Editors Opinion

Editor`s Opinion

Bill Manning

The weathered old door swings open

and they emerge in a profusion

of hot pink and green, fuchsia and teal,

the colors of kiddie fashion flashing

like Broadway marquees–

“Now Appearing, The Cute Corps”–wrapping

four little bodies

in superficial gaiety, opposing

what is in their hearts

and what they must express.

They bound forth,

breathless, with rose cheeks,

the elders bearing the spring-loaded storm door

for the little ones.

Daddy!

I kneel curbside,

leaves crumpling under my knee,

and my pants soak up yesterday`s cold rain.

I reach out

for tardy embraces I once thought lost.

Crazy Four`s out the door first, bulling

past the line of scrimmage

with a smile as wide as the 50-yard line, demanding

“Daddy, where have you been?!”

and then another and then another and then another

joins the huddle, so close

our tears mingle from the sweetest pressing

of cheeks against cheeks, and

I inhale their love words

into my breaking heart.

They have missed me!

What have I done to deserve such grace?

I am a mess of tears and snot.

My hands are shaking;

it takes me ten minutes just to buckle them up.

I drive with my left hand;

my right is in the back seat, absorbed

into the breast of a pixie, who

will not let go of it.

“I sad, Daddy,

I miss you, Daddy,

I wuv you, Daddy.”

I drive for 20 minutes

with no destination, soaking

up the chatter competing

for my undivided attention, loving it.

“C`mon, Daddy, you`re kidding,” says the Lion,

“You can come home with us!”

Nine-Going-On-Nineteen sobs deep sobs, gulping

the stale car air rapidly to compensate,

and his tears fall into the pock-marked velour

of the front passenger seat.

I stop the Monte Crappo–so named affectionately

by the scramps–pulling

the watery boy into my chest with my left arm

while my right hand fishes back and forth

to stroke tiny hands and soft hair in the back,

and I look over my shoulder into the eyes of the Quiet One and

she draws me into the silent well of her pain.

“It`s okay, it will be all right.

I love you.

I will never leave you.”

My children! I want to pull out my heart and

stretch it high and wide into a love cocoon and

horde you inside, shielding

you from the pain wrought

even by those who love you so,

even by myself.

In the mall, now, I stoop down, swiping

gently at running noses and wet cheeks,

and we run hither and there, taking

trifling pleasures in the tinsel gaudiness, basking

in the carousel lights bouncing off our eyes, laughing

at the fuzzy toys turning silly backflips, admiring

the cheap kiosk paintings and trinkets, throwing

pennies in the fountain, savoring

the warm salty pretzels that never tasted so good,

until the hours are so wonderfully wasted,

hand in hand, hug by hug, loving

with innocence, without expectation,

without blame, without boundary,

and I drive slowly homeward, scraping

the curb as I come to the familiar stop–on time this first time–and

I relinquish them to the one I loved so tenderly

but know no longer.

My heart is liquid, dissolving

into my stomach

as I soak in the final waves before

the door closes behind them,

and I slump back behind the wheel, sinking

back into the nightmare as my fingers fumble

for the right key, and the cranking engine

sounds like hell.

I heave the car forward, half-blind

from the tears, feeling

old again.

I am alone again.

If I can give you a present for Christmas, this would be it: Love your loved ones every single day like it`s the last day of your life.

Happy Holidays, brothers and sisters in firefighting.

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