In bed that night, McCormick, nerves blazing, objects to tomorrow’s plans.
“The ferry to Jersey City? Why do you need your files? Then the subway uptown and back? You can’t put color in your hair anyway. And dinner with Alison? Julie, Jesus! After what we just went through?”
She uses the patient-but-not-really voice that will not be retired just because she’s so wrong this time.
“It was Braxton Hicks, Michael. Spotting is normal. They have chemical-free dye. This isn’t a health crisis. Women have babies every day.”
“Well, you might have one tomorrow. On a boat in the Hudson River.”
Barbara is a faithful reader, but the Winter series tests her limits.
“It’s too real. I just keep screaming, let it go!” She texts him one day.
And the next: “Please bring back Julie and June.”
He still hasn’t written about closing night, though. When he sneaks backstage and watches Winter and The King. Ted Jackson’s oily pecs have made McCormick a madman for six nights running. They hold hands and lock eyes as the final ovation rains down.
He stops typing. His wife and daughter have little colds. He hears them sniffling in their beds. Ok, maybe that’s enough.
It’s the cornball joke of best-man toasts and widower’s eulogies, but McCormick seems compelled to marry up.
Watch the Christmas concert. Winter leans forward, red in her cheeks, the soloist bringing good cheer, while McCormick, who can’t find the tenor entrance note, silently mouths ding dong, ding dong.
In spring she gets 5s on three AP tests. He quits trying halfway through History. Just fills bubbles that make an X across his sheet.
And when they argue, Winter stands tall, car keys in hand, while McCormick enacts the death that would be losing her by crumpling to his bedroom floor.
June hears them first and pulls us into the square.
“Welcome to New York, Welcome to New York!” Two dozen big gay voices.
This is exactly why I moved to the Castro at twenty, and bought in the West Village at fifty. Freedom, like singing, comes from the drawing of breath.
Michael arrives for Empire State of Mind. We played it at our wedding.
He whoops for the top-knotted soloist, but I catch him eyeballing a hard-looking white-boy taking pictures outside the fence. He’s worried about an alt-right assault, I know it.
Dance with your daughter, McCormick. Fill your lungs.
He arrives early enough. Walkways are clear, although many benches are occupied. The homeless seem to sleep in.
There were sweeping city views the first time he was here, during the summer of online dating that lead miraculously to Julie.
That day’s Digi-Match was Greek. So is McCormick, on his mother’s side. She had shiny black hair and believed in angels. Told him about a friend’s child whose aura was indigo. Who had been born to save.
He called her again—Nikki—but she didn’t return. Ego dent. And new construction has made a narrow valley of this fancy park.
Reading Harry Potter aloud. June tracks it, but only stops practicing headstands when there is a picture. Her favorite is a bleeding ghost.
The Hobbit had no illustrations, but Bill’s reading voice was smooth like his singing. Delaware nights. Couch up on cinder blocks, bouzouki leaning spot lit in the corner beneath a lamp.
McGonagall tells Harry he’s made the Quidditch team, like his father before him.
“Wow, now Harry knows what he’s really good at,” says McCormick, compulsive provider of object lessons.
“Now he knows he had a real family,” June answers, because she is where it all resides.
Freshmen year McCormick converted this to story:
Waking suddenly in a roadside motel (Vermont?). Ceiling tiles fallen down around around them. Barbara and Bill in opposite chairs, made visible by the cherry-red dots of their cigarettes.
Planning their next move, how to extricate a startled child in the middle of the rainy night? Assigning blame for the chaos? Anger and asbestos dust.
He doesn’t recall what they said or he wrote, but does remember sending a copy to Barbara (purple ink, yellow paper) and her reply, folded around a check for fifty dollars.
“I’m sorry you remember it that way.”
Back to school. Taking the pan off the heat, stirring and folding, returning to the burner. Keeps the eggs soft. They saw Gordon Ramsay do it on Master Chef.
Around the age June is now, a lack arrived. He not only settled but reached for the smallest gun in the pile before Cops and Robbers. And when they got to Montana he became referee in recess football. Not a player. Never meant to be.
He worried he’d pass incapacity on. Or the food allergy would make June hang back.
But she always takes a big bite. This kid has appetite.
A shoulder tap. The teacher in remarkably thin linen, gently observing that his head should point to the center, not the wall. This, even fifty-two years into the project, could create several seconds of shame.
Today he laughs, swivels on the mat, deliberately brushing Julie’s arm, and receives the soothing suggestions.
Connect to a heartfelt desire…
(That we take the peace of this class home to our daughter.)
Move awareness through your body..
(Oh wow. My shoulder feels better!)
Witness your thoughts…
(I’m sorry I’m even in that book. That last line is embarrassing. Writing makes me unhappy. Please, stop.)
Julie and the contractor consider stains for June’s new bed and closet.
Recalls a prompt he gives students. What’s the first room in which you remember falling asleep?
June’s window reveals green-leaved limbs, a sweet swath of sky, a balcony directly across where four Dachshunds pee at barking intervals. At sunset, tattooed owners dine on the same concrete plat.
McCormick’s place is Montana. Cinder block bare in Married Student Housing. To doze off, he listens to Bulldog football and songs that weren’t popular in Delaware. “The Streak.” “Country Bumpkin.”
Should be a lonely memory, but no. He was good then.