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Authors: Paul Fleischman

Rear-View Mirrors (10 page)

BOOK: Rear-View Mirrors
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***

I awaken the next morning, look at the window, and gaze at three panes of maple leaves, one of hillside, and four of sky. The sun, I notice, has risen out of view, and I realize I must have slept late. I reach for my watch and peer at the hands. 8:40. I have to be in town by 10:05 to catch the northbound bus, the first of three I'll need to take to get me to my dig in Maine. I get up, take my first step of the day, and wonder how I'll ever manage to take all the others down Hatfield Road.

I put on my clothes and creep downstairs. My leg muscles feel as stiff as beef jerky. My rear end's still sore. My shoulders and arms are bright red, having been well done by the sun. I eat breakfast on the porch, then, as if I'm climbing Mt. Everest, labor back up the stairs. I roll up my sleeping bag, strap it to my backpack, gather up toothbrush, cap, and comb. Taking a last look around the room, my eyes catch on the sight of the pair of sphinx moths mounted on the wall. I remember looking at them
often
last summer: at their amber wings, their blue-black eyespots, the label with their Latin and common names. Having read the Oedipus plays that year, I knew that the Sphinx was a creature who'd posed a riddle demanding self-understanding. I recall studying the moths my last morning and, as if they demanded the same of me, actually speaking aloud the words, “I'm not a copy of my mother.” A statement that would have gladdened my father. I think of him, and of our parting that day.

***

“A great state, New Hampshire is,” he said.

We both spotted the bus coming into North Hooton.

“Can five million chickadees be wrong?”

I smiled, leaned over, and picked up my suitcase.

“Oakes College, of course, is just up the road,” he added.

“The third time you've told me today.”

He paused. “As for my spot out on Hatfield, I don't think I'd be exaggerating if I said Thoreau would have sold his soul to IBM for the deed to the place.”

I felt like I was being tempted to stay by Mephistopheles himself. “I'll try to visit sometime next summer.” I looked at my father and at the now-familiar town behind him and suddenly knew that I really would try. “I promise.”

This seemed to cheer him. The bus stopped before us.

“Then I'll keep your application for the position of heir on file,” he said. The bus door opened. We didn't hug, but he patted my shoulder. I started up the steps. “And I want you to know, Olivia, that I think you've got what it takes. And that you've got the inside track for the job.”

The door closed behind me and I moved down the aisle. It hit me that my father had never said anything quite like that before—and I felt as if I'd at last received the paternal blessing, something I'd been waiting for for so long.

***

Standing in front of the sphinx moths a year later, despite the recollection of that scene, and yesterday's tribute to my father, I know I'm not a copy of him either. That I'm not really the sort of heir he wanted. “I'm not a copy of either of my parents,” I silently address the moths.

I look at my watch and know I'd better go. Slowly making my way downstairs, I feel like the Tin Man and can almost hear my legs creak with every step. I wash and dry my few breakfast dishes. I pull down the blinds. And on my way out, I grab the newspaper I bought yesterday. I lock the front door,
padlock
the barn, squeeze my fingers through the knothole, and hang the keys back up on their nail. I put on my pack and, heading down the driveway, flip through the paper until I reach the page with the sunrise and sunset times. And decide, as I turn up Hatfield Road, that I'll hold on to that particular page, which I proceed to tear out, fold up, and tuck in my pocket—the other half of my diploma.

THE END

BOOK: Rear-View Mirrors
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