FEATURE

We Call on Spring: A Short Story

by Belinda McKeon ’10SOA Published Spring 2013
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On the Friday night that my mother asked me to come to the doctor’s with her the next morning, and explained the purpose of her visit, I burst into tears, and my mother looked sharply at me and said, I don’t know what you’re getting so upset about; I’m the one it’s happening to, and I’m the one who has to tell your father — which is something, incidentally, which has yet to be done. That is my mother down to a tee, to phrase it in a way that perhaps might help the doctor to more easily understand her — or to understand her at all, which quite clearly he does not, going on the way he spoke to her yesterday, as though she was an old woman and not my mother, who is fifty-seven, and has skin of the kind I’d quite like to have now, actually; no, I’m serious. And also — have I mentioned this? — my mother is on Facebook. Properly on it, too, with a proper, witty Facebook persona, not in the way that most people’s parents are on there, either lurking wordlessly as at the door of a room containing their teenage children, or running off at the mouth in all lowercase or all rowdy caps, with the punctuation skills of a fly.

What I mean is: this must be a mistake. “That doctor,” I say now to Michael. “That doctor. I don’t know about him.”

“But he did talk to other doctors,” Michael says.

“Well, who knows anything about them?” I say, and this time I do push, with a toe, at a poppadum. Michael looks at it: he can’t help himself. He went to a boarding school, and he has never been able to approach mealtime as anything other than a race for seconds.

“Do you want those?” I say, nodding toward the poppadums. “I just got these socks. They’re new. I only put them on this evening for the first time. They haven’t even been inside my shoes.”

“No, no,” says Michael, and he smiles at me, and he reaches a hand to my cheek, and he strokes me there: softly, so tenderly. God, it strikes me. He thinks I’m being nice. He’s thinking how lovely I am, at a time like this, for thinking of him.

Michael: I got him at a party. I took him for myself; he’d come there with my friend. My then friend, I should say, but what odds; she and Michael were only together a couple of weeks, and she and I weren’t close friends anyway, and now we’re Facebook friends, so it’s as though nothing ever happened. Something did happen, though, and it happened at that party; it was in a narrow room, with a back door that spilled out into a narrow yard, and I was in the yard, where the smokers and the hanging outdoor lights and the barbecue smells were, and I glanced for some reason into the house, and he was taller than anyone else in the room, and he was handsome, properly handsome, not just cute the way most boys of my acquaintance were at that stage, which was to say, they were good-looking for as long as the good looks of their early twenties would last: Michael’s looks were carved into him, and when, months later, I met his father and his brothers, I understood why, and how. Which is to say, yes, I was shallow, and I went after him for the way he looked, and everything else — and there was, it turned out quite to my astonishment, so much else — was a bonus.

Michael and I still look odd together, though we have by now both grown into the way we look, blurring the edges a fair bit, but back then, ten or twelve years ago, there were a number of people who were ready to believe that our being together was some kind of performance art. Because I am what the Americans call homely, which I discovered when an American told me I was homely and then went to great trouble to correct my misunderstanding that this was to do with a fondness for cushions and interiors magazines. I’m just ordinary-looking, the fact is; I did not get my mother’s skin, as I’ve mentioned, and I did not get her cheekbones, and I did not get her frame. I got most things from my father, including his charm, which is what I put to work on Michael that night, and how I found myself, three years later, walking up an aisle with one of those men and back down the same aisle with the other one. Charisma: people have it wrong, I think, when they talk about it, that business of being able to convince someone, in the moment that you’re speaking to him, that he’s the only person in the world. It’s not that. It’s not about focus, or intensity, or effort. It’s about a kind of shape shifting; it’s the ability to turn yourself, for those two minutes or ten minutes or two hours or twelve years — though it runs on empty a bit at the twelve-year point, admittedly — into precisely the kind of person your interlocutor is seeking, even — especially — if he doesn’t know it himself. It’s about reading cues at such a deep and constant level, and so unthinkingly, that you’re doing something which must, surely, be meant for a marsh or a mountain forest, not for a pub or a party or a funeral meal, or wherever my father and I are to be found in our natural habitats.

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