We stop at the corner store while on a neighborhood jaunt, Cayde on his bicycle and Finn pushing against the harnesses of his stroller. I pause every Wednesday to pick up the weeklies, my house never having been without some form of newsprint lying around for the over-fifteen years Jenn and I have lived together.
“Are you in the Reader again, Daddy?” Cayde asks, helmet askew.
“Not this week, Dude.” It doesn’t stop Cayde from announcing to the cashier that ‘My Daddy is the best writer in the world and he’s been in the Reader EIGHT TIMES!’
I shush him. This particular cashier has also heard false claims that I’m the best chef in the world, so why’s she’s charging me for labne and cat food when she should rather be asking for my autograph, I don’t know. She takes my money and the only autograph requested is in the form of a signed receipt. She doesn’t ask to see my Pulitzer or Bocuse d’Or. Good thing: they’re not in my back pocket at the moment. Also, I’m neither of those best things.
We go across the street for a slice at DeLuca’s, and when waiting for a pie, I’m studying Cayde’s hair, which is cut blockier than usual, a wedge above his eyebrows. He’s fiddling with the remote that he charmed off the pizza chef, clicking through the channels on the in-house TV, finding an astronomy documentary while I finger a Peroni.
Cayden’s eight, and he knows I write about him. It was kind, the SD Reader picking up a few pieces the past few weeks. Cayde did the math and calculated how much money I had made; I quickly told him that was hugely unimportant (the amount being insubstantial, for one, and, two: something unnecessary to talk about, money never being the why).
I’m thinking about words. I’m staring at Cayde’s hairs and his brown brown eyes (distracted as they are, cathode-ray aflicker), which have always been his magentism, all this while Finn picks at the mushrooms on his plate declaring ‘Mmm-MMM’ and kicking in his chair, mouth tomato sauce-stained. My brain’s switched on a narrative mode, to translate every moment into words, so that I can figure it all out.
I used to be cynical of authors who, in interviews, would talk about their characters in third-person, who would say: “I didn’t know what X was going to do.” I’d think, “How could you not know? You created X.” But, end all, something happens when you start writing and when you press <publish> or press <period>, sometimes you’re left with some strange cartography you didn’t expect, your brain mapped out on the page for sudden and anthropological study, a hand-lettered thing your hand didn’t know it was doing. Wow–what did I mean there? The words land often, in a reverse Rorschach.
Cayde sometimes curls up with me when I write, with me and the laptop; he’s not an X, but my kid; not a creation but my creation. The words are a way to prolong all this, him and me, to stay the time, and to lend it for study, both now and future.
We say, “It goes by so fast,” and then take pictures to archive all the important and non-important things, the ephemera that makes up the day. Pictures, in the end, don’t do it for me. They’re static and they ultimately make me sad.
Instead: the bones. Write down the bones is common writerly advice. Trace a skeleton, and the flesh goes up fast, and living.
I tell Cayde that I’m not in The Reader this week, and he says, “Awww.” Sometimes I worry what he’ll think when he finally reads everything, when he’ll strip me of my current corner store Pulitzer and put everything up for a recount.
“It’s cool, Cayde. It was nice they published me. I don’t care.”
(I’m not saying, “I don’t care” out of any affected disinterest–that would be disingenuous; and disinterest is usually disingenuous, belonging only and truly to those people that can blithely paint over their masterpieces, else block out the world with aplomb, gripping their preferred pen or paintbrush with a firm and guidant middle-finger.
My “I don’t care” is a particular shrug of the shoulders; I had a three-week run in a good column, the satisfaction, even, of having the editor exclaim my welcome return. I’m proud of it all, sure; when I shush Cayden, though, it’s knowing the words are mine to curate now; it’s a shouting of love letters into the ether, to have the ether respond in turn, until the ether eventually dissipates; and knowing that Cayde will have those love letters, later and crystallized, for his own purpose when I’m satisfied having stopped shouting.
We’ll have all the quiet moments in the later meanwhile, the secure and private history of us, but also the moments I shouted and made my heart and head a public thing, refracted and cartographic, maps he can re-travel when I’m not there anymore. Let that be much later. He’ll understand me eventually, and I’m leaving me him the Hansel trail currently).
He eats his pizza and asks me for the third time if Jupiter’s moon is pronounced ‘Io’ or ‘lo’ because the words look the same depending on typography.
“I-o, Buddy. I-o.” We then discuss how the earth was created from two planets colliding, the moon being a displaced fragment. He goes on to say how there is an ocean on Callisto, this moon of Saturn, but that the ocean is just frozen beneath ice.
“We can maybe live there someday,” he says, polishing off a slice, and I choose to not disagree.
He goes on about water and oceans.
We pack up the to-go box and it was Keats who was buried beneath a headstone saying ‘Here I lie with my name writ on water,’ probably the most impressive epitaph ever carved, ironic too as it was stenciled in stone.
Cayde puts his helmet back on and wobbles up the street on his bike while I have Finn by the hand who pauses in the puddles; he says, “Ah-pu-ta-dah.” It’s a very specific set of utterances,something he aways says and there’s a meaning there which I haven’t yet figured out; I still haven’t figured out what I’m saying for Chrissake, so we’re in mutual befuddlement while Cayde carves the puddles, announcing over his shoulder: “I’ll see you at home, Daddy!” before pedaling up the street and around the corner.
Finn presses a thumb to his forehead, and resolutely says: “Daddy.” He stomps in a puddle, then laughs, before breaking away and running after Cayden, which I allow, watching.