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The Motion In Motive

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A Sadness to Be Said


The woman's voice on the phone, so official, asks for Grace's father by proper name, with the title "Mister" in front, and using his full given name, "Abraham," which no one ever says, in his family, church, office, or neighborhood.

           Grace has spent most of this Saturday cleaning her father's eight-room home -- a house far too big for a widower, she believes. She stretches on the couch, holding, in one hand, a copy of William Carlos Williams' Paterson (another attempt on her part to get the novel-length poem at least started), in the other hand she holds the receiver of the phone from the marble-topped end table.

           Grace tells the voice on the phone that he is not there.

           He is with his grandchildren. They are at Seneca Creek, fishing.

           "I'm Cynthia Powell. I'm an attorney. This concerns Misses Rhonda Daily. When will your father be home?"

           Grace thinks back to the beauty who set wind and fire against home. Rhonda had always been an anomaly, a foreign entity: the lover, the only thing to ever stand in the way of her father's perfection. Grace's old hate was faded to bad memories. Now, Rhonda was a fabric of the history of Grace's life, of her father's life.

           "Has she died?" It catches Grace off guard that she does not hesitate to ask. In the late afternoon, her father steps from the passenger side of his four-wheel drive mini truck. She now does hesitate, with apprehension and trepidation, while, from his back porch screen door, she watches him hold the fish-bounty up for her. He points to her junior-high daughter.

           "Better than half are hers!" Abe is quite pleased.

           The new, young driver, who emerges from the truck, a sophomore's blonde moustache attempting to fill his upper lip, is the vision of the man about to be made sad. Give the boy real face hair, add a few pounds to make him lean rather than skinny, and add seventeen years, and the teenaged grandson could be the mid-thirties father of a life time ago who had betrayed his wife and his daughter.

           Abe meets his daughter at the back door, that very man, now, of a life time later. He calls back to his grandson, telling the boy to be sure and put his gear in front of the garage door. She remains silent. In the kitchen now, her daughter is so cool that she betrays how happy she is to have out-fished her brother. The young girl flops the two strings of fish into the sink and turns on the water. The catch totals more than a dozen nice-sized fish. Along with trout, Grace notes several largemouth bass and some catfish. They'd fished both the creek and Clopper lake.

           "Peanut, you need to put the plug in," her father says, "We want them in water 'till we're ready to cut them for the packing."

           Grace watches him look out the back window at the boy who is approaching the house. He used to watch his wife with those same sharp, engrossed eyes. It is like he can measure people's essence in the wake of light that trails them when they move, or in their aura when they are still. And he has a way of conveying some subtle, powerful appreciation for whomever he watches, for their essence. When she was little, Grace loved to spy him watching her mother. Her mother would be digging weeds, or kneading dough, painting patio chairs, or one of a hundred other of her things. Grace felt a powerful safety in his encompassing gaze. After Rhonda, she would still see him looking at his wife that way. Grace always turned away. Until the night her mother died. Her mother looked straight back into his eyes as he drank her essence into his. She was undeniably pleased with his gaze. She was dying and she was content to die in the scene as it was. That night, Grace stopped resenting the love she felt for her father. She stopped resenting the love her parents felt for each other. She embraced the strength of her mother's forgiveness.

           Still, Rhonda had been something important to him. He had loved her. He would always care about her. He's never said it to her, but Grace has always known it. His wife had known it.

           When his daughter says, "Dad," there is a faltering in her voice that makes him turn his lean, strong frame to her. He has rallied back from the puffiness of late middle age. Now, except for only the hint of a stoop, he is almost in as healthy of shape as her son. It's the result of an hour of cardiovascular workout every morning (an alternating run, bike ride, or session on various machines which are in his basement rec room). And it's the result of three days of weight lifting at his company's gym, spread out over the week.

           He touches the nape of his granddaughter's neck, her braids separating just above his hand, just as they reach out and down from under the back of her Orioles baseball cap. The child is just finished filling the sink with water. Several of the fish are clearly alive. They flick and give the very weakest of struggle. The girl is clearly not affected as she turns to ask if they are going to eat some for dinner.

           In his daughter's eyes, Abe thinks he sees a hint of something troubling.

           Sensing the bud of comprehension, Grace loses her nerve. "You pick the ones you want, Vicki."

           As his gentle touch is lifted from her neck, the girl knows somebody isn't saying something. Maybe both her mom and her grandpa aren't saying something. "Hey, Dave. Help me pick some of my fish for dinner."

           "Cool." Her brother moves through the back door. He is sixteen and doesn't care that she has caught more fish -- Trish Garrison has just seen him driving past her house. He ignores the subtle disappointment on his sister's face.

           The child then gazes up at her parent, who, in turn, seems to not be looking at her own parent.

           Both of these parents focus on the young ones examining fish at the sink. The boy rolls the clump of fish over and for fun suggests that the biggest one, a bass, is his catch.

           "Nuh-uh! Get real!"

           Walking into her father's living room, Grace focuses on the empty hearth and the antique vases on the mantle there. She sees none of it. What is there is her father, not but four years ago, in a long, painful, silent weep which gradually grows into the anguished sobbing of a man who has just lost his wife of thirty-six years. She sees him sitting in the lounge of the hospital only minutes after her mother has confidently drifted into death. He had been strong, sitting by his wife, holding her hand as she died.

           Grace remembers how her embracing him in comfort, standing above him as he wept, had seemed to do nothing to assuage the avalanching loneliness. She remembers the violent shaking of his body. Grace had wept, too, there with him in that lounge. It had always seemed self-indulgent for her to have. She had felt it then, she still feels it now, even though she deeply loved her mother, his wife.

           His grandchildren are verbally sparring over the fish -- his grandson having the upper hand since the truth is of no consequence to the boy -- as the father walks up behind his daughter. "You need to tell me something?" He places his hands on her shoulders and feels her tension.

           In a move that cradles her bosom, she crosses her arms and reaches up to her shoulders and places her own hands upon her father's. He gently squeezes her: a non-verbal repeat of his question.

           She feels his body quake in her own embrace, in that hospital lounge.

           She stands silent, looking toward but not seeing the hearth. She knows he will let her stand silent until she can speak. Her father knows there is pain about.

           Thirty years before, the two had stood in almost the same spot in the same position as his daughter had been on the brink of confiding to her father about her first real heart ache over a boy.

           Not many years later she had stood on almost that same spot, spiting spite at her father, as he sat, in humility, allowing his daughter to speak to him that way, because he knew only he could love her mother more than she. A declaration was made that day which could never really be upheld, because only her mother could love her father more than she. It was only days later that parent and child spoke to each other. But, it was almost a year before they touched, the day she told him she was getting married. Vicki walks in from the kitchen to ask Abe if they can bake the fish with orange slices (Grandpa's "secret" recipe). She sees her mom and grandpa standing there, privately, his hands on her shoulders, her hands on his. The child turns in her tracks, without losing momentum, and retreats into the kitchen. She feels heart sick. She feels worried.

           "Grace," he says.

           Without turning, still looking into the open hearth, but, not really seeing it, Grace says, "Let's go into the den."

           In the kitchen, the young boy closes the refrigerator door, nods toward the living room, and quietly says, "What's up with them?" as he picks up a tall glass to pour himself distilled water.

           "I don't know." Vicki's eyes trail back to the living room.

           The grandfather sits in his deep-brown, leather lounger, his daughter, next to him, on the small, matching couch, at a right angle from the overstuffed chair.

           "Dad, you got a phone call today. It was from a lawyer"


           "Rhonda's lawyer."

           "Oh?" He shifts with interest in his chair. He has never heard his daughter say her name before.

           She swallows a breath. "Actually, Dad, this lady was an estate lawyer."

           Her father goes flush. He does not want his daughter to see him do so.

           They sit there. Grace does not know how to make the next move.

           With hesitation, he softly says, "She's dead."

           "Yes, Dad, she died. The call was about you contacting this lawyer, this Cynthia Powell."

           He puts his hand to his mouth and stares into the Persian rug.


           He rests both hands on the arms of his chair.


           "Leave me."

           Grace feels an unsettling knot tighten in her stomach and in her throat. Still, at the door she says, "Dad, do you want me to spend the night?"

           "I'll tell you later." He stares into the intricate patterns of the rug.

           The daughter sits in her father's living room. She's sad for him. She's also angry. Rhonda has slipped back into her life, again taking an inappropriate spot.

           Vicki stands at the doorway, apprehensive. "Mom?"

           "Where's your brother?"

           Frustrated, with a short hop, flinging her hands once, the girl says, "He's in the basement on the computer."

           "Mom," she is insistent this time.

           "Come here."

           She quickly walks to her mom and sits next to her on the couch, leaning in, almost sitting on her mom's lap. Grace embraces her child. They don't talk. Grace looks toward the hallway to the den. She does not know how to explain this to her children.

           It being obvious her daughter knows something is going on, Grace has no doubt her son knows, too. But, he would never reveal his full knowledge of intimate happenings. A trait from his father, not his grandfather.

           I should have waited until later to tell him, made sure they weren't around. I should have taken them home and came back, she thinks to herself.

           The telephone rings. Grace knows her father will not pick it up. She does not wish to, either. Let it go to voicemail. It keeps ringing. Abe has the voicemail set to wait a while before intervening, in case he is a distance from a phone.

           Vicki, too, wants no one to answer it. Everything needs to be stopped in the house, the girl believes. The phone keeps ringing, then quits at a half ring. Grace hears her son talking in the basement. Seconds later, he's coming up the stairs. "It's Mister Gaynor for Grandpa."

           That he's telling his mother, not his grandfather, confirms his comprehension to Grace.

           Since her father only wants the most important of calls from his employees on the weekend, it must be important. She puts her child to the side and goes to the den. Knocking, she gets no response. She delicately opens the door. He is standing, staring out the picture window into the meadow. The six ancient apple trees loom on the horizon, branches swaying in the summer wind.

           "Dad, it's Bill Gaynor."

           After a moment he says, "I'll call him later," then, "Don't take 'no' for an answer." Then he turns to his daughter and says, "Never mind, I'll talk to him."



           She stops her retreat and reopens the door. "Yes?"

           "I'm sorry I sent you off like I did. I know what an odd situation this is for you."

           She smiles. There is a slight quiver to her lower lip.

           "Take the kids home, then come back."

           "Okay, Dad."

           "Tell Peanut we'll have a fish fry tomorrow night. Now, I guess I might as well go to work for a few minutes." Her father reaches for the phone on his cedar desk.

           In the car, Vicki is sullen, but, in a sympathetic manner. Her mother is not sure if the child resents that she is being left out, or, if she's only concerned about her grandpa. When Grace mentioned the Sunday fish fry, Vicki's reaction was really an acquiescence to the concession being made. As for David, David has acquiesced to not driving home, which is, of course, telling.

           As she drives further into urban grids, Grace fades in and out of her old, long-sleeping animosity. She doesn't think it is directed exactly at her father, maybe not even at Rhonda. It is still that old anger. She shifts to concern and sadness for her father, but, that makes her mad, because she doesn't want him grieving over the woman.

           Later, from her house, Grace calls her father.

           "You okay?"

           "I'm fine." After a short pause he says, "You fixing dinner before you come back?"

           "Yeah, I thought I probably would heat up some chicken and dumplings. I probably would get back there about eight."

           "She died alone," his voice saddens.

           His daughter wants to say, Dad, I don't want to hear this.

           "Not like your mother," he says, "Your mother could have been isolated on the moon when she passed, and she still would not have died alone. Your mother, she loved so many and so well. She was everywhere and everyone was with her. She still is everywhere. When your mother died, the sadness was for us, for our loss. I don't grieve that Rhonda has died as much as I grieve that she died alone. Terribly alone. I am sorry that she never lived her life as she deserved to. I grieve that the only man she ever truly wanted had to let her go."

           There is a pause.

           "Dad, I, I'll be over about eight."

For the index of K.L.'s creative writing and essays at this site, click here.

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