Her eyes well up with tears. She drops her work
and joins me in the next room, sitting down heavily beside me. "He
sounds so honest, like a little boy." She shakes her head, sniffling.
Later, I watch out the back window. My father is washing the dining
room chairs. He sprays one down with the garden hose, scrubs it with
steel wool, and rinses it. The lustrous finish is ruined. Satisfied
it’s clean, he carries it to the clothes line, where two more are
already hung to dry. He takes a length of twine from his pocket and
expertly ties up the third. Humming a merry tune, he starts to wash
I go to my mother. "I know," she says. "I know." She looks down
at me with compassion and understanding, and hugs me close. "He'll come
In tromps my father, still humming. "Where's the
coffee pot, honey?" My mother points to a cupboard. He resumes his
tune, grabbing the stainless steel percolator from its shelf and
hurrying outside with it. I watch after him, my mother hugging me
After the coffee pot, he takes out the family photo albums. My
mother wrings her hands, but feels there’s nothing she can do. I run to
the back window again. A fresh breeze meets me, lifting the curtains
into my face. And there is my father, on the lawn, dismantling our
oldest album. I see a page of my mother in her wedding dress, washed
and clipped up on the line. Page after page, rarely have I seen him so
industrious. Running out of room on the line, he looks to the chairs.
He tests one, wiping a finger across the seat, and nods vigorously,
deeming it dry. Up go the Niagara Falls postcards from their honeymoon,
the baby pictures, and photos of my first birthday. The pages play in
the breeze, the percolator sparkles in the sun.
It’s not long before he comes back inside. My mother intercepts
him. "Don't you think you'd better take a break? I could make up some
coffee and toast." "No thanks honey. Not hungry. Besides, the coffee
pot's still drying." He moves past us, into the living room. There he
wraps both arms around the old television, lifts it with a great heave,
and comes back through the house. "Dad!" I exclaim. My mother
interrupts me. "He just wants to lend a hand around the house," she
says. Again that look of compassion and understanding. As if this
should all make sense to me.
"Could you get the door for me?" he asks. I hesitate, but my mother shooshes me after him.