by Raymond Cothern
She comes limping across the yard, the alternating and uneven areas of grass and gravel, favoring her stiff knees, twisting her left hip slightly to swing her leg out in front to avoid bending it, every step visible at the corners of her eyes, wrinkles appearing suddenly, smoothing out quickly, each step noted there like the beating of her heart.
She smiles and raises her wrapped hand in greeting, coming up to her mother who is examining one of the small plum trees in first bloom by the deck. A hug, the wrapped hand on her mother’s back, another smile and allowing her face to be touched and examined.
I’m okay, Mom.
We brought food and a new crock pot to make cooking easier.
Turning her body instead of just her neck, she flashes a smile and nod for me sitting on the deck.
I should have presents for you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.
I smile and say thanks and sit a moment watching my daughter in the yard, remembering her standing at the back door a week earlier, tears running down a pain-clenched face, a happy greeting dying in my throat, helping her with my own swollen fingers up the one small step into the living room, pained at what I have passed on to my daughter.
Long ago, for years, I had beat myself up about my share of traits and quirks and personality bumps I passed on to my youngest daughter, not the usual eye and hair color and skin pigmentation beyond my control, but all those old nurturing missteps made during her childhood. What depresses the hell out of me—even more so than my usual chronic state—is that the onset of crippling arthritis is all the heredity factors made manifest, the visible proof there is no escaping family, the predisposition for diseases of body and spirit never avoided.
Raymond Cothern studied writing at LSU under Walker Percy and Vance Bourjaily. He is winner of both the Deep South Writers Conference and the St. Tammany National One-Act Play Festival. His fiction, poetry, and essays have been published in MANCHAC, INTRO 8, TWO THIRDS NORTH, AMERICAN ATHENAEUM, and in the book MEANWHILE BACK AT THE CAFÉ DU MONDE. He recently completed work on a memoir, SWIMMING UNDERWATER, about growing up in Louisiana and framed by the story of the devastating effects of viral encephalitis on his daughter and of her triumph in achieving a normal life.