When I sat down to work at my computer yesterday morning, I checked my email and saw the stories on the news feed: another madman shoots random people; global warming disaster almost certain; radical politicians calling for rebellion, secession; the rich hoarding everything, the poor getting more desperate. I got off the Internet and clicked open the piece I am working on, and I stared at four pictures pinned to the cabinets in front of my writing desk.
One picture is a charcoal drawing of a human skull, my memento mori every morning as I sit down to work. The other three are curling snapshots from years ago hanging by a single thumb tack each.
The bottom one is of my boys at a cookout when Evan was not yet three and Asher was so young he could still delight himself to laughter just by running, happily unconcerned about his diaper-full of poop. The boys are in front of a picnic shelter in Kanawha Forest, and they are smudged and smeared face to bare feet with the grime of hard outdoor play. They are both squatting at a dog’s metal water bowl, splashing in it with sticks.
The middle photo is of Evan on my sister Alma’s lap. They both face the camera, her arms are wrapped around his chest and their faces are side by side—that they are related is clear by their sharp Sizemore chins.
The top photograph was taken by one of my employees at my old café, The Drowsy Poet. All three of the kids are at the sandwich board “helping” me prep for lunch. Asher and Grace are mangling mushrooms with serrated spreaders, and have stopped working to look at the camera. Grace still has a bit of a fat toddler head. At seven-years-old, Evan is slicing cucumber disks with a ten-inch bread knife. He looks down holding his fingers so carefully, his mouth tight in concentration, and his bangs splashed open at his cowlick.
Yesterday evening, Evan, my wife Liz, and I sat at the picnic table in our backyard near the woods. Despite the citronella candle, the mosquitos were thick, but the weather was so perfect we played out there anyway, swatting and waving as we rearranged tiles. Play was tight, jammed into the top right quarter for most of the game, none of us getting much for our words and no one willing to play a long word to break someone else out.
Then, at the end of the game, Evan pulled out a seven-letter word that earned him a quick sixty-two points. Liz and I made our plays, and the very next time, Evan traded out the blank tiles and created yet another seven-letter word, racking up seventy-eight points and soaring to the win.
After my writing time this morning, I ran over to the college to grab a couple of books from my office. I pulled a book off the shelf that I hadn’t opened in many years, to look for a passage that a friend’s Facebook post had me thinking about. In it I discovered a picture of Evan I didn’t even remember we had.
He is probably four years old, and he is in the backyard, unaware that he is being photographed. He holds his shirt up off his belly with his chin and chest, and his pants and underwear are gathered around his ankles as he pees on a tree.
Typical memories wash over me: the boy so fascinated with the world asking endless questions, the boy always ready to dive on me and wrestle, and play a roughhouse game—with his brother Asher, and eventually baby Gracie as well—that he had named “powie.”
In the midst of all our preparation for Evan’s graduation, and the end of the school year for Asher and Grace, the only thing I can think to do in the face of dire news and scary forecasts is hug my young man when he comes in from school and heads for the refrigerator, and his brother and sister as well.
The boys might find it odd because that’s not generally how I greet them after school—Gracie not so much since I hug on her all the time—but not so much that they will ask what’s going on.
I am glad, because I would only say something like, “Can’t a dad hug his boy?” What I would mean is this: You were out there, and again this time you came back, and that is reason enough.
Vic Sizemore earned his MFA in fiction from Seattle Pacific University in 2009. His short stories are published or forthcoming in StoryQuarterly, Southern Humanities Review, Connecticut Review, Portland Review, Blue Mesa Review, Sou’wester, Silk Road Review, Atticus Review, PANK Magazine Fiction Fix, Vol.1 Brooklyn, Conclave, and elsewhere. Excerpts from his novel The Calling are published in Connecticut Review, Portland Review, Prick of the Spindle, Burrow Press Review, Rock & Sling, and Relief. His fiction has won the New Millennium Writings Award for Fiction, and been nominated for Best American Nonrequired Reading and a Pushcart Prize. You can find Vic at http://vicsizemore.wordpress.com/.