Monday, March 15, 2010

Past and Present Tensions

“I’m sorry,” he said and something about the slant of the spring sun coming in low through the window…perhaps something about the way it flattened itself across the oblate kitchen table… Or was it something in the long shadows that the mellow sun was casting behind me, across the floor and up the wall? Or was it something subliminal, hidden in the ticking of the mantle clock?

Something transported me back in time… Something.

“I’m sorry,” the old man was saying. He smelled like fresh-rolled tobacco and week-old cigarette smoke. He smelled of axle grease and musty hay and warm milk straight from the cow’s udder. He smelled like my father. The bed springs creaked. He rolled me toward him, tightly, so that his shirt buttons dinted my cheek. “It’s all right, now,” he was saying. “You’ll be okay.”

His wrist is pressed against my ear. His watch is ticking. “I’m sorry. Papa’s sorry.”

“Do you still love me?” my husband says.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

“I love you,” my father says. An hour later the sun has set. The lantern’s lit. The family sits around the supper table. Father still smells like axel grease and canned tobacco. He is smiling at us all. Mother says please and thank you and passes the bread and dishes out dollops from the hot bowls.

I’m wondering if nothing happened upstairs. I’m thinking that maybe things without words aren’t real. I smile and pass Papa the potatoes. I say, “You’re welcome” and eat everything on my plate. The sun sets and he wanders to the barn, the glow of his cigarette tracing his path in the dark. I heat the water, wash the dishes, and dump the slop. Before he gets back with the milk, I am in bed. I will sleep. In the morning, the sun will rise just as I put my feet on the floor. I will slip on my school clothes, eat porridge beside him, and wave goodbye as I run to the bus. Because he is sorry and nothing happened yesterday upstairs in the low mellow March sun.

“Shadri? Shadri? I’m sorry! Please, talk to me!” Please talk to me and smile and pass me my cigarettes and pretend nothing happened. Please? Because I said I’m sorry. Can I touch you? Can I kiss you? Can I make you feel better?

“Would you like some coffee? I’ll make some. Please, sit…”…in the mellow low spring sun and cast your long shadow behind you back in time while the clock ticks. “Shadri?”

He’s sorry for what? For hitting? Hitting too hard? Too often? For hurting? For not stopping? For what happened next? For keeping secrets? Maybe it's just money. His money. His secret. Maybe he is sorry.

“Shadri, I didn’t mean…”

Didn’t mean… Didn’t realize… Let me comfort… Let me hold… Let me wipe tears… silence your sobs… hold you… touch you… whisper…

“Shadri, come here. Give me a hug! Forgive me…”

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

“Can I kiss you? Can I hold you? Can I touch you? Can I rub you? Can I make it better? Will you kiss me?

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

I’m sorry do you love me here’s your coffee I love you pass the potatoes please look in my eyes please sit please forgive smile you’re all right it’s okay I love you please put your fingers here...

Nothing happened, okay?

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Eileen Schuh,
Canadian writer

No comments: