Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Things You Know By Heart

By Jennifer Saunders

The things you know by heart - which are the things
you'd thought you'd forgotten - come to you one
night. Your father's hand that you could rarely hold,
calloused by the crutches he used your whole life.
The smell of his coffee ready for the thermos. The
whistle on the red cord he kept for hockey practice.
The way the boys accepted a coach who could not
skate and the way he expected them to wear coat
and tie on game nights. The way they always did.

These things come to you and at first you think that
you are dreaming. The bend in the river where your
father cast his line. His fly-rods lined up like
lodgepole pines. The Bowie knife in its leather casing
stained by fish-guts and sweat. The way he pinched
back the barbs on his hooks and the way he slid a
trout back into the water. The way it darted for the
river grasses on the far bank.

These things come to you in the still night. Your
father's bed in the living room when he could no
longer climb the stairs. The crutches laid to rest
against the headboard as if they might still be
needed. His tea, cold in the cup. The way you taught
him about cycling during late-night coverage of the
Tour de France when neither of you could sleep. The
way he looked when he began to understand what a
cyclist you'd become, and the way he knew you would
race on without him. The way you did.

These things come to you in the dark. The scent of
lilacs when your mother woke you that Sunday. The
slant of light on the hardwood floor. The
quiet. The way you thought you should already have known. The
way you called your friend to say you wouldn't be
playing softball that afternoon and the way she
understood what that meant. The way you've never
played softball since.

The things you know by heart – which are the things
you'd thought you'd forgotten – come to you one
night. The way your small son dimples high on his left
cheek when he laughs, just like your father did. The
way you taught him to skate by holding his hands and
gliding backwards before him the way your father
could not teach you. The way you brought him to the
bend in the river and the way he threw rocks in the
riffles when he got there. The way you let him. The
way he is growing already so tall, the way he will
grow taller still, and all the things he already knows
by heart come to you one night. You turn and drift
back to sleep, wrapped in the eiderdown of the things
you'd thought you'd forgotten.


Previously published in BluePrint Review, Issue #19

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