They look from the steps down the block.
“Did you bring Gran?”
June says Gran because that’s the main character.
They are reading The Lifters by Dave Eggers. They both love it.
“I didn’t. I thought the bus would come right away. I didn’t go to the bathroom either. I might pee my pants.”
June throws her head back and shows her teeth. McCormick thinks camp teaches her that laugh. Money well spent.
“Are you rooting for me?”
“Well, you are my lovey Daddy, but if you did pee your pants, that would be a great story…”
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.
Falling in love. Deciding to be in love. What’s the difference?
“Long May You Run” is playing. McCormick remembers the “chrome heart shining in the sun.” Winter Matheson driving away.
He’d chosen her at chorus practice from a row of altos, written her number on his palm like he imagined people did.
Neil Young songs charted the whole thing. She was a “Cinnamon Girl,” hungry mouth offering lifetimes. Until the day she couldn’t stand him, after which McCormick lived on his knees and always replaced the needle.
“Nestled in your wings my little one…tomorrow see the things that never come…”
McCormick roamed free in the backseat and had a cassette player and the bandana blanket his Yiayia made. How much longer? Bill would answer, Three Batmans, and he’d play them in his head.
He offers June this measure—two more Sophias honey—but this emphasizes the absent iPad, the actual princess. And she’s strapped into the car seat, a condition no blanket relieves. She responds with her signature hmmph.
McCormick owned that Mustang. June despises their Honda. But she has her own skills. Eyes closed, she composes…
Did you know that I love you? Do a painting all in blue…
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.”
What if you have the gift of listening—knowing—so when you hear
We don’t have to be stars exploding in the night, or electric eels under the covers
We don’t have to be anything quite so unreal, let’s just be lovers
the alchemic achievement lifts you, holds you, sends you back down for more
like breath, like a child who has learned to swing?
Do you then imagine you can cast those spells, that reading so well means you might also write?
Try it. Open a page. Lower your hands and blink twice. Bring all your talent and luck.
The Mighty Thor, who could fly if he had his hammer.
A cowboy. His banana seat was a saddle, alleyways dry riverbeds, the rack at school a hitching post.
A lawyer, because it was good to prove people wrong, and he watched Perry Mason summer mornings on channel 11, and talk came easy.
Then a writer. The pleasure of converting deeds into words—things you could call poems—struck him in college and he started thinking how well they used their loneliness (Hemingway in the bunker, Salinger at the farmhouse, Woolf in her hard-won room).
Only last (resigning?) a teacher.
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.