It’s late Sunday afternoon. We’re walking home through the rapidly disappearing stands of the weekend’s sidewalk sale.
His hand shoots up into mine and squeezes. He’s nine and a half so he doesn’t do this very often anymore. Yet, I feel instant irritation at the word “quaity”.
“Noah, we spend practically all our time together.”
“Yeah, I know, dad, but you know what I mean. Like today was like, uhm, all day doing things that we like both enjoyed, you know, together.”
That’s it! Guilt!
Despite all the time we spend together, much of it is functional, some of it is animating Noah without really joining in. I know exactly what he means and it bugs me.
I wonder how much of my life with him I let run through my fingers like sand, while I look for castles on the horizon.
I resist the urge to defend myself.
“I had a great day, Noah.”
“Me too, dad.”
We walk in silence, his hand cradled in mine. If nothing else he will remember that his dad walked, a lot.
It’s the last fifteen minutes of the four day street fair that saw the whole commercial street closed to cars, returned to human concourse. Noah and I spent the whole weekend diving in and out of the tides of people deambulating among t-shirts and knick knacks and doodads and other assorted stuff ranging from the useful to the comic to the patently frivolous.
Noah was intrigued by the remote control fart machine.
“But you know dad, it’s like twenty-five dollars, I mean that’s a whole grocery almost. And I mean, it’s funny but it’s lame.”
“Not only that, you and I fart for free.”
“Oh, yeah, listen to this dad, it’s like…Farto and son.”
“The Ventriloquist Farters.”
“Yeah, hilarious, dad, good one. Like, you know we fart and like we blame everybody else.”
The tents are being pulled down with remarkable speed. The party is over and the shop owners are anxious for that first beer of the evening,
“Dad, that guy, you know he waited like an hour to play me.”
“Yeah, he was a serious player.”
“I like beat you and he was already watching and then I beat that lady, I mean she was really good too, so it took a lot of time. And he waited, so like he saw my strategy. That’s how he beat me. But I still won two out of three. That’s really good, isn’t it?”
He has a hop of satisfaction.
We spent most of the afternoon playing chess and eating Tunisian merguez sandwiches in an improvised salon on the sidewalk outside of a friend’s café. As we played we attracted a small crowd. When Noah beat me he was challenged by an attractive woman whose eyes spoke of warmth and laughter. She seemed familiar, like a pleasant memory.
I watched him play. For brief moments, like premonitions, I saw him as a man. He played seriously but with grace. He smiled without restraint and ate with appetite. When he looked up at me it was without questions, without demands….an easy companionship.
My son flourishing, grilled spicy sausage smoke, dervish music, strong coffee, a beautiful woman playing chess, passersby of all shapes, sizes, colors, all bathed in the light and warmth of an early summer sun…
I squeeze Noah’s hand. He squeezes back. He hops. I skip.