“Did I tell you that when your sister and me went to Savannah, we saw a Psychic?” my mother says that last word in her Scottsboro accent, rather than her native east- Tennessee one, “Sigh-kick.” I’m charmed and curious all at once.
“Really? So what did she say?”
“She said, ‘Now, Marty, who have you lost in the recent past?’ ”
I take in a deep breath. Try not to spill the whiskey and soda I’m drinking on the other end of the line. Sudden, flashback.
I drank at every airport and on every plane from Burlington to Nashville on the flight to my father’s funeral. Someone told me recently that, traditionally, Jews say Kaddish (the mourner’s prayer) once a day for a year after the death of a parent. My father died in November. My birth month. It is the middle of June. I breathe out.
“Wow,” was all I could manage to say. Take another sip.
“Yeah, and you know what else?” my mother begins and begins again before I can answer, “She said that I’d never get married again, but that I’d meet somebody, very soon.”
I swallow the rest of my drink and head to the freezer for more ice. Alcoholism was never so tempting. I drown the two cubes in Jameson as a salute to my Scotch-Irish heritage. Pour in the soda, and watch the entire thing fizz until the two colors blend into one.
“What do you think about that?” I ask, the bubbles tickling my nose.
“Oh, I don’t know-I don’t need a man,” she laughs at her own joke.
“Nahh. I got my cats.”
I hear the clink of Meow Mix hitting a porcelain bowl. I am home. I am on a plane to an unfamiliar place. I am back in Burlington. I close my eyes. I try to imagine an unfamiliar person in a familiar place. I think of my father. Probably for the first time since his death. That word, death, so familiar in its unfamiliarity.
My mother continues.
“Then she asked me, ‘Did he have someone-an Aunt or Grandmother-that he respected and adored who died before him?’ And of course I said Hilda or aunt Bonnie.”
“I had no idea he was that close to Hilda, or Bonnie.”
“Oh yes, Ashley, don’t you remember going to Florida all those years?”
“And swimming in Hilda’s pool?”
“Yes, but I thought-”
“Ashley, he adored them.”
I had a thought. My mother wanted my father to adore her. Then another thought. My father adored my mother. This was the story I would choose, above all others. And it was true, and true, and more true. The more I told it.
I continue the thought.
My mother continues, “She said he didn’t die alone, that one of them came to get him.” I assume this means that my father was carried up to heaven by one of the women he adored most.
“Then she said, ‘He wants you to know that he loved you, but never knew how to say it.’ ”
More whiskey. It’s all I know at this point.
“And then the Psychic said, ‘Whenever you doubt his love for you, just look for the color blue,’ and do you know what, Ashley, I looked out the window just now and saw a bluebird flying into the birdhouse out back.”
“Are you sure that was a bluebird, or a Blue Jay?”
I’m not sure why I questioned my mother’s ornithology skills. I think I was also searching for my father. I wanted my own signal, and a few days before this conversation I saw it-
A nineteen-seventies tan Dodge truck that had been converted into a flatbed. The Dodge-the truck my father had when he tried to impress my mother, subsequently getting it stuck in the mud, somewhere in the northern Alabama mountains.
It was parked on a side street in Winooski. On the way back to the car from a date, I saw it, stopped dead in my tracks, and said to someone, “I love you too.” I’m sure I was saying it to my father. I keep saying it. Over and over.
My mother sees blue. I see a truck. Many trucks. I sat in the passenger seat last night, on the way to a friend’s house. A host of trucks, like a flock of chickens, flooding my view. Every truck that passed into view was another message from Dad, saying, “Honey…”
I don’t know how to finish that line, because I don’t think he knew how. Tonight, a close friend said to me, “I believe people are drawn together, no matter the setting.” I watch a moth bang against the window. I am drawn, and I am drawing.
Last night, I had the honor naming one of my friend’s chickens. And I named it “Fennel.” I am naming my life. I am naming my love for my father, only if I had a name for it. I watched a sun set. I am watching a watched pot. I vow it to never boil.