by Jo-Anne Cappeluti
For my granddaughters, Aria and Emma
Two days after turning fifty, a daughter went to her father’s grave, on the day after the day her brother arranged for the funeral—on the one day she couldn’t come. She reminded her brother that she had said that was the one day she couldn’t come, but he said he’d already changed the day three times, for each of the three brothers, so that was that. So she knew from the messages she’d received on her answer machine that her brother hadn’t told anyone why she couldn’t come—saying only, She won’t come.
One message she got was from her older brother who said not to ruin it for everyone. For once she should not just think of herself. Another message was from her aunt, who said Not coming shows disrespect.
But the daughter came on the day after the day, knowing she’d be late and that her father would know she was there out of love, and agree with her that a grave wasn’t a final resting place where, as her father had always joked, People were dying to get in. A grave was more like a depot—a place to wait, say, for a train, and that took her back to when she was only two and a half, with her father, waiting in the snow for a train that seemed as if it would never come.
She remembered the cold coming out of her and her father’s mouth whenever they spoke, how every time she’d ask when he would say Before you know it, something she didn’t understand, a riddle of sorts that led her to keep asking when again and again. And she also remembered when the train finally pulled in, and a flock of shrieking, Canada geese started to rise, and her father lifted her two-something self, asking her See? and how she was drawn to his eyes instead, faraway behind his glasses, her on one side, him on another.
That reminded her of just last week when she called her father, and he said Talk about out of the blue—and by the way, he was waiting for his ride to the dentist—then out of her mouth, before she knew what was happening, she said she knew that his ride would come before he knew it, at which point herself at fifty was overwhelmed with all that meant, not just to her but also to him—as he talked on and on and she went deeper into her thoughts until her fifty self heard him saying Hello? Hello? Are you there? Where did you go?
In a way that’s what happened at his grave. One minute she was reading his name then the next knowing he was gone, his ride had come—he was going somewhere over there, but the next she felt as if he were whispering in her ear, wondering why they kept missing each other through the years, and she didn’t know what to say or do: he was somehow alive, somehow here yet over there, in an odd way how it had felt the last time they had talked on the phone. It was funny that he was the one who had asked at one point, Where did you go? and after she said, I’m right here, he laughed and said she wasn’t here. She was there. And she had laughed back, saying she was here, and he over there. And then there was silence—until he blurted out something about how glad he was they had moved away from all that snow—and his ride was here. He had to go.
And his daughter found herself back at his grave after being on the phone last week and being only two and a half, realizing her accomplishment in being nearly half a century early—not late—at his grave as if it were the place she remembered waiting with him for that black horizon to move in, like her father had said, before she knew it and how he lifted her to see, and she was drawn to his eyes instead—faraway, behind his glasses, making her feel a pull between her on one side and him on another.
And walking away from his grave, looking down at the ground, and how it seemed so faraway, she remembered her feet dangling as he asked her See?
And she asks her granddaughters, now age ten, every time she tells the story if it seems to end before they know it, and they have a faraway look on their face, which their dad—their grandmother’s son—sees as a sign it’s over their head, but her granddaughters answer their grandmother’s question by talking about how they like how it felt when their dad lifted them when they were little and how it feels when your feet don’t reach—how it makes you feel far away—and really close.
Jo-Anne Cappeluti earned her Ph.D. in English at the University of California at Riverside and taught a lot of creative writing over the course of thirty years at California State University, Fullerton. She continues in retirement now to ponder and write about the imagination-driven creative process in which the writer’s imagination explores what it finds to be numinous events, people, and objects that invite and goad the writer’s—and reader’s—intellect to examine truths that by their nature can neither be proven nor disproven.