by DCH Park“I don’t remember what day of the week it was, but it must’ve been a Saturday or Sunday. I used to work a nine-to-five job back then and I remember spending the whole day with you. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t the weekend.”
Jefferson was listening to his father. It was getting late in the afternoon. The sunlight on the floor was decidedly angled and creating shadows that stretched halfway across the room. He looked at the window. He couldn’t see the sun yet but it would probably shine through the glass soon. He shifted slightly so that when it did it wouldn’t shine in his eyes.
“My boss wouldn’t have allowed that…” His father was still talking. “It’s funny though. I can remember spending time with you like it was yesterday. Even from something like this, from when you were a little, tiny person, but I can’t even remember his name…”
After a moment, he continued, “You’d think if I remembered anything, it’d be his name…” He thought about it, losing sight of the here and now.
“Hm. I guess that’s as good an indication as any of what’s really important. It doesn’t matter how much time you spend with someone or trying to do something. The things you remember, the things that’re important, stand out. They come back easily and clearly, even if they only occupy a single moment in time.”
They sat in silence as that unfolded. Henry’s eyes glinted a tiny bit. They were facing each other in a drawing room. Their over-stuffed chairs were soft and inviting. Jefferson saw his dad run his hand over the upholstery of the chair arm, admiring its texture. He noticed that he was rubbing his hand over the upholstery, too. How long had that been going on?
He noticed the smell that lingered over the place. It was like a palpable thing that had, for reasons of its own, moved into the house; an invisible resident of the house, always present, never seen. His dad didn’t seem to notice.
He supposed that every living thing had to have its own smell. After all, bloodhounds had to smell something and there were two people living in the house now – his father and step-mother. Did he have a smell? He supposed that he had to. That thought bothered him. “What about that weekend, dad? What stands out for you?”
“Hm…” Henry let the conversation dangle as he rummaged through his memories. He was silent for so long that Jefferson almost said something but just as he was about to speak up, Henry continued. “Sand. I remember sand. And the smell of the ocean. What do you remember?”
“I don’t remember anything of that day.”
“Yeah, I guess you were about 1½. Probably too young. It was before we moved across country. We were still in New York. I don’t know where your mother was that day. I guess I was already doing things alone with you, even though she and I were years away from the divorce.”
He paused. The divorce had been a sore subject once, but that had been a long time ago. Henry was fine now. He had been for a long time. He had gotten used to the fact that his first marriage had failed. In fact, that failure was a vital part of his growth. The divorce itself was a part of a healing process that had led to many important insights for him. It was an early part of the process but it was an important part.
For reasons of his own, though, Jefferson had been angry. He’d nursed a grudge for a long time – long after his parents’ divorce was final. He’d fed it and it had grown. As it grew, it seemed to consume him. He’d let it grow to the point that it threatened to eclipse his whole life. But that was over now. Maybe the anger was a necessary part of his growth. Either way, Jefferson had gotten to the point where he was constantly amazed with how life unfolded.
“Anyway,” Henry went on, “we were living in New York City and I took it into my head for some reason to take you to the beach. I don’t think you’d ever seen the ocean before. I didn’t bother trying to explain it. I just said that we were going someplace special and that you would enjoy it. That was enough. That was enough for you.” Henry’s voice trailed off.
“You had complete faith in me.” He was quiet for a long time.
“You used to love water. Any water, really, but especially moving water. Do you still?”
“I don’t know.” said Jefferson. “I hadn’t really thought about it.” He thought about it. Henry waited.
“… but I notice now that I don’t associate movement with water. When I think of water, there may be waves but the body of water is still. I have to remind myself that there’s movement.
“When I think of movement I picture people dancing across a dance floor or machinery moving – or their parts, anyway. Solid things. I don’t picture moving water.”
“Maybe that’s why moving water was so fascinating for you.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
“You used to stare contentedly at a river or a lake. You wouldn’t budge. You could stare at it for hours. The larger the body of water was, the more fascination it seemed to hold for you. Maybe it was the promise it seemed to carry.
“You could gaze at a fountain forever. I remember pushing you through a mall in a stroller and coming across a fountain. We watched the fountain for a while. When I tried to leave, you complained. You didn’t want to leave! You were so disappointed.” He trailed off again, remembering the baby Jefferson used to be. After a moment he continued.
“So anyway, on that day we drove to Jones Beach. At least I think it was Jones Beach…
“It was late enough in the season that the beach was pretty much deserted. I remember a boardwalk. It was still fairly new back then.
“When you caught your first sight of the ocean, you stood transfixed. You were young enough that you didn’t have many words, yet, but I could feel your wonder. It seemed like you’d never guessed that there could be so much water in the world.
“You just stared at the waves and the vastness of the water. As I recall, you finally moved only because you wanted to stay with me.
“Together we crossed the parking lot and stepped onto the boardwalk. It curved to the right, out onto the beach and around the building where they sold snacks and drinks but the building was closed.
“We must have walked over a mile out along the boardwalk. You were a little guy, so that was a long way for you but you weren’t tired. You almost danced along, watching the water.
“After a while I noticed that the sand had gotten into your shoes and socks. I sat you down on the next bench that we passed with your legs pointing straight out. Even so, your ankles just cleared the edge of the bench. I took your shoes off and they were tiny in my hand. I knocked them against the bench. Then I took off your socks, turned them inside-out, and shook the sand out of the little loops and fibers. Then, after turning them back, I brushed your feet off, tops and bottoms but mostly the soles of your feet. I remember the feel of your feet in my hand.
“I even went between your little toes and into the crevice between your toes and the balls of your feet to make sure no sand remained. Then I pulled your socks and shoes back on before you hopped down.
“You smiled at me and watched me, the water completely forgotten. After that, you wanted to sit down on every bench we passed. You even got sand in your socks deliberately.” Henry smiled, remembering. He was quiet for a while. Then he said, “It was an extraordinary moment that we shared together although you don’t remember it. I never told anyone about it before…
“…it’s been a private memory. I wasn’t hiding it from anyone. It was just something that only I held…”
He sat silently and then said with a sigh, “I never thought about it that way before – as something private or just mine. I’ve only ever been aware of the care it showed. Of the amount of care that we both had for each other. I don’t know if you knew how much you empowered my life…
He caught himself, lost in the rush of emotions. All of his airways suddenly seemed too small and his tongue rolled to the back of his mouth but his mouth was dry. Nevertheless he made several swallowing motions to release the tension. When his throat relaxed enough for him to continue, Henry concluded, “…I liked it, too.” A tiny tear formed in the corner of one eye. Henry wiped it away.
They sat together for a while, each one seeing his own silent world yet each one keeping the other company. Then Henry said, “I can’t remember the walk back or the drive home but I remember walking along the boardwalk with you and you wanting to sit down on every bench we passed and give me your feet. I remember cleaning your feet.”
After a while Jefferson said, “Thanks, Dad. I never knew.”
Then he said, “Brooke is waiting for me. I said that I would meet her.”
He got up and headed for the door. He called over his shoulder, “I’ll see you next time!” Then he was gone.
Henry sat in his chair and savored the evening. At last he got up and padded through the door and down the hall. He entered the kitchen and switched on the light. The dogs were both in their crate, eagerly sitting up and vigorously wagging their tails. It was time for their walk and they knew it.
“Okay, okay, you guys. I haven’t forgotten.” Henry opened the door to the crate and they exploded out and bounded to the door. Chuckling, he followed and grabbed their leashes and the little strap-on rosin bag that they used to carry treats and bags.
Helen would be home soon. He clipped the leashes to their collars and followed them out into the gathering night. He smiled into the dark as they went on their walk together.
© 2015, David Park. All Rights Reserved.
”Sand Gets In-Between Your Toes” by DCH Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.