Flash in the Pan


A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights

Touch


by Sindee Ernst

When my father was dying I touched his face. With the back of my fingers I stroked his cheek and he smiled. He leaned into the touch with the innocence of a young kitten. I stood behind his wheelchair, rubbing his shoulders, conscious of the massive barrier I was crashing through. Thinking: I have never touched him. When I was ten, I found a picture of myself as a baby, sitting in his lap. I snuck the black and white photograph into my room, and kept it in my second drawer under my shirts. I don't know if I hoped to hide the truth, or if I wanted to hold on to this surprising possibility.

When I thought that my older sister might die, I tried to picture a final bedside scene, tried to imagine what kind of strength that would take, what kind of comfort I could offer. In my dreams I did not touch her. We have never touched. When I seek out my childhood memories, she is always there, the thing that gives definition to me, yet I can't find the kind of knowing that comes with physical ease.

But Anne. A thousand times we walked along a street holding hands or arm in arm. A thousand times we leaned into each other, rested a head on a lap or spoke in soft tones, foreheads pressed together. We spent hours laughing giddily on her front porch glider. I know Anne. I know the structure of her bones, the texture of her skin and just what to expect of her teeth when she smiles. They look like elephant toes. Small and curved like that. I know how she smells. No matter where she is or what she has been doing, she always smells the same.

The night she came home from Nepal, she made me stay with her. Her plane landed at midnight and we all took the long drive along the river to greet her-her parents, her sister, her brothers, her brother's wife and son, the two-year-old nephew she had never met. We cheered when we saw her approaching, and she forgave us for embarrassing her with the begrudging acceptance of one who comes from a large and boisterous family. Then we went back to her parents' home. A home she had never seen, because they sold the house with the glider while she was gone.

We ate shrimp cocktail until the sky held an edge of morning light, and then she would not let me leave. Don't go. She made me lie next to her on a narrow single bed in a room that had never been ours. She smelled like traveling and foreign countries but still Anne inside of all that. I couldn't sleep. I would have tossed and turned, but there was not enough room. So I lay still, my body feeling the jumble of all of that familiarity coming face to face with our new and unknown futures.

Sindee Ernst, Owings Mills, MD, lives with her husband and two daughters. She gives private computer lessons, drives her kids around, and writes when she can find a free moment. She often has a fiddle or banjo in hand, and composes fiddle tunes as well as writing poetry and memoir. She is a member of the Feckless WOE writing group.

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