one true thing

I can feel something shifting.

A curtain drawn back to let in just a little more light.

After the party, it rains. We drive the gray roadways in the downpour. Past wide expanses of green fields. Past barn and granary.

His father leaves early, before we have a chance to say goodbye. But he is frail now and so easily tired. His mother, we lean into the front seat of the car for an awkward embrace. I wonder about the ways in which a night like this, for all its pleasures and fanfare, might disappoint.

On the topic of disappointment, she is silent. There are chambers in the heart that remain hidden after all.

At the hotel, we stay up late. Watch stories of true crime on television and eat chocolate in bed. A woman murders her husband to collect his life insurance. She is having an affair with the insurance agent.

I remember the story of the young couple who tried to fake their own deaths, the lure of the lump sum of settlement too great to be ignored. They dug up bodies and staged a car wreck, set fire to the car and left it in a ditch to burn.

A break in the case when on the young woman’s computer at work, her search history turned up patterns: how to fake your own death; how to set a car on fire; how to dig up bodies from their graves.

I spend the small hours of morning in a cocoon of hotel linens drifting in and out of sleep. Strange dreams of wandering long hallways of an unfamiliar grand house, palatial.

Light seeps in around the edges of the curtains. It is early still but not for long.

In the dream, my father appears at the end of a long corridor. He is standing beside a portrait of himself.

The party is for his mother’s 80th birthday and we gather in the common room of the interfaith center, situated on a little hill and bordered by trees. We’ve hung streamers on the walls. There is a profusion of flowers – white and pink roses and lilies.

The unexpected heat slows us. We feel a little like we are wilting. But there is music. There is a birthday blessing. There is a new baby now (great-granddaughter of the matriarch) and her cooing delights.

In the morning, we swim in the hotel pool. A wall of glass lets in a thin gray light. Our son sings and shouts as he splashes, his voice reverberating through the space. The water is cool, a thrill on the skin. We are buoyant.

After, we meet at the diner for breakfast and talk about the mother, the father, their health. I carry the baby around for a while and she points at my forehead, tugs at my earrings, fake pearls. Her eyes are wide and unblinking. Her tiny mouth upturned, a perfect smile. When I hand her back to her mother, she points at me again and waves. Her pumpkin head wobbles. I throw kisses.

We drive back in intermittent rain. I fall in and out of sleep, of dreams. All along the highway, drifts of green, groves of trees. I think about the father, so thin now. The purple bruise on his arm. His trembling hand. About the mother, the bend of her neck, her movements so slow, so cautious, so labored.

How is it that we will make our way through our own final years? A destination that seems inconceivable, yet ever-present. To look at us in photographs or in the mirror, or to watch the curve of his profile as he drives is to see the shadow of these years on us like a smudged fingerprint on glass. The end built in to the beginning. A certainty. The one true thing.

When we arrive home, there is still some daylight left. I dig a few hasty holes in the front garden bed to plant ferns I had left in their nursery pots. I take a quick survey of the yard. I clip the spent irises. Trim back the rose bushes. I see the clematis has blossomed, despite my persistent neglect. This year, the viburnum seems to be flowering more vigorously than it has in some time. A profusion of tiny white petals.

And the showy peonies! Their slender stalks are bent beneath the weight of their blooms. I cut a few stems for the house as night falls.

I sweep up stray weeds from the patio. I refresh the mulch by the tiny burbling fountain. There is much more to be done, but it will not be tonight. I feel a coolness in the air as the light fades. There is never enough time.