Of Socks and Civilisation

Cayden pulls on socks getting ready for baseball practice. His are always knee-high, with exaggerated prints: the pizza socks, the Hamilton socks, that Patriots pair, the striped number he stole from my drawer.

He’s inching his Einstein socks up and I remark the fact that, “Dude—you’ve a huge hole in your heel.”

He shrugs.

“Einstein never wore socks, so I don’t think he’d care.” And he goes back to the business of finding shoes and remembering how to tie his laces.

“He didn’t wear socks?”

“No,” Cayde shrugs. “Everyone knows that. Einstein didn’t wear socks.”

I don’t wear socks, but I’m not Einstein either. I just like natty loafers, and wear my pants rolled half up the calf. Socks are not in my sartorial bag of tricks.

I didn’t know Einstein never wore socks. I knew he played violin, was a chain-smoker, married his cousin, was impressively depressed. I didn’t know E=MC2 had a dress code or lack thereof.

“Really? No socks? Ever?”

Einstein’s face is torn in half, his white hair exaggeratedly contouring Cayde’s ankle while Cayde stress-tests the thread count. He yanks and yanks.

“Nope. He didn’t like socks.”

“Don’t pull them up too much, Dude—you’re gonna rip them.”

“I’ll have my cleats on. Doesn’t matter.” Cayde is providing me a sneak preview of adolescence while lacing his Pumas. In five years, the waters will be rough, I’m certain.

‘Even on the most solemn occasions, I got away without wearing socks and hid the lack of civilisation in high boots’, Einstein wrote.

‘Of Socks and Civilsation’ could be a good book title, else a manifesto. Footwear is a low benchmark when it comes to measures of civility—just ask Jesus, or Ghandi—so I let Einstein’s yarn-torn face go, and let Cayde tug on his shoes without further nagging.

Cayde’s so big now. He’s so big, nearing clumsy with his growing body and pre-adolescent lack of decorum. He has thick limbs and expressive eyes, eyes full of brown, irises doe-like. When we’re mid-argument, he opens his blinkers wide—tries always to get the last word in, as if my tumult of verbage is a car coming and he has to stand, freeze, and deliver one last deer-grunt before getting run over by a grille chromed with rhetoric.

“I’m sorry, Kid. I’m sorry.” I say this to myself later—not to him–when I have a bed-sheet around me, when I’m contrite and looking at the ceiling, arranging pillows. I’m pretty good about apologizing in real time, just not always. It hurts. It really hurts to fuck up. My job is not to fuck him up.

‘When I was young,’ Einstein wrote in another letter, ‘I found out that the big toe always ends up making a hole in a sock. So I stopped wearing socks.’

 There are pragmatics involved, apparently, when measuring civility. Einstein’s big toe was unnaturally long, and footwear became a problem. So he forewent shoes and wore sandals instead. Sandals with suits. Not exactly GQ, but it worked.

Next to being bare-foot, he laid out a blueprint as to how the universe was founded, how it could function on certain rules, some being quantum and not exactly understandable, but he took walks and smoked his pipe and blew blue smoke in the Austrian hills, thinking.

I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs.”

 We all need to calm down, habits or no. Scientists are crazy when they say, ‘Objective.’ Same with writers. There is nothing that universalizes everything. The world’s just a fantastic and varied place, and there is nothing that makes for an even playing field, regardless of smarts, tarts, and, in the end, difference.

I could shout at the rim of a canyon; the echo supposing to be my own voice. Should be. Most likely it won’t be. People yell back.

Cayde puts his cleats on.

“Daddy…”

I stop him there.

“You’ll do good, Kid.”

I don’t want him to say anything else. Nothing else.

“You’ll do good, Kid.”

“But…”

And I stop him.

“You’ll be FINE, dude.”

People don’t believe in me, I believe in him, so this is a halfway solution. Blind leading the blind; I help Cayde with his laces.

“You look great, Kid.”

“Thanks, Daddy.”

“Love you, Kid. Let me help you with those shoes.”

And civilisation is lost, apparently, as the shoes go on, the forfeit of socks; still‘E’ continues to equal something.

 

 

 

Christs Descending, and Ashes in the Doughboy

The sky is frustratingly white, no cartographic ripple of gray, no signal of cloud’s end—just white—and seen through the sun-roof of a car while sitting in the driveway, keys in hand.

I remember being in a pool and seeing the ash settle on the surface of the water, the nearby mountain burning while we swam in chlorine blossoms; water bugs finding fate in the skimmer, legs vainly pumping. Cowle’s Mountain burning, Cowles mispronounced cow-les, but actually Coales; with the buckwheat flaming as if in a brazier; Cowles, coals, fire while my dad barbecued, the cinder of both mesquite and chaparral; Dad flipping burgers while being unconcerned about the season’s lilac going up in smoke, the fire traveling north.

Plastic boats, sunken and nitrile rings, dumb beach balls. Wrinkled and unrecognizable fingerprints, all the hours spent in the water, colored by turquoise and vinyl liners.

Cowles burned every three years, and we were safe in the pool.

Through the sun-roof, a high-wire that grazes the garage, co-axial, antimony and rubber. It slices the sky in half, no clouds, white sliced liked a bedsheet, a neat fruit, white, a black cable.

I was told Jesus was coming back, and I didn’t understand omnipresence. I imagined the Second Coming as a thousand Christs descending, because how else was the whole world to know about His return unless the Messiah was duplicative, and landing in many places at once? There’d be many ethereal carbon copies of robes and beards and forefingers circled in pleasantness, a million post-crucifixion Mary Poppins riding parasols, landing with slight bounces of the knees to exclaim homecoming.

Jesus landing in Times Square, Jesus taking the mound at Wrigley Field. Jesus at the Appomattox.

There’d be at least two Jesus’ per square mile, that’s what I figured. I had this calculated out.

“The sky goes on forever, you know,” my Mom told me, and I’d look up, either past palm fronds at the beach, or in the driveway, in both instances Ursa Major being more obvious than it is currently, stars fading while light pollutes and constellations diminish. I would stare at the sky and be nervous, not wanting heaven at all.

I hated the concept of ‘forever.’ It scared me. Looking up at the sky had me looking past the stars, terrified that there was no end to what I was looking at. Always looking past the stars to the in-between place, which is necessarily dark.

I’ve never had telescopic eyes. Between here and Alpha Centauri is nothing, a finite but forever place, the gap between recognizable galactic signposts.

Next rest stop: 4.3 million light years. Scares the shit out of me.

I didn’t, I don’t want forever. I didn’t, I don’t want forever.

Looking up as a kid, I saw past the Big Dipper and Orion’s Belt. These stars could actually be dead. We wouldn’t know it until they visibly winked out under our watch, ten million years later, with our planet suddenly irradiated with wind, and wi-fi suddenly unresponsive.

I imagined Jesus landing just shy of the pool, by the camphor trees, shaking out his hair and telling me, “I’m back,” while my kid feet tip-toed bottom in a four-feet pool, arms resting on the corrugated lip of the Doughboy.

“Jesus?”

“Pleased to meet you, Kid,” extending a hand with a hole.

My own hair wet, fingerprints wrinkled, incredulous at the suddenly forever. This being a small pool, ripples fast settle.

I tread water.

There’s my dad flipping a burger, the mountain burning, me diving down to the close bottom to pick up a weighted ring, and—being underwater—forgetting the surface, understanding I have only so much air but testing my lungs anyways, feeling them burn, and knowing, gratefully, eternity doesn’t actually exist, being five and wishing to not go too far, being five scared of forever, being five and grasping the ring, exhaling through the nostrils and panicking thankfully to the top of the water, gasping and gasping, gasping and finally, eventually smiling, thrusting up a red ring to no audience, to no one at all.

 

 

Myxomatosis

Lauren’s wearing pink, like the shade of Janis Joplin’s hair on the cover of ‘Pearl.’ Her voice has similar gravel, too, something throaty, her vocal cords having had a light treatment of steel wool, else granted a god-given chanteuse husk.

Lauren slings pizza.

“Whatcha want?”

She notices Finn who’s rearranging the labels on the display case. A deep-dish sausage is suddenly a thin-crust ricotta.

“Hey, Buddy. You want some pizza?”

“’Tay.’”

“What’s a venar fricative, again, Ms. Stephanie?”

 “Consonant moved forwards on the palate.”

Ms. Stephanie is wearing a nitrile glove and attending to a plastic baby while Finn pounds a stethoscope’s diaphragm on his own doll. There are pretend heartbeats. It’s speech class, so we provide all the noise.

<bum-boom>

“So ‘K is ‘Tay’?’”

 “Exactly. If you want to make him move back on the palate, you can lie on your back, and make gargling noises with your tongue. Your tongue slides back in that position. If you do it, he might, too. Discover the sounds he can make.”

 “Well, I’m apparently good at snoring,” I shrug, “Guess I could do that.”

 ‘Tay.”

Finn struggles for five minutes to open a Band-Aid, then places it proudly on the vinyl-baby’s knee. He walks to me, places the stethoscope on my lap, and says, “Here, Daddy.”

He tries to put the earpieces in place, but wanders off before my heart is something registered.

Lauren says, “Cheese?” before Finn has a say in the matter. He’s still busy re-arranging the placards. ‘Pepperoni’ is now ‘Jalapeno-pineapple.’ These are minor acts of chaos. I don’t believe in full-time anarchy, but I can get behind part-time rebellion. God Save the Queen, and all that. The Queen’s not on DNR orders yet, nor is mischief.

“Yes, please. And it’s blasphemy to me, Lauren,” I say out of the corner of my mouth, “But gimme a slice of that deep-dish spinach-mushroom thing.”

I mime a shoosh. Deep-dish is not pizza, and Chicago-dogs are dressed-up catastrophes, which celery salt can’t help. Also, don’t get me started on pickles.

The deep-dish is good—I needed the casserole helping of vegetables—and Finn tries to better the experience with shakes of the parmesan canister, the chile flakes, the pepper mill, the napkin dispenser. He throws his Woody doll on my plate, throws the pizza rack on the ground.

“He’ll need help ending his syllables,” Ms. Stephanie says. “They’re a bit messy right now.”

My car is across the street. When crossing over to the pizzeria, Finn dropped Bunny on the street and Bunny’s ears were run over by a passing Mazda. Like on Easter, it’s always the ears first.

Bunny sits, injured, next to the parmesan. We’re ok, though. Finn noms his cheese.

Finn tries to use a fork and knife because that’s how I’m navigating my particular plate. He watches me section a slice and he pounds his utensils into his own helping. It’s a not-even-close approximation, but he’s trying.

Etiquette is difficult. There’s an etiquette program near us called ‘Charm Class.’ (And I only know about cotillion school because I threaten Cayde with it every time he wipes his hands on his shirt).

‘Charm Class’: reverse those words, and you’ve got Finn in a nutshell. He’s a charmer, certainly.

“Pote,” Finn says, knife standing upright in a murder of tomato sauce and cheese.

(He did this with Play-Doh earlier, in Speech)

“Poke, Finn. It’s ‘poke’.”

“Pote.”

“Close, Dude.”

Pink Lauren collects our plates and high-fives Finn.

“Good to see you again, Guy,” she says, lowering herself to his level, and she’s the Janis waitress with a kind bone in her throat.

She says: ‘Pizza’s on me.” I wish her a Mercedes-Benz as I give her a quick hug.

“Thanks, Lauren. That’s very kind.”

“Tank you,” Finn says, throwing a second plastic knife onto the ground. It’s why I tip well. There’s always a mess.

At Speech, Finn has me wear the stethoscope.

“Steto-scope.” It’s a hard lesson today. Big words, big concepts. Finn was asked to say ‘medicine’ at least ten times while offering a syringe to his doll.

“Med-cin.”

“Daddy. Steto-scope.”

I tap on the tympanum. It’s only a plastic toy, but it works. I hold it to his heart and he laughs. He puts it on my knee, which is not where my heart is. I give him credit, though, because the heart is knee-jerk sometimes.

Bunny sits soddenly on the table, ears ruined by Goodyear, wearing parmesan for hair. He should’ve been the patient this morning: ‘med-cin, stat.’

Then again, who can predict being run over? Who’s the sudden and suddenly patient when the wheels arrive too fast?

I pack Bunny away like I pack everything else away, ears dangling out the envelope pouch of my bag, the tire-print proof of damage. I take Finn’s hand and cross back toward the tattoo parlor where my car is parked and where people are currently being scarred on purpose.

Ms. Stephanie asked me to work on the fricatives, with sound being expressed through a narrow passageway. In this case I hold Findlay’s hand and I sigh, and then again, crossing the street carefully so no one gets run over twice.

Bees in the Pergola

My Uncle John is going to die today. I think he was John VanBerkel the second, maybe the third. I forget. My grandfather was the John VanBerkel before him.

Entering into my grandfather’s house, just past the bee-infested pergola of bougainvillea, there was a framed and calligraphied certificate in the foyer. It proclaimed, I think, my Uncle John’s birth. There were numerals behind the name at least. That’s all I can remember.

Maybe it was a diploma—who knows?

At some point the family tree is just a gnarlsome briar patch rather than something steadfastly oak. There was my Grandpa John, my Uncle John, my cousin Johnny. I literally have three hundred unmet cousins in Holland, many probably named John as well; Cayden, meanwhile, is the last of the family line on the Hofman side.

We’re all Dutch, regardless.

Over the last couple of generations, we’ve outgrown tulip fields. These days, we swing at windmills rather than building them. We’re emigrated, re-established, and generally have way fewer kids. I’m now married to a Scandinavian: red-hair is the Mendelevian new. Delft-blue eyes persist though, like some ghostly genetic memory having recently resurfaced.

I look very much like my Uncle John, especially with age. In fact, the last social media post I saw from John involved him remarking to his sisters how much I resembled my grandfather. Two aunts agreed.

“He looks like Pop!”

The other aunt said: “He looks like YOU.”

They were all correct.

I’m not the third or the fourth or anything. My name is not John. But it could be.

Uncle John’s son Johnny was my hero. He had a spartan bedroom—a mattress, basically—and shelves that were lined intermittently with books and records. Nothing else. Tons of LP’s. He was the DJ at his college radio station.

In high school, Johnny was known for being the slacker kid in the back of the room, always with headphones on. He’d play Mozart and Metallica at random with a cracked Phillip K. Dick book in defiance of every teacher he met. If a teacher tried to best him—call him out on his inattentiveness—he’d stand up, remove his headphones, and school the teacher with an improvised lecture that bettered whatever dullness was stenciled on the chalkboard.

He’d then sit down and reapply his headphones.

He died early—27? 28? Somewhere in that Joplin-Cobain-Morrison range.

He had Marfan’s disease. So when he stood up at the back of the classroom, he was 7’2”, with an uncomfortable back-brace. Imagine Lincoln without the stovetop hat, but rather long black hair. Coke-bottle glasses and a Social Distortion t-shirt.

“You’re wrong, Mr. Fields. Paul Revere was forced to resign out of the army after the Penedscot Expedition. And the ‘Redcoats are coming’? He never said that. Don’t get me started about the horse ride. The British captured him and he confessed to everything. American hero? Maybe, but this Longfellow poem you’re teaching is ridiculous.”

It’s no wonder that in most photographs I see of Cousin Johnny, he’s extending a middle finger, made even more expressive by virtue of his Marfan’s. Longest bird you can imagine.

I’m like my cousin Johnny. I’m like my Uncle John. I’m like my grandfather John. Just in different ways.

Uncle John’s heart was so calcified with plaque that a stint failed last night. His aortic valve literally cracked, and he bled.

My cousin, my uncle’s son, was in front of a grocery store in Sacramento—’93 I think—and he collapsed suddenly on the sidewalk, in front of what I imagine a melon display because I like to make shit up. Could’ve been apples. We get facts wrong.

A tousle of black hair on the sidewalk, a long torso. Johnny’s aortic artery had separated from the heart. His stepmother, in an act of grave coincidence, was there to see it, once the ambulances had arrived.

It’s common for people afflicted with Marfan’s, this sudden aortal separation.

Hank Gathers, another Marfan’s sufferer, and a collegiate leader in scores and rebounds at Loyola, 1990, did one last slam-dunk before falling on the court dead. Proof you can literally die of a broken heart. His aorta separated, too, somewhere between air and floor.

At my Uncle John’s house, years ago, I was playing basketball with Cousin Johnny and he was ironic before I even had an inkling of what ‘ironic’ meant. He passed the ball back and forth to me, though he hated when everyone asked him: ‘Do you play basketball?’ He happened to be a foot and a half taller than everyone else, and would flip a bird to anyone that asked about a perhaps basketball career. He had good retorts, too. He was caustically smart. He housed a Wildean wit that was sandpapered with a gritty touch of Carlin.

(“Wow—you’re tall! Think about basketball?”

“You’re fat. Think about Weight Watchers?” )

Still, he would gentle the ball to me, then do a feet-on-the-floor dunk in deference of his ability. We’d get purposely bored and retire to his room to play records and Dungeons and Dragons.

Fuck basketball.

Johnny would clear half the bookshelves and send me home with a grip of sci-fi novels, an occasional record.

“You need to read this,” he’d say, selecting a book, “Oh—and this, and this one too.”

Like I have to do now, he’d look through the bottom of his bifocals to read the spines. His retinas were in the slow process of detaching because Marfan’s has a way of not keeping things together.

Johnny smoked with my Uncle John, also my grandpa. Uncle John, at some point, was smoking four packs of Winstons a day. A pack before work, a few sundries on the way to the office. He worked at CalTrans, was the guy in charge beneath the gubernatorial appointee. All his meetings were held outside. As he’d say: “I need to get a breath of fresh air”, while lighting one up.

My grandpa, too, had the nervous habit of always reaching into his front pocket, looking for a smoke. He started smoking when he was nine, working on the dairies and milking cows with a pipe dangling from his lips. Stooled behind a cow’s haunches, yanking cow tits, exhaling blue smoke upwards into the hayloft. He had a sense of humor and a love of animals. The barn kittens would parade in, and he’d squirt them in the face with yellowish sow-milk until the cats started arriving in coteries.

Later in life he had half a lung removed.

My Uncle John saw my Grandpa be taken away, institution-bound. We still don’t know how. It was supposed to be in secret.

Uncle John said it changed everything.

My Grandpa was flown from California to Bethesda in Denver, Colorado, for a spell. He had local places, too, where he personed the white rooms, briefly, before escaping out windows. He’d arrive home with nonplus and a cane. Then resume where he left off.

No one questioned anything. Or maybe they did. What the fuck do I know? I’m just left with my own particular shades of John, and with three Johns currently gone who is left to properly ask?

I just know it was hard for all parties, that there’s rippling consequence. ‘Sins of the fathers’ is the proverb, but sickness is not sin; it’s not a chosen thing. Especially since all parties involved sat in straight-backed pews at the Dutch Reformed church where pre-determination was Calvin’s guiding doctrine—when exactly do you get to choose your choice?

I don’t know who even to ask about myself: it’s all a sort of an inside-out Mobius, where I’m just left with me at the end of the strip, ad infinitum.

I played chess with my Uncle John years ago. I was eight. He looked like I do now, with a white beard and signal wrinkles around the eyes. He was amused that I’d battle him at chess, and we did in the great room, with my grandfather’s chessboard on a table draped in woolen damask. He was drinking a Pepsi, quick to finish, so that he could ash in the can. He was a Berkeley graduate, had his dad’s smarts. He harbored a lit cigarette in between his thumb and forefinger, the cherry just shy of the palm. The smoke would pass through his curled fingers.

“Your move.”

I moved my pawn—k-chunk—and he chuckled.

He moved his bishop.

I pushed a knight.

He kept moving his pieces into my territory, but I fought him off with pawns. It’s how young kids strategize, unless you’re something Fischer. The family gathered.

I used to play dice games with my Grandpa, which was less of a spectator sport. Roll the bones—did you get twelve? My grandpa would touch the tip of his tongue to his nose, I’d laugh, and we’d keep rolling dice on the green velvet board he stored near the television. Six, snake-eyes, the somehow rare threes. We’d play dice not looking to win. No one can win dice; no one wins Tic-tac-toe. My Grandpa would say something in Dutch and I’d pretend to understand. We’d just roll again and again and there was no competition, only the throw of the bones, the muted sound of ivory on velvet.

Uncle John fought me hard, though, in this particular chess game, he ashing his Winstons into a Pepsi can, chuckling the whole while. The game took too long and the ash of his cigarette got equally exaggerated, the errant tobacco drifting like spent moth-things as he poised over the board, hand unflickingly still over the damask.

Uncle John—I look like him, down to the stubborn genetic fact that our moustaches and goatees refuse to communicate with the rest of our beards. They retain color. We’re VanDykeish by default.

Van because we’re Dutch, not Von. Von’s are German, and my Grandpa VanBerkel used to—in occupied Holland—sneak out at night with his friends and sabotage the Messerschmitts parked beneath the windmills. I’m not exactly sure how, but he’d stay out late enough to have to hide in trenches, curfew expired, waiting for morning till he could run home unnoticed. Life and death amid the haystacks.

My uncle extinguished his last cigarette and I forget who won. Szzzz. I just remember him smiling impishly, and pushing back from the table.

In one version of memory, I won. Sometimes I’m convinced of this. Then I reconsider.

He most likely won.

I just remember the side conversation, the family watching, and me fighting up the board with my pawns, sitting cross-legged on a chair too big for me, and me actually making it into my Uncle John’s territory, a victory in itself.

Again, I’m no Fischer.

But we’re Dutch, we’re stubborn. You have to earn your win, else tilt at windmills in imaginary triumph. No one’s allowed an easy victory.

I’m sure my Uncle John beat me, his black bishops cutting up my defense.

Meanwhile Cousin Johnny asked me: ‘There’s a demon guarding the corridor—what do you do?’

Grandpa rolled threes. “Yah—you need a five, now,” while swiping for a cigarette, while I shook the ivories.

What are my chances? A kid elbow-deep in the damask, second-hand smoking with a view of the sea figs and eucalyptus just out the window, spent pawns toppled, a blindness to the mirror? I need a five, a king left standing, a demon vanquished. What are my chances? How do I win? Can I win?

I roll the dice; I tell Johnny—“I’m casting a ‘magic missile’.” It misses.

I roll the dice. I get snake eyes, and my grandpa lights a cigarette.

I roll the dice; I fold my king.

All three gambles lost.

All Johns say, “Sorry.” I lose I lose I lose.

My grandfather died one year before the Challenger blew up; it’s how I remember the date. I saw my Uncle John one year later at his home in a Sacramento suburb. It was a long drive for a nine-year old and I pissed myself while climbing the stairs, his Pekingese barking at my ankles. I hid in a closet, my uncle the now patriarch, with me scared that I had ruined his carpet having accidentally stained the stairwell.

I was given reprieve. My uncle was celebrating with a cigarette, his recent radiographs white between the ribs.

“Totally clean!” he exclaimed, ecstatic at the doctor’s latest report. And we got to celebrate with him, and I got to not be in trouble having dribbled up the upstairs.

My grandpa died with COPD, one and a half lungs and black x-rays. My uncle, meanwhile, had luminary radiographs, a gamble won.

Cue Sinatra: “Luck be a lady tonight!”

I was forgiven the piss, but I was scared of my uncle, regardless. He wore a brown leather jacket, which crinkled like his eyes. He was clean like an open chess board, a chess board where the bishop can make a sweeping and diagonal take of a pawn.

I was nine years old in wet shorts, ashamed, and even the dog was barking at me.

Cousin Johnny was upstairs playing records. I was nervous around Uncle John.

But fast-forward a number of years.

“Uncle John—I think about Johnny often.”

“I see him in you. You know, of all the kids you remind me most of Johnny.”

Cancer got Uncle John in the ass, a double procedure on the prostate, which must be one of life’s jokes. Blow smoke up your ass, out your ass—whatever—but have clear lungs after four packs a day? That is a lottery dubiously won, just simply re-mapped. A cartographic flip of the north-south.

I used to bang on my Grandpa’s pump-organ, and he’d tell me that—wow—I’d just played ‘How Great Thou Art’.

My cousin would emerge from his room, loping like some cryptozoological beast, black-mopped and long-fingered, having needed his spine to rest. He would get a glass of water and take a cigarette.

They’d have their smokes on the patio, the three of them.

One time, Cousin Johnny pretended a joke, in which case he collapsed on my Grandfather’s lawn, south of the jade and in the sun, tousled black hair untied and falling in his face. He bit a blood capsule, a Hollywood effect, and pretended to die in the grass, rivulets of red streaming from his lips. We tried for fifteen minutes to revive him, until we actually got scared.

“Johnny?”
He popped upand proclaimed, ‘Boo!’ with a red mouth and stained t-shirt. He tickled us and wrestled us to the ground, and we laughed in the shadow of the pepper tree.

“You remind me of Johnny.”

“He looks like Pop.”

“He looks like you.”

Johnny. John. John.

In that chess game, I fought my damndest. Weren’t we all playing chess, no winners. John saw my grandpa taken away, which is the worst way to lose your king.

Johnny had red smeared on his face and grass on his cheek.

“Boo!” he said with fingers outstretched like a Kreskin, suddenly coming back to life while I fell, surprised, onto my back, short of breath, a car slowly descending the driveway, and there meanwhile being bees in the pergola where my Uncle John smoked and smoked and regarded the fresh air.