The Things You Know By Heart
The things you know by heart – which are the things you'd thought you'd forgotten – come to you one night. Your father's hand that you could rarely hold, calloused by the crutches he used your whole life. The smell of his coffee ready for the thermos. The whistle on the red cord he kept for hockey practice. The way the boys accepted a coach who could not skate and the way he expected them to wear coat and tie on game nights. The way they always did.
These things come to you and at first you think that you are dreaming. The bend in the river where your father cast his line. His fly-rods lined up like lodgepole pines. The Bowie knife in its leather casing stained by fish-guts and sweat. The way he pinched back the barbs on his hooks and the way he slid a trout back into the water. The way it darted for the river grasses on the far bank.
These things come to you in the still night. Your father's bed in the living room when he could no longer climb the stairs. The crutches laid to rest against the headboard as if they might still be needed. His tea, cold in the cup. The way you taught him about cycling during late-night coverage of the Tour de France when neither of you could sleep. The way he looked when he began to understand what a cyclist you'd become, and the way he knew you would race on without him. The way you did.
These things come to you in the dark. The scent of lilacs when your mother woke you that Sunday. The slant of light on the hardwood floor. The quiet. The way you thought you should already have known. The way you called your friend to say you wouldn't be playing softball that afternoon and the way she understood what that meant. The way you've never played softball since.
The things you know by heart – which are the things you'd thought you'd forgotten – come to you one night. The way your small son dimples high on his left cheek when he laughs, just like your father did. The way you taught him to skate by holding his hands and gliding backwards before him the way your father could not teach you. The way you brought him to the bend in the river and the way he threw rocks in the riffles when he got there. The way you let him. The way he is growing already so tall, the way he will grow taller still, and all the things he already knows by heart come to you one night. You turn and drift back to sleep, wrapped in the eiderdown of the things you'd thought you'd forgotten.
words: Jennifer Saunders, US/Switzerland (Magpie Days)
image: Steve Wing, Florida (about & more)
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