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.