Eric Schwartz, “The Yellow Dress”

“I was thinking,” he said.
John’s words startled his son, Gabriel, who was watching a
baseball game on TV with the sound off. They were sitting together
in the small room where John lived. Most of the time, they sat in
silence, because most of the time John was lightly dozing. Doctors
don’t give out predictions, but everyone knew John didn’t have much
time. He was going downhill fast.
“Hi, Dad. I thought you were sleeping.”
“I was thinking. Nothing serious.”
“What were you thinking about?” Gabriel asked, although
he wasn’t terribly interested in the answer. In recent days, he had
listened politely several times to John’s scheme to generate power
from building small dams over all the small rivers in the country.
Gabriel was prepared for more of the same. His father prided
himself on coming up with solutions to pressing problems.
“Could you get me some of that ice water first?” John asked.
Gabriel got up, poured a glass from the plastic jug on the
counter, and brought it back to his dad.
“How are you feeling?” Gabriel asked.
“Oh, I’m fine,” John said with a gentle smile. Gabriel had
spent the last two days with him, and he had noticed that his dad
smiled much more than on his earlier visits, and much more than he
did in younger days. A softness that Gabriel had never known now
seemed to suffuse his father.
“I keep thinking about the sunlight on her. It’s funny. Just
that. The sunlight. And her yellow dress,” John said.
“Who are you talking about?”
“Your mom.”
Gabriel was taken aback. His mother had died 10 years ago,
about 30 years after she left his father. She had remarried nearly
immediately after the split, while his father stayed alone and sadly
stoic for more than decade. His mother had been garrulous about
her reasons for leaving, but his father never spoke about their marital
problems, and rarely spoke about his mother.
“Mom? Were you dreaming about her?” Gabriel asked.
Recently, his father had been dreaming about people from his past,
dreams that were so much more vivid than these days spent in the
assisted living facility.
“I wasn’t really dreaming about her. I wasn’t sleeping. And
I wasn’t really thinking about her, I guess. Not all of it. I was just
thinking about a moment. Before you were born.”
“Just a moment, really. We had just started dating, and one of
those carnivals had come to town. Not a really big thing. A merrygo-round. I think some ponies to ride. And a small Ferris Wheel.
Her folks were there too.”
“They didn’t like you, right?” Gabriel was familiar with this
motif from his parent’s marriage.
John smiled.
“No, they didn’t. That was fine. She did. I was just thinking
of this moment. She came to the carnival with her folks. I don’t
think they wanted to come. They didn’t like those types of things.
But she wanted to come, and she was wearing a very simple yellow
dress. Pretty. It was a hot afternoon, but there was a breeze. And she
was so happy to see me – and I was happy to see her too, really. So,
she left her parents there – grumbling. And we went to get tickets
for the Ferris Wheel.”
John smiled, paused, and sipped from the glass Gabriel had
given him. He sucked a little on an ice cube, and then closed his
eyes. John’s breathing was slow, and Gabriel wondered if he should
go soon. These times with his dad were important, but his father
also tired quickly.
“That’s it. Just that,” John said after a couple of minutes,
startling Gabriel. “You know, we had some years together. We had
lots of good times. We really did. But I remember that time, maybe
the sweetest time. Maybe because it was so new. So much is really
sweet when it is new. That’s what I remember. That yellow dress.
And she was so beautiful. And the sunlight on her. And she was so
happy to see me.”
“That’s wonderful,” replied Gabriel, though he felt awkward.
The divorce had been years ago, but some dark bitterness about his
mother still lived his heart. “She was beautiful.”
“The best part, I think, is that it’s not just me,” John said.
His face contorted some, as it did when was holding back tears.
Gabriel was familiar with this expression, an expression he saw visit
his father with increasing frequency. “It’s not just me, I know that.
I’m leaving. Soon. But I think about your mom, and the sunlight.
That yellow dress. So simple. We were in love. That’s it. It was so
sweet. And it wasn’t just us. So many people had that. Have that.
Countless people. Different times. Different moments. All that
stays. That’s not going.”
John fell silent, but he was not sleeping, just looking at his
son. He stretched out his hand. John did not need to tell Gabriel
that this is something that he wished for him. John’s tears flowed
quietly down his cheeks. Gabriel felt his own tears on his cheeks,
gave his father’s hand a squeeze, and pulled back.
“Can I get you anything else, Dad?”
“No. That’s fine. Thank you. You should probably hit the
road. You’ve got quite a drive, I know.”
“I can stay longer, really.”
“No, that’s fine. I’m tired. All this strolling down memory
lane!” John laughed.
“Thank you for telling me about this,” Gabriel said. “Really.”
“Silly, I know. Funny. How many years has it been?”
“55? 60?”
“Something like that,” John said. “And I can still see her
there. Oh, her parents were not happy!”
Gabriel smiled – and rose. He would be returning again on
Wednesday; Gabriel reminded his father. They chatted a little about
the National League playoffs and the heatwave that was expected
this week. John asked Gabriel to turn off the TV before he left. John
said he was going to take a nap.
In the hallway, Gabriel passed by and greeted several
residents sitting in wheelchairs. One man seemed to recognize him
and said hello. At the front door, he met Doris, the shift attendant,
who gave him the visitors log to sign.
“How is your dad doing? Did you have a good visit?” she asked.
“We did, thanks,” he answered. “I think he’s doing better,
but we didn’t really talk too much. He’s doing OK.”

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