Back to Main Page

Back to "What's New"



Terence M. Green



It is important to have a secret, a premonition of things unknownÖ A man who has never experienced that has missed something important. He must sense that he lives in a world which in some respects is mysterious; that things happen and can be experienced which remain inexplicable; that not everything which happens can be anticipated. The unexpected and the incredible belong in this world. Only then is life whole.

                                          - CARL JUNG

                                       Memories, Dreams, Reflections



    People keep dying. Youíd think Iíd be a pessimist, or depressed, or

something, but Iím not. I love life. I love being alive. It keeps getting

better all the time.

    Even though people keep dying.


    My father died on April 15, 1995. He was ninety years old. It was

his second bout with pneumonia in six months, and this one did him in.

Up until October of í94 heíd done okay. Almost ninety and never had

surgery. Two strokes though. The first was back in 1969, just before his

sixty-fifth birthday Ė just shy of retirement. My mother had said that he

worried and fretted about money and retirement so much that heíd given

himself a stroke, but he recovered pretty nicely. The second was in 1992,

age eighty-seven, which took a lot of the remaining wind out of his


    Someone dies at age ninety, after a pretty good life. You donít know

whether to cry or say Thank God. I did both.


    He was in Toronto General. The hospital phoned me about eleven

oíclock at night, then I phoned my brother and sisters, but because I

live closest, I was the first one there.


    "Donít take anything out of the room," the nurse said. "Everything

has to be accounted for."

    I looked at her. "He hasnít got anything."

    She put her hands in her pockets, glanced down, left.

    But I did slip the red garnet off his finger and put it on my own

right hand. Itís 10-carat gold, soft and beaten, not worth anything. The

stone is squashed down in the setting, lopsided at one end. Later, when

he got there, I told my brother, Dennis, what Iíd done, wanting his

permission, and he understood.

    When the nurse came back into the room, she opened the drawer in the

bedside table. Inside were his glasses, dentures and electric razor. That

goddammed razor. He loved it. Those last years when he lived with us, he

seemed to spend half the time with it spread out in pieces on his night

table, screwdriver in hand, glasses pushed up on his forehead, servicing

its idiosyncrasies. Then heíd run it around his face and neck long after

there was any chance of a whisker hanging on, caressing himself.

    His mouth was open, eyes shut. "Iíd like the dentures put back in,"

I said.

    She nodded.

    And there he was. There it was. The end. Just like that. I couldnít

believe it. The rocks and sands of my life had shifted beneath my feet.

I looked down at him. Where are you? I thought. I donít understand.

What happened?

    I put his glasses and razor in my pocket. I never knew what to do

with them, so I still have them.


    We put nearly all his clothes in green garbage bags and gave them to

Goodwill. Kept his neckties, though. They were kind of interesting. He

had a penchant for wine-colored and navy-blue, with white polka dots. One

said "Pure Silk, Foulard, Imported by Forsyth" on the label. They were a

little wider than the ones that I wore. But you never know. I might wear

them. I might.

    I still have his tacklebox too. I donít know what to do with it

either. Itís steel gray, covered with rust spots. Thereís a yellow

sticker on the front, just above the latch, that says "Truline Ė Seamless

-- Eatonís of Canada." When you lift the lid it unfolds into three trays,

and an odor steals out that takes me back to childhood in a wooden

rowboat, then disappears.

    Inside is my father.

    The hula popper, with the rubber grass skirt rotted away. Then the

rest of the names crystallize: flatfish, crazy crawler, jitterbug, Mepps

spinners. Thereís a trailer chain for keeping fish in the water after a

catch, boxes of hooks, razor blades, a hundred yards of 8 lb. test line,

leaders, sinkers, a pair of pliers, a Langley Fishermanís De-Liar scale.

And then thereís the wooden, hand-made hand-painted lure, about four

inches long, that we never saw him use. Weíd ask him about it, my brother

and I. Heíd only smile and tell us that it was for muskie. He never

fished for muskie.

    This is my legacy.


    Life keeps surprising me.

    I didnít see it coming. I hardly see anything coming. That night of

my fatherís funeral, when Adam asked about his own father, I was floored.

A bolt out of the blue. Heíd never asked before. Never mentioned him.


    In hindsight, I donít know why I was so surprised. Now that I think

of it, if he was ever going to ask about his father, that would have been

the logical time. But I didnít think of it then.

    Hindsight. Like they say. Twenty-twenty.


    He asked it simply. "Is my father alive?"

    Jeanne and I both stopped chewing.

    Adam waited. Heís twenty-one now, majoring in English at the

University of Toronto, going into third year. He is my stepson. He was

ten years old when I met him that summer in Ashland, Kentucky, fourteen

when Jeanne and I finally married and settled here in Toronto, and Iíd

always thought that I was the only father in his head.

    Like I said, it blindsided me.

    And Jeanne. His mother was so taken aback she was speechless for a

good thirty seconds.

    I watched her, then Adam, waited.

    Finally, she nodded. "I think he is. I donít know for sure, but I

think he is." Her eyes darted to me, then settled on Adam. They stared at

each other in silence.

    Then Adam began eating again, patient, calm. We followed his lead.

After a minute or so, though, he asked his next question: "Where is he?"

I looked again at Jeanne, then Adam. When she caught my eye I said,

    "Why donít I get us all some coffee?"


    Adam is a big, good-looking kid. I still thought of him as a kid,

even though I was staring at his dark five oíclock shadow and his hands

on the table in front of him were bigger than mine. But twenty-one. When

youíre fifty-one like I am, twenty-one is hardly on the map.

Looking at him, though, digesting his question, unsettled by my own

new loss, a collage of myself at his age drifted back: the 1960 Chev

Impala with 111,000 miles on it, my job as a truck driverís helper,

delivering office furniture around the city, the summer of í64, the

Beatles. Girls. Drinking. Living in my parentsí basement. Girls.

    Adam was a quiet kid. You start being quiet around your parents at

puberty. Too much stuff going on inside. But sliding free from my flash

of nostalgia, watching his patience after dropping his bombshell, I

realized that he was definitely on the map, and had been for a long time.


    Adam never called me Dad. It was always Leo. When he was twelve,

shortly after weíd moved here, he asked me why there were cracks in the

wall and ceiling of his room.

    "I havenít painted them yet," I said.

    "I donít mean that. I mean how do the cracks get there in the first

place. If a house is built properly, shouldnít there be no cracks at


    I shrugged. "The house is old."

    He was quiet, considering it.

    "Must be sixty years old," I continued. "Houses settle. Cold and

heat, expansion, contraction. It just happens."

    He was sitting in his bed. I remember that it was winter, that it

was cool, that his room needed better storm windows.

    He waited for more. But I didnít tell him anything more. I didnít

tell him that everything settled, everything cracked, that the rocks and

sands shifted beneath your feet. I knew that he would find out for

himself soon enough.


    My father always made instant coffee, but weíve got a new Philips

Café Classic. I paid about sixty bucks for it at Zellerís, and within a

month, somewhere in its innards a hose clamp came loose, flooding the

kitchen counter with hot water. I ignored the warning on the bottom cover

("do not remove -- repair should be done by authorized service personnel

only"), unscrewed it, and fixed it with needle-nosed pliers. Its parts

spread open, exposed, it was, I realized at the time, a lot like an

electric razor.

    That night, I poured three cups from it, black, set them on the

kitchen table.


    "How come you never asked before?" Jeanne sipped the coffee,

watching her son.

    Adam hesitated, seemed to think about it. But I guessed that heíd

already thought about it a lot. "Didnít seem to be important."

    "Why is it important now?"

    He shrugged.

    "Is it because of Gramp?"

    Gramp was my father. Tommy Nolan.


    "Itís only natural."

    "Were you ever going to tell me?" he asked, suddenly.

    I sat still, watching them, seeing new things, things I hadnít seen


    "I told myself Iíd tell you whatever you wanted to know if you ever

asked. Well," she tucked the loose strand of hair behind her ear, like

she always did, "youíve asked."

    I cradled my cup in both hands, feeling its warmth. Waited.


    "He was in Dayton, last I heard. Dayton, Ohio. But that was a long

time ago. Maybe heís not there anymore. I donít know." Jeanne paused, did

some more thinking. "Youíre twenty-one, Adam. He left before you were

born. Thatís a long time. I havenít seen him since." She fixed her eyes

on him. "Iíve always believed that it wouldnít serve you well to speak

ill of him, so I never spoke of him at all." She sighed. "The long and

the short of it is that he knew I was pregnant and he left. He didnít

want to get married. Your Aunt Amanda met him on the street in

Cincinnati, mustíve been fifteen years ago. It was him spoke to her. She

told me how she couldnít believe his nerve, coming up to her like that."

    I listened to the Kentucky drawl that she had never lost, that I

would never want her to lose. "He told her he was working in a factory in

Dayton. Thatís how I know what I know."

    "Did Aunt Amanda tell him about me?"

    "She told me she said to him that he had a son, and that he should

go see him, do something about it, do what was right. But I never heard

from him. He never called, nothing. This was about five years before Leo

and I met. Leoís your Daddy, honey. Heís the one helped me raise you.

Heís the one helped put food on the table, pays for your schooling. You

know that."

    "I know it." He looked at me. "Youíve been great, Leo. You know I

know that." He shook his head, "But this isnít anything against Leo. And

itís not meant to upset you, Mom." He folded his left hand into a fist

and held it against his chin, under his lower lip. "I donít know," he

said. "I donít know."

    None of us knew. This was a new place. We hadnít been here before.


    That night was the night of the first dream.

    I dreamed I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, thought it must be

Adam. When I saw him, though, it was my father, wrapped in old, frayed

towels mottled with bloodstains. I remember remarking that it was a

disgrace the way those with whom he was staying were taking care of him.

    When I woke up, it took me a long time to get back to sleep.


In the morning, dressing, I reached for my watch and rings -- part

of the daily ritual. I keep them on the bookshelf by my bed in a four-by-

six ashtray that Jeanne bought me for $1.29 in Las Vegas. And I donít

even smoke. Nobody in our house smokes. Itís adorned with a back-shot of

three girls in thong bikinis, legs dangling in a pool. Adam tells me

those bikinis are called butt-floss. You can always learn stuff from


    My watch, my wedding ring, and my fatherís ring.

    Only the red garnet Ė my fatherís ring -- wasnít there.

    Puzzled, I looked on the floor, on the shelf behind the tray, even

on my finger. I saw it in the center of the dresser.

    I had no memory of leaving it there. In fact, I had a distinct

memory of studying it, then placing it in the ashtray, a new nightly


    I rubbed my forehead.

    When I opened the drawer with my socks and underwear, his glasses

and razor were sitting there staring at me. I was sure that I had left

them on the night table in his old room down the hall.

    Sliding the garnet on the ring finger of my right hand and the

wedding band on the same finger of my left, I strapped on the watch, took

out clean socks and underwear, and closed the drawer.

    I turned and watched Jeanne sleeping, auburn hair tousled, to me,

beautiful. I thought of Adam, equally beautiful, sleeping in his own room

its walls lined with new cracks, fissures that would keep opening no

matter how many coats of paint were rolled over them -- thought how lucky

I was to have my whole family with me even while I slept.

    And I looked at my hand. Looked at the ring.

    Saw him on the stairs, in the night, coming up to get me.


    Later that day, I put his tackle box in the basement,

behind the furnace.

Back to Main Page

Back to "What's New"