We Call on Spring: A Short Story

by Belinda McKeon ’10SOA Published Spring 2013
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And then sometimes we forget for a moment and we charm one another, my father and I. We let a bug get into the system. And these are the dangerous moments; these are the moments when the air in a room feels made out of tiny points of fire. Once upon a time, when I was new to him and when my having a mind of my own was only a source of darling comedy, this alignment of the mirrors must not have been a problem, but it is now, and Michael knows how to get me out of it; Michael knows how to catch my eye and remind me that over there is the door. And so Michael knows, too — of course he does — what is frightening me most about all of this.

“That’s a long way off yet,” he said to me this evening in the car.

“Look, your father will manage,” he also said, but he didn’t look at me as he said it.

And then, almost to himself: “You never know,” a note of hope tilting his tone upward, and in the instant after the words came out of his mouth he seemed so locked into the shock of having said them that my first response was to tell him to watch the road, and asking him what he had meant — though we both know what he had meant — came second. He did not answer me. How could he answer me? These are the kinds of things we must be careful never to put into words.

These are the moments when the air in a room feels made out of tiny points of fire.

Of course I am the one who should tell my father; or, at least, I should be there when it happens. My mother is waiting until next weekend to do it, because all this week my father will be under such pressure at school. My father is not at school, he is the headmaster of a school, and as they have been doing for the last twenty-five years at that school, they are adding on more rooms, they are expanding on the school’s footprint, and it is my father’s responsibility, this week, to see to it that the grant application for the newest addition is properly written, and properly submitted. He will be retired before they finish it, this new part of the school, but he is determined to get it started. He probably thinks that they’ll name it after him.

Actually, they probably will.

When we first moved into this house, Michael and I, the previous owners had left their blinds on all the downstairs windows. They were Venetian blinds, the plastic white kind, and even before we brought our furniture in, I said it to Michael, I said, those blinds have to go. Michael nodded. Oh, yeah, he said, we’ll get rid of them. But I meant they had to go straightaway, and so as soon as the first of the kitchen chairs was carried in through the door, I was up on it and I was lifting the first of the blinds out of their fixtures at the top of the window frames. I could not imagine spending even a day in the house with them, they reminded me so strongly of that school. Of weekday afternoons in the eighties, when it was my job to turn the rod and ease the room into darkness so that the projector could be turned on, and we could have the comhra, that clicking through the illustrated slides with which the teachers, one of them my father, had the job of teaching us to be able to string together a sentence — any sentence, sentences about shops and ice creams and fictional school days and fictional families — in the language they were duty-bound to force on us, the language we would drag with us until we were eighteen, when we could leave it, neglected and exhausted as an old mule, at the exam-hall door.

My God, what am I talking about: Irish? What does it matter whether I speak Irish or not? I wanted to get rid of those awful, off-white blinds; they were miserable-looking, they were mean. We replaced them with these wooden ones, or ones which, as the Argos catalogue put it, had the look of wood. And they do. They’re brown. They’re grained. They’re closed, now, against the night.

I think — it’s almost ten — that Michael would like to watch television, and so would I, but there is a thickness to our silence at the moment — there is a heartbeat to it — and I do not want, yet, to be without it. I pick, with a fingernail, at a piece of rice or something lodged between my teeth, and Michael sighs; perhaps he thinks I am biting my nails, out of stress, out of nervousness, out of fear. He leans forward a little so that he can see my face more fully. Naturally enough, he is waiting for me to cry. That would certainly make things — not easier exactly, but clearer. The moment would become the kind of moment with which we would both know precisely what to do. I would cry, and he would do things with his arms, his strong arms, his arms he has been taking to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday night. In other words, he has been in training for this moment for years: am I not going to give it to him? Cry it out, cry it flat, this thing, this broiling. But I can no more cry right now than I can sit down at a piano and play a concerto, or a symphony, or whatever it is that people play; whatever they decide to play, I suppose. What is actually worrying me is that I almost feel I could laugh. At what, exactly? But there it is, yes, there I can feel it again, coming up in me like carsickness. And not gateway laughter, either; I do not mean the kind of laughter that will dissolve pitifully into a vale of tears. I mean the giggles; I mean something extremely undignified and extremely wrong. I mean something appalling, so now I am acting the way I do when I am carsick: I am taking deep breaths, and keeping my eyes closed, and turning toward the living-room window beside me as though it is the window of a taxi, and I am leaning into it, counting down the streets to home. There is a wheel, and it will turn.

Belinda McKeon, an award-winning playwright and journalist, grew up on her parents’ farm in Ireland and now lives in Brooklyn with her husband. She is the author of a novel, Solace.

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