"Tines" by Russell Bittner
I sit here now as I sat here then. He’s not here now; he wasn’t here then. The only difference between now and then – fifteen years ago – is that I know the difference.
Then? Then I had a child’s imagination, a child’s belief that all things were possible – even the impossible – perhaps because I had no knowledge of im. Im is a prefix that comes with age, with experience, with rejection and failure. Slowly. More quickly if you have nothing worth rejecting. Then, im comes at you without mercy. And you’re no longer even able to see the word “possible” without its attendant im.
But that was fifteen years ago – when I was a mere child – with a child’s imagination, a child’s belief, and a child’s still imperfect vision. None of which could distinguish between im and him. And him was what I’d been anticipating for almost a whole year.
Today, the greatest of all days on the American calendar, is Thanksgiving – now as then. No other holiday – he’d said it himself many times – can compare. It’s the day on which we all come home, wherever home may be. Sometimes, that home is just a heartbeat. But so long as a heart is beating, it yearns for home. And home is where we come – on Thanksgiving.
“What time is Papa coming?” I shout from where I’m sitting next to the front window.
“Six o’clock,” my mother shouts back from the kitchen.
“And if he doesn’t?” I ask.
“He’ll be here. We agreed. And if there’s one thing your father is – it’s punctual.”
To myself: I know. It’s the German in him. He can’t help himself.
“It’s the German in him,” my mother shouts, unprompted. “He can’t help himself.”
My sister looks at me. I look back at her. We’ve both heard the words many times before. At a quarter to six on a cold and wet November afternoon, there’s little comfort – dry or warm – in hearing this same old gripe about my father and his people.
Her Russia and his Germany – I realize now – were thousands of miles apart and two generations distant. Nevertheless, the ethnic gibes between them had always begun like swift after-kicks on the hoof of an argument: a land-grab here, a pogrom there, Gestapo tactics everywhere. Not to mention any number of other ‘old Europe’ defects that lodged in their genes and coursed through their veins – and so through my sister’s and mine – like slightly flawed diamonds on an otherwise steady stream of pure Doodle Dandy lava.
This was the first Thanksgiving since their separation – which my father liked to call ‘collateral damage’ by way of association with that other undoing in lower Manhattan. But the real truth of their undoing was another matter altogether.
“What time is it now, Mama?” I yell out again from my perch where Alice and I sit like a couple of famished baby birds.
“5:57. Any minute now. Trust me. No, don’t trust me. Trust him.”
I put my cheek up against the window and close my eyes tight. And that’s when I see him.He’s wearing an old, black corduroy coat, which I recognize immediately. I once saw it hanging on a throwaway hanger in the basement. I asked my mother about it at the time, and she told me it had been my father’s coat from his college days – something he’d picked up at a thrift shop for a couple of bucks, and which he’d too often and too proudly called his ‘Diogenes coat.’
“So why does he keep it?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe he thinks he’ll need it again one day. There are many things about your father I don’t understand.” With that, the conversation ended, and we both promptly forgot about the coat – until now.
Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006