Home > Love in the Present Tense(9)

Love in the Present Tense(9)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

“What’s rosy?”


“Yuh,” he said. “I know.”

He was just a kid. Five years old. He swore he understood the difference between the two birds but I was sure he had simply transposed the names, descriptions, and reputations.

It never occurred to me at the time that even with those big thick glasses he couldn’t see well enough to tell the two apart.

LEONARD, age 17: photo, last name, father

I have no photos of Pearl. Not one. At least, none that survived her leaving.

I have a strong memory of her, a mental picture of her face, looking down on me with love. From the minute I was born, I think. She believed in looking down on her baby, me, with a face full of joy. Welcoming, she said. She said we should all be welcomed into the world with joy. I remember her telling this at length to Rosalita, who I used to think was my grandmother, when we went to visit her. Turns out she wasn’t, though. So, grandparents. Another thing I don’t have. I should add that to the list.

Thing is, because I have no photo, I can no longer picture her face. I still see and feel her looking down on me with love, but I can’t re-create that Pearl face, that sweet child. So now all I see is the love. Which, actually, is not such a bad deal. You could do a lot worse.

Every young man thinks his mother is an angel. The Madonna, beyond reproach. And I guess I’m no exception.

But there are two things I wanted from her and never got. Two things I begged her to tell me but she never did. I wanted to know who my father was. And I wanted to know my last name.

Better not to know, she said. Trust me on this, she said.

I wanted to trust her. I meant to. But then instead I memorized the name she gave when she took me to the clinic. I couldn’t help it. Said it over and over so I wouldn’t forget. But I didn’t know how to spell it. I could only sound it out in my head. It was like, Dim…eat…tree.

I learned it just in time for her to tell me: Forget it. It isn’t ours anyway.

She was scared of something. I wonder sometimes if what she was scared of is what got her in the end. It doesn’t always work that way, you know. Sometimes we think we know what to fear. We never turn our back on it. Then something else we never thought of comes along. I wonder if what finally caught her in the end was something she feared all that time, or something she never would have thought of.

I’m thinking all this as I work on the hang glider in the half-dark. I’m working by candlelight. Because what I’m doing, it’s this taping thing. I went out and bought ten rolls of duct tape. Sounds crazier than it is. The duct tape doesn’t have to hold it all together. The fabric is also sewn. The tape just seals flat all the fabric edges so the wind can’t get underneath.

I was told you can also use wax, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I kept thinking about Icarus, flying too close to the sun. I don’t know how close I might get. I don’t want to commit.

While I’m feeling the tape under my fingers, smoothing it down, feeling each edge adhere to the fabric, taut and perfect, I’m thinking about the last time I saw Pearl. The way she grabbed hold of my arm and yanked me down the street toward Mitch’s house. Very sudden. I knew she had seen something, but I didn’t look around. I was only five. I never got to see what she saw. I think about that a lot now. I had a chance to see the devil, the bogeyman, but I didn’t look over my shoulder. I was just thinking about getting to Mitch’s house. Wondering if he got that new computer game he promised me. I didn’t know it was an important moment. I guess you never do.

Now Jake comes in and sits in the garage with me. “Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” I say back.

“You’re crazy,” he says.

“We been through this before.”

“No, I mean, turn on the light.”

“Don’t need the light. This is something I’m better to do by feel.”

It’s like blindness, a subject I feel qualified to speak about. It turns up my sense of touch. I am feeling tautness, smoothness. I am better off, just in this moment, without my eyes.

The candlelight throws a great huge shadow of the bird craft onto the rafters of the garage. It’s breathtaking, really. The aluminum frame is covered with fabric now, but the candlelight bleeds through it like an X-ray, stripping it bare and showing its bones. It’s almost a religious thing. To look at, I mean. I think even Jake is filled with a certain reverence.

Now I’m thinking about Pearl coming into the hospital to hold me when I was all tiny and premature. I don’t know how prematurely I was born but I get a sense from her stories that it was a big deal. I’m thinking about how she fought the nurses for the right to look down at me with that welcoming love. There were visiting hours, but she more or less told them to kiss her ass. Not that I remember this exactly but I remember being told. And I believe I have some trace memory of that beam of welcoming love.

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