We where a quiet family. Even after my cousin Reni died of heart dysfunction when he was eighteen, we didn’t talk.
But we responded.
Dad had me draw one of those cards I would do then, only this time without color.
Between doing the bills he penned down what words would have the time to jump out of him in a short minute. Dad had taken a quick look at it, folding what was to be said along with the card and put it into the envelope with the black, outlined square on the front. „Nice.“ He held it up against the gaslight.
Grandma had muttered to send it off since Monday: “Condolences are not to lie around…gotta be on time with this!!”
She really compensated for the all of us.
Sometimes talking and telling steadily as slowly one after the other left the room. She would follow the last one with her, down the stairways or out to the veranda, often only with her voice. Dad rushed out, escaping to the noise of some motor. Safe.
My aunt Paula and he had been to the funeral the Friday before, taking a two hour drive. They wouldn’t stay longer than the afternoon of the burial - Reni’s father was only Dads half brother anyway.
„The food was good. Nice restaurant.“ Paula said as they arrived back home, getting out of the Pickup before the cloud of grey dust they brought with them could settle.
Fifteen minutes later he was somewhere in the fields, his suit back where it would rest most of it’s time. It was taken out only to coat his appearance at the usual occasions during the year: Baptisms, funerals, the selling of an ox.
There are worse things. Than a divorce I mean.
After it we fell even more economic when it came to losing talk.
We where a group of people, tending to do our own dishes now.
Grandma divided her gold-edge porcelain dining set among the new parties. It was three soup plates and three dinner plates for each of us.
Six times of hand painted eastern European beauty. I liked the way I could feel the tiny brushstrokes on their inside when I went over them with my fingers, all smooth.
Taking them out, she told us, now that we didn’t have children yet and weren’t married either and with her at the obstacle of falling down and breaking her neck at any time, it was better to part it like this. Our Moms and Dads where good-for-nothings anyhow and we should see that we get along by ourselves pretty soon.
Headline: “How to make new families in the 90s: Divide, not multiply.“
As long as I was looking for a new place, I was still living on the farm with Dad.
The “nices” and “goods” I had collected so far where already growing sparse company in the last year. The one I had gotten for the condolence card was the last one I had heard.
I looked at my collection like at a retrospective of one artists thrown away paintings in a museum, long after she had left for other things. The pieces chronologically beaded in my mind with dates below them as their titles.
The topic would stay the same. „Very consistent.“
A diptych of a lonely „good“ up against a mumbled „nice“ already two years old, but visited frequently, took my attention. It had the momentum of a paint by numbers conversation: „Now fill out the rest of the black and white grid around the provided center by yourself, applying your inner vision. Work with a palette of vivid, livelier colors - or use somber tones for a more realistic touch. Enjoy!“
I nodded away, somewhat tickled by all I pictured to come.
Some weeks into the summer I had found a house a few towns to the west, close to a river of clear, greenish water. Its banks, I had been told, remained unregulated. Allowing it to push its yellow sand through the grass and around the rocks lying at its borders, by the way of the small floods it caused.
I arrived in heavy rain.
Trees growing over the riverbank had their roots washed bare by the rising, fast water.
I took down the wooden sign.
My new place used to be a ballroom some years ago, housing dances for the country youth. Dad spoke of it when he talked to us about the time of being our age.
A long time ago.
But he never remembered to come back, to visit here again.