The dreaded question: “So, tell us a little bit about yourself, Michael.”
April—at that developmental stage in life where she was a child one minute and a woman the next—was sitting on the couch, curled tight around her father’s arm and he around her little finger. She smiled at the quiet boy across the room, her brave and humble knight. She owed him a rescue.
“Mama, is dinner ready?”
“Yes, darling. Let’s eat.”
An excited scattering. An orderly rush to a table where every family member knows their place.
Michael waited for a seat.
Mrs. Showers pointed to a vacant chair. “Right there, Michael. I hope you like green olive meatloaf. There’s plenty.”
An oak circle, centered directly under a chandelier, was overcrowded with steaming plates of hot food and prepared with love.
A prayer of blessing. Amen. Then the immediate clanging of silverware and the tinkling of ice.
For the next hour or so, one might say that Michael remained a fly on the wall—but a fly on the wall goes unnoticed and Michael didn’t go unnoticed even though he barely said a word. His attractive face was magnetic, drawing attention and turning the heads of the whole family as the Showers did what most families do when delighted by their guests: they performed by telling on each other. What followed was a phantasmagoria of memorable family episodes—real events embellished to the point of becoming imaginary—their happiest or most embarrassing moments retold, relived, reworked, and repackaged to perfection. Unlike a photo album with its silent, neatly-arranged Kodak moments and chronological still shots, this was a haphazard oral history, multi-voiced, full of musical laughter. The best days of their lives. Passing by. Ghostly.
April was the star of the show, the family favorite, the one who wore the coat of many colors, the precious one.
The flower girl. Transitory.
The evening ended when a cross-eyed cuckoo popped out of the clock seven times. April, with perfect synchronization, mimicked the little bird while making a fishy face, her soft cheeks sucked in, her green eyes wide as if she were being strangled. This produced a sort of wheezing laughter from the whole family; Michael thought he heard his own until he realized the dream was over. The cuckoo was more of an alarm clock for him, signaling crazy: his mother would be home soon. His heavy wooden chair made a scraping sound as he stood and excused himself from the table. He thanked them for dinner. He refused the offer of a ride. He opened the door and entered the chilly night. Back to reality—his world—where nothing is ever told or retold yet somehow never forgotten.
The Showers family watched and waved to him from a large bay window, their hands and bodies silhouetted, the crowns of their heads haloed under a warm, yellow light. They knew nothing of the boy who drifted in and out of the fall wind, walking like he walked—noticeably reluctant—away, away, farther away, looking over his shoulder like an angel banished from heaven.