When I was a kid, summers were longer. I’d spend the still afternoons with my dad, in the barn that he kept as a studio on the west end of our acre in Darien. Lying on my stomach in the hot hayloft I would read and doze off and watch him paint by turns, until the best light faded. I remember him breathing heavily, crouching low, stepping back. He danced a two-hearted dance with the canvas—first attacking, then caressing it—then carving at it with a palette knife. Sometimes he’d call me down from the loft and ask, “Ree, what do you think of this?”
“The composition is a little off-balance,” I’d say.
Or, “The blue’s still too warm.”
Or, “The energy fades at the end of this line.”
He’d taught me to speak like this, with authority, about painting. But the fact that as a young girl I spoke in his voice didn’t stop him from listening to what I had to say. He’d stand back and chew on a spackled knuckle. After a few minutes he might say, “You’re right. You’re right,” and put his hand on my neck, kiss the part in my hair, return to the canvas reinvigorated. Or he might silently disagree, pull up his three-legged stool and sit, slumped and staring, for half an hour or more. I’d join him on the floor, resting my head against his knee until he nodded, grunted, got up. Or I’d leave, closing the door quietly, stepping into the wet grass and the wind off the water.
Now, going on my twenty-fifth October, I’m living at home again. Since I moved in last month, time with Dad hasn’t been the same. Then I was a satellite, a student, a protégé. Now what am I? A warden, a nurse. A fly on the wall. Mostly, cross-legged with my notebook in the hayloft as Dad stands at the dusty window and my cat Crazy Tony stalks chipmunks on the lawn or dozes, snoring lightly, on the stained futon, I’m a faithful recorder, a secretary of the last of our time together.