By John Brantingham
Catherine is picking loquats in her backyard, putting them into a paper sack, when Jack’s bark lets her know that Becky’s finally arrived. Catherine doesn’t mind her lateness. Parenthood makes a person late.
“I told you not to come.”
Becky leans down and scratches Jack’s chin. “I’m not going to let you be alone today.”
Catherine thought that Becky truly was concerned about her. Maybe Becky thinks that too, but today Catherine sees pain in her face, emptiness. She wants her parents to find happiness in each other. She says, “I was never right for him. Deena makes him happy.” This is not the right thing to say to her because there is no right thing to say to her. Becky wants permanence in a world of instability.
“Come here,” she says. “Sit down.” The two women sit cross-legged in the grass beneath the tree. Catherine was going to give the loquats to her to give to her ex-husband, instead, she offers to the open mouth of the bag to the little girl who is still alive inside her daughter.
Becky takes one and bites into the meat of the fruit, and she begins to cry. “Hey, no,” she says. “Everything is fine,” but words are not what she needs.
Catherine crawls the short space between them on her hands and knees and kisses her daughter’s cheek. She closes her eyes because she doesn’t want to start crying herself. Her kiss is gentle and firm.
Becky says, “What am I going to do now?”
“You’re going to learn to love Deena, and you’re going to love your father. You’re going to see that life can be sweet.”
Jack lies next to them now. He closes his eyes and comforts them in his sleep.
John Brantingham is the first poet laureate of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. His work has been featured in hundreds of magazines and in Writer’s Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016. He has published 11 books of poetry and fiction, including “The Green of Sunset” from Moon Tide Press.