Green Hills Literary Lantern





            Sunlight dapples the tiles of the kitchen floor where my daughter sits, her pudgy legs spread open, her round bottom propped against the frail back of Prince, our ancient Sheltie. Pie tins become cymbals. Sara crashes them together with all the strength her eighteen-month-old arms can muster, her eyes bright with joy at the noise she makes. After a second clang, Prince extends his front legs and grumpily lifts his hindquarters.

            Sara topples. Pie tins skitter.

            Before her head hits the floor, I reach down to catch her. My arms enjoy the burden as I swing her toward the ceiling. Shrieks of delight pierce the room. Prince shambles toward the back door as he raises an answering howl.

            Lowering Sara, I use a finger to pull back her pants and sniff gingerly to check her diaper. Talcum powder, baby sweat. Nothing worse.

            “Let’s meet Great-grandpa for lunch,” I say as I steady her on the floor.

            “See Gamp, see Gamp,” Sara croons as she toddles toward the door.

            He’s Gamp to me as well. When I was Sara’s age, we lived half a continent apart. The moments I shared with Gamp were rare. I’m almost jealous until I feel the warmth of Sara’s plump hand as it encloses the forefinger I offer.

            Prince moves arthritically ahead of us, down the back stairs toward his favorite spot beneath the maple tree. On the top step, Sara releases my finger. Before I can react, she jumps.

            I’m in shock.

            She lands on the next step, her diapered bottom against the wooden riser, legs askew. She looks up at me and giggles.

            She centers on all fours, rear end up, and hoists herself. Once she’s back on her feet, she reaches for my finger. We continue sedately to the car.


            Minutes later, Sara’s tiny knuckles make almost no sound as she knocks on the screen of Gamp’s apartment. The shades are drawn, no lights on. He’s sitting just inside, erect in a chair facing the door, his bird-thin legs squarely in front of him. Gamp couldn’t have heard Sara’s knocks. He barely hears what I say when my voice is raised. But he’s been waiting.

            I smell the stale age of his clothes before he reaches us. He wears a sweater although the day is warm. “I’m not hungry,” he says. “Why don’t we skip lunch this time. Just visit a little?” His watery eyes belie the words. He wants to get out of these tiny rooms, but he’s afraid to impose on us.

            “Come anyway,” I say. “We’ll be together, even if you don’t eat much.”

            “Waste of money,” he mutters, as he always does during our weekly visits. He steps outside and pulls the door closed, checking the lock before he moves away.

            Sparrows flit among the crepe myrtle bushes that line the walkway beside the apartment building. Ten years ago, when we moved to this town, when Gamp still owned the place where my mother grew up, he took me into the woods behind his house and shared his vast knowledge of birds. He saw their flitting bodies in spots I’d never think to look. As I walk beside him now, I remember the energy in his voice when he showed me an albino mockingbird in his back yard, his joy later when he showed me the newspaper article reporting his rare visitor.

            Sara reaches toward a female sparrow on the ground, scaring it into the air. Gamp doesn’t notice. I want to say something about the birds. My throat hurts too much to speak.

            As we approach the parking lot, Sara ignores me and holds the lower bar of the handrail to ease down three steps. I walk beside her until she’s safely on the ground, then I turn around.

            Gamp hesitates at the top and grips the rail as though it has become a lifeline. I hold still. He’s a proud man. When he glances at me, I reach out. The hand that clasps mine is bony, the skin so fragile it might burst along the blue veins across the back.

            “Gamp slow,” Sara says. I hope he doesn’t hear.

            “I’m sorry,” Gamp says. “I don’t see so good anymore.”

            When he reaches the ground, Sara folds the fingers of her right hand tightly around the two outer fingers of his left hand. Gamp stands more erectly, steadying her, taking strength from her touch. They walk ahead of me toward the car, hand in hand, one stretching outward with hope, the other drawing inward to search the dark.






Joan Corey Barton is a lawyer and rancher who lives near Bastrop, Texas. Her short stories have appeared in several literary journals. She is working on a character-driven suspense novel.