Easter Book


A tired grey morning rain, boarding the elevated train in Chicago, reaching up to grab the strap, standing shoulder to shoulder. She shoots a fast glance as the train lurches forward and our shoulders touch. Decides I’m safe. Leans down to keep scrolling her phone, shakes the red hair from her face. The train slows, a seat opens, I invite her to sit down with my eyes and a nod. She does. And from the packed aisle of the train, no one moves to sit next to her. She looks up at me and with a tiny smile of amusement and with a shake of the head asks the world, “Was it something I said?”


So I sit down next to her. Shoulder to shoulder. Lightly grazing thighs with the rumble and clank of the train on down to the center of the city. She looks up from the phone, the hint, then my memory of a smile. Perhaps, she sees me and wonders about a grandfather she never knew as we touch shoulders.


But as the train doors swish open and I hear the rain, I’m back in Paris with the water washing down the gutters of the ancient stone streets that flow, like time, down the hill from the gleaming white Basilica Sacre Coeur. I smell coffee that lights up the morning and like Holly Near once sang, “frees my soul and I ain’t ready to grow that old.”


Once again, I am six hours or so from sitting down next to you on the steps of the Basilica, gazing out together over Paris in the mid day sunlight and saying the absolute most profound thing I could come up with at the time, which was, “Wow.”


At which point, you looked over with only enough interest to smirk, “That was deep.”


A few seconds passed, you got up, paused for one more look at the rippling city in the sunlight below, stretched, and I almost believed, like McMurtry once said, that it really was possible to fall in love with someone while they were stretching.


Being pretty good with the more primal of life’s needs, I remember saying something about being hungry. Probably something dumb like, “Know where you can get any good French food around here?” Then, and this is a mystery I still never have and never will, till my very last breath, figure out, we were in a café, there was wine that amazed, and cheese and fruit and sausage and the shadows were falling in a way that marked time moving at the speed of light.


We never stopped talking.


My new book had just come out. I remember reading you stories out loud. I remember telling you instantly about how the blonde had come back with coffee and croissants one spring morning and announced, “Roger? I’m a Princess. I just thought you should know.”


The Princess was soon gone. Vanished except for the way she hovered over so many stories. And now you’re gone too.


Which is why it’s so strange that you keep coming back and filling in what’s between the lines of all these new stories. What’s between the lines, where the important parts of the story go un-said. Except for the ways they reverberate. Like the way that folk singer’s voice reverberated. We saw her in that smoky bar on the tiniest of alleys winding downhill from the Basilica. Remember the way her voice was somehow shaky and strong at the very same time?


You’re not a dream . . .

You’re not an angel . . .


Course you liked your music to howl and cry, and sing to distant stars. No wimpy ass folk music. You didn’t even like Dylan. But we were saved when we both settled in on John Hiatt and stayed firm. So I guessed that Buffy Ste Marie did nothing for you when she sang the song we heard that night. I guessed quietly cause I didn’t really want to know the answer. I just wanted you and Paris. Like you were both some giant bowl of buttered, salted popcorn, and if I just kept eating, kept stuffing that salty, buttered taste of fluffy popcorn in my mouth, then you would someday roll down the drawbridges into the solid, whip smart grounded laughing haven of your generous soul, clear eyed loving me at least as much as I loved you. Because we had plans and golden promises.


That night we heard Buffy Ste Marie sang the song, I told you about the next book. We went back to sit on the steps of the Basilica, look out over the Paris. Bathed in the timeless night magic of the city of lights.


I told you the title would be “Street Corner Spirits.” That the stories would be mysteries, all of which started inside the doors of that Basilica. Inside those doors you saw rules. And I saw mysteries. Still, you could see our next book better than anyone.


But back then? Back when our eyes were reflected in the stars that somehow sang together with the lights of the city, back then I thought that loving someone enough meant that eventually they’d change.


And of course that doesn’t happen.


So the city lights dimmed. And you stayed, until it was time, for both of us to go.


And as much as I sang and wrote and wrote about all those mysteries you never believed in, what I never imagined, even in the parts between the lines, was that a return was possible. I never imagined you’d come back. But you did. You do.


You came back. Right this very moment. The Chicago train swishes into the Grand Station, the woman gets up and wonder of wonders, leaves a smile for her imagined Grandfather, me. She smiles at me and there you are.


I conjure up from the smoky mists, John McDonald’s timeless hero Travis McGhee in Pale Gray For Guilt, a letter McGhee gets at the end of the story.


“ . . . and now and again, when she is asleep and you are awake, and your arms are around her and you are sleeping like spoons, with her head tucked under your ugly chin, pretend it is ‘me’, who loved you.


Even right here in this story, the young girl leaves the train. And you came back.


Like hope on an Easter morning, you came back.


Buffy Ste Marie “Until It’s Time for You To Go”

Photo Credit: Gavin Heillier


2 Responses to “Easter Book”

  1. toritto Says:

    Hi Rog! I’m having 18 at my place today. My eldest daughter and her husband flew in last night, picked up at the airport by her younger sister and her husband. Today they will be surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins and a few close friends for our traditional Easter. The catered platters are ready and the sauce is simmering on the stove. Happy Easter to you and yours.


  2. chicagoguy12 Says:

    18! Wow! That simmering sauce, I can smell it from here and it’s the real deal. Wonderful! We’re going up to take a walk through the gardens of the Bahai Temple. (Google Bahai Temple Wilmette and you’ll see a remarkable picture) It’s where we go walk sometimes since we no longer belong to a church. Then a quiet dinner with my wife’s folks. Since my wife’s head injury 6 weeks ago, I’ve tried to make everything as quiet as possible to help her heal. There are days when the headaches pull back–I am praying this Easter–that this is one of those days. Happy Easter Frank to you and yours!

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