By Bill Vernon
After the long, frozen winter, aware this might be my last springtime here, I walk outside and in the welcome, newly come warmth wish the cold and the snow were still present. That would give me the extra time I could use deciding about the Marines, whether to enlist. The end of high school’s approaching, the end of childhood, so do I have to leave home, too? Then a mourning dove lands on a high branch, which trembles as if it will break.
My attention shifts onto the bird, which becomes perfectly balanced and coos. I lean on his maple tree down by the roots, and the rough bark cushions my shoulder. The bird swivels its head and watches me as well. We stare at each other a while as wings flutter, and another, the mate I assume, settles down by the dove. All three of us remain as still as things grown out of the wood.
I look around us as if trying to notice what I ought to remember. There is the ground I’m standing on, the pale, dormant grass we haven’t mown since my father died two years ago. It lies matted like wild hair, rain-pounded, iced down and thawed many times. Our tree is almost bare today, but in the day’s final sunshine it glows, the leaf buds red on the stems. Uphill, out of the valley we’re in, puffs of smoke stream from neighborhood chimneys. Downhill from us, the little creek shimmers, cleaning its bed of limestone and gravel.
The beauty of it all seems to gather somewhere in back of my eyes, making me think that the hillside and the valley are pregnant. That the creek is washing her feet. That we are all waiting here at the breast of the earth.
Then farther off my family intrudes. The collie that’s been yelping for rabbits in brush-piles now rushes up and runs her golden white coat under my hand. She sits against me, trembling with joy, insisting we touch. While we lean on the tree, the doves’ feathers swell, and a breeze reaches us all, stroking our faces.
In the distance a door in the house slams and the dog races that way. She’s so excited seeing her playmate, she leaps all around him. For a few seconds the child’s arms support the dog’s paws. Then they’re both running to me.
That house over there is our home. It holds my family, the valley holds our house, the sky and the earth are holding us all.
When Tommy arrives with the dog, I finger my lips, “Shh,” and point the boy’s eyes at my doves. Several minutes together we all stare at our birds. Then the boy’s warm fingers close on mine and pull. Softly he says, “Supper time. Mom wants you to come in and wash up.”
Hand-in-hand we walk home, the dog at our side. We are halfway there when I hear piano chords drifting through the closed basement windows. My father is at the piano in my mind, playing one of the Disney songs he liked, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” I can see myself sitting on the bench beside him, singing along.
Dad is no more in our den, what we call our rec room, than I am. As usual, my mother is in the kitchen preparing our dinner, having already set the dining room table. The aroma of food will be rich. The doves will still be cooing behind us. The boy’s heart is leading me on. And I will be calling the Marine Corps recruiter tomorrow.
Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel OLD TOWN in 2005.