Papy on the River

By Howard Waldman

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“It’s summer again, Papy,” we yelled in his ear. “Where to this time?”

Every June 21, his birthday, it was the same thing. Most of the time
we didn’t get through or when we did we couldn’t understand him and
we’d wheel him around the park, telling him what the flowers and the
sky looked like.

This time he said “B-bordel” and we laughed and poked him, very
gently, and yelled, “Where else do you want to go, Papy?” After a
while he said, “C-craix. B-boat.” He used to talk about it years ago
when he could still talk: young, stripped to the waist in the sunshine,
drifting past nice things. That was way back, before the war.

So we placed him in a rowboat at Craix. He sat between us, bundled
up, blinking behind his thick useless glasses. He looked happy as the
boat drifted, along with belly-up breams, oil-slicks and plastic bags,
past cement-works, scrap-heaps and run-down council houses. We
yelled at him the things we remembered from his memories: banks
bristling with fishing poles, wheat fields with poppies, neat kitchen
gardens, couples dancing in the riverside café under the garlands. The
blue sky was no invention. He kept saying, “N-nice, n-nice.”

We brought him back to the Home. We yelled in his ear, “Enjoy
yourself, Papy?” He processed it and said, “N-nice, n-nice g-girls, nnice,
n-nice g-girls.” Drifting down the river he hadn’t heard us. He’d
been to the bordel after all. Maybe we should have taken him there for
real. The girls are renewed, not like the river. But I guess outside
things don’t matter much if you can’t see them and if you’re able to
hold on to the way they’d been.

Howard Waldman

Note: This piece originally appeared in the July 2006 issue of Gold Dust