And he says, to himself this time, “Winter is coming. The day is shorter, it seems. And the shorter it is—the more precious each minute.”
And I think, No. Not for me.
My father says, as if he could hear me, “Maybe not.”
He stumbles over some piece of trash, and, having to steady him, I think, Too bad. He is too heavy for me. So is his talk.
He says, “You think I do not understand how hard, how painful it must be for you, coming here to a new reality: a home without your mom. I wish you would talk, Ben. Talk to me about it.”
And I think, Who the hell wants to do that.
He waits for an answer, but after a while he seems to give up. “My God!” he says then, gazing straight ahead. “This place! This place, it is almost too beautiful for words.”
Indeed, it is. I fill my lungs with air, and my spirit swings so high at the thought of wetting my toes, that I laugh out loud at what he is saying, whatever it is. Let him talk all evening if it makes him happy.
He says, “I wish I could write it, Ben.”
In place of an answer I run along the beach, the old man trailing farther and farther behind me. For a minute I stop, and stoop down to pick what at first I thought was a dead butterfly—but no, this is just an empty shell, the two halves of which are hinged together, bringing to mind a hardened pair of wings.
I touch it: dark-blue and rough on the outside, slick and pearly inside, it housed a mussel once. Now there it lays, far from the sea, no longer able to keep itself closed—nor can it attach itself to others out there, on the distant wave-washed rocks, from where it came.
I feel a strange affinity with this thing. It has been left here, to fill with dry, barren grains, now that life has left it. How did it arrive here? By what thrust, what rush of wave? Maybe, it loosened its shell—just a crack—waiting, waiting for high tide, for seawater to come through, to revive it. I imagine its flesh quivering there, inside its broken enclosure: so soft, so vulnerable. So much like me.
Perhaps, it tried to roll its way back, to cross the border between that which is bone dry, and that which can still nourish it. Snatched and quickly consumed, its shell has been picked clean by a bird of prey, or—when the waves finally came—by a starfish.
Then its armor was carelessly spat out by the water, having failed to serve its purpose. So much like me.
I throw it back, in the direction of the old man. I think I can hear him, calling me from afar, “Wait...”
A sudden gust has shaken my father and he falls, abruptly, out of sight. A second later, the top of his head reappears behind a mound of sand.
“Ben,” he cries, “wait for me!”
Ben in The White Piano
★ Love reading? Treat yourself to a family saga ★
The complete series:
Volume I & II, woven together:
"Few authors would be able to pull off the manner in which the apparent polar opposites of Ben and Anita begin to bond... but Poznansky has the visual and verbal and architectural skills to create this maze and guide us through it."
- Grady Harp, HALL OF FAME reviewer