Standing next to each other in a pose that reminds them of all the other picnics they've been to Willem and Millicent Smith look down at a cake which sits squarely in the middle of the wooden picnic table.
The candles that cover it are placed neatly. Willem lights them and the wicks sizzle and crack under the flame and begin burning. Surprising everyone, Millicent makes an announcement, that after five years of trying that she and Willem will be parents. This comes as a shock to everyone. Willem didn't expect to hear this, they indeed are going to be parents, it's been three months, but he thought it would be something he'd bring up, a right of passage for him, being able to tell his friends, announcing boldly that he was going to be a father. But Millie assumes her motherly right and gives everyone the good news. Hamburgers and hot dogs cook in a stand alone grill behind them and a light afternoon breeze moves the grill's smoke towards the small group surrounding Willem and Millie.
"As your doctor, and a man of science, I'll proclaim just this once, and you know I hate to make these types of bold statements, but it seems to be a modern miracle." Fletcher Saunders speaks in a regal tone sounding educated and confident.
His face appears round like a bunt cake fresh from the oven. His body joins the circular shape of his face in that it becomes more rotund as it descends to the ground. His fingers look like Vienna Sausages which are eagerly holding a hotdog slathered in onions which is dressed with mustard and ketchup. Each bite of this picnic delight gives off the impression that Fletcher Saunders is a professional hotdog eater. It disappears in one swift motion, a simple two stroke gnashing of the teeth, a quiver of his throat and the swine by-product is released from this mortal coil thus punctuating his pronouncement of the miraculous conception.
"Yes. We gave up years ago." Millie adds. Sliding his hand across Willem's shoulder Samson Felt smiles to the group. Showing off his dentures, pearly whites made of plastic.
"You're a big boy now Willem."
Samson removes his hand from Willem's shoulder and slides it into his front pants pocket, where a casual observer would miss it's searching the darkness of that space, rearranging him self, quickly and with a practiced hand flicking force. Samson's thinning hair wavers nicely in the breeze, gray and silver, a combination achieved through careful infusions of hair tone each morning, painfully veiling its shocking white origins. Samson seems too old to be wearing a policeman's uniform, but it fits his stocky figure in a sort of mischievous manner like a costume on a teenager the morning after Halloween. Close inspection will find a gun and badge on his belt, but the look in his eyes is far away, lost perhaps, remote and left behind, but nonetheless the name under the badge says Chief of Police, Samson Felt.
Willem looks out towards the rest of the picnic area, taking in the trees and the green grass, gesturing for Millie to move closer to him, she does, while he slides his arm over her shoulders. Willem's body is thin, his light brown corduroy pants and polo shirt loosely cover his frame. His arms are narrow and around Millie's waist they look paltry. Millie looks into his eyes and smiles. Their happy faces meet and in this moment, they create a unified field of vision. Millie's blonde hair blows in the wind, and her body, although not as thin as her husbands but not showing at three months, matches his physical contours perfectly even though she's a few inches shorter than Willem.
Looking down at the cake on the table, the wax candles burning down, begging to be blown out, and Samson smiles as Willem stares at the candles, "I bet you will remember this day for a long time. Isn't that right Willem?"
"Sure." Willem says blankly.
"But then again, you remember everything." Samson focuses his attention on the cake as the candlewicks flicker with flames.
"Yes. It's a funny thing." Willem replies distractedly as he looks to his wife for a smile.
"Make a wish." He says.
"Thank goodness for the number of candles on the cake, otherwise I'd never remember how old I am." Millie smiles and leans down to blow out the candles.
The evening draws to a close and the partiers around the picnic table give up on their excitement when they notice the sun setting and the street lights on Main Street flickering to life, which appears to be a silent signal to head home. While Willem and Millie stay behind and pick up the paper plates and empty cups, depositing them in a nearby garbage can, Samson and Fletcher slowly walk away from the party with their hands firmly tucked in their pockets. After a minute or two Millie and Willem follow them. After a few goodbyes, the parents to be get in their small compact car and pull out of the parking lot. Samson walks across the street to the Police Station and Fletcher ambles down Main Street whistling as he goes, enjoying a late evening stroll through the deserted streets of downtown St. Vern's.
There isn't much that goes on in St. Vern's which Willem doesn't know about or at least witness's first hand. Each day is the same, starting at Vern's diner on Main Street, located directly behind the Police Station. This location is ideal as it supplies the diner with a constant crowd of customers, some of the usual folk, local farmers buying supplies at the Feed Store, or one of the two police officers that patrol the town. Some folks still believe that this diner is an important part of their social existence, and somehow allows everyone the opportunity to get together.
Ron and Phillip Barker sit at the counter, alone in their thoughts, both men staring down at the empty plates in front of them, each are grasping their coffee cups as if they might fly away if they were to let go of them. Approaching an empty stool Willem breaks the meditative silence.
"Only a few more weeks until my wife is a mommy."
"And you're a Daddy." Ron Barker adds.
"I can't remember your wife's name Willem." Phillip Barker adds.
"Millie." He says with a heavy sigh. Sitting down at the counter a few stools away from the brothers Willem looks to the man who stands alone behind the counter, facing the grill.
"T-h-a-t's right." Phillip calls out.
Tapping his ring finger on the counter to get the man standing at the grill's attention, Willem smiles in his direction when he finally does turn around.
"Vern my good man, coffee please, and a cheese
"Willem, how long have you been married?" Vern asks.
"Just curious, Phillip says you've been married for twenty years, and Ron says neither one of us is right."
"What'd you say?"
"Fifteen?" Vern says.
"You're all wrong."
"So what is it?"
"How's it been so far?"
"Every day is the first day of the rest of my life."
After a few more minutes of silence, Ron and Phillip stand up to leave, reaching into their pockets for something; Phillip pulls out his cigarettes, and Ron a small wad of cash. Their bodies are long and thin, arms rangy and weighed down by their enormous hands, which when holding something, anything, seem like the hands of giants. Ron has no hair, bald, and shaved to be that way. His eyes hang on his forehead like two fried eggs cooking on a hot stove. Phillip is the opposite; hair and shape of his head are perfectly proportioned and fit comfortably on his shoulders. His hair looks well combed and each strand of hair seems to be placed carefully, perhaps persuaded by a gel of some sort. Its tone is reminiscent of the lanes of a bowling alley. The color shifting across the landscape from ear to ear, its texture smoother than it should be for a man who works with his brother at the local Feed Store. They've got on a matching pairs of overalls which have their names embossed on the chest just over their hearts. Standing side by side in the off white tones of their outfits these men could be candy strippers in pursuit of an escapee from the loony bin.
"What's breakfast gonna run us Vern?"
"Same as yesterday."
"Three ninety five each." Willem says with out looking to them. Phillip glances over to Willem with a blank stare as he peels the money out of his hand.
"What would we do with out you Willem?"
Willem doesn't reply, but instead notices the steaming cup of coffee that's been placed in front of him by Vern. He holds his hands over the cup as if he were coaxing warmth from the flames of a campfire in the wilderness on a cold dark evening. He carefully removes his hands from their pose and brings the cup to his lips where he delicately serves a small bird like portion over his lips and tongue, testing the temperature gently.
Vern takes the money from Ron who watches his brother light a cigarette while walking out the front door of the diner, exhaling smoke from his first drag as he goes. Ron in turn tosses two dollar bills at the spot where he and Phillip were sitting.
"See you tomorrow Vern." Waving back to him as he walks out to join his brother.
"See 'ya later Ron." Willem adds, but Ron doesn't recognize this courtesy, which brings a frown to Willem's face. It quickly vanishes as he tempts more coffee from his cup and looks over to Vern who has now joined him at the counter.
"Tell me something Willem."
Setting his coffee cup down. "Sure." He says with an assurance that seems like measured patience for a question he may have answered before.
"Name the first President of the United States." Sighing slightly.
"George Washington." Willem says without a smile.
"Inventor of the airplane?"
"Wright Brothers." Again, sounding slightly bored.
"Who's on the dollar bill?"
"Look in the cash register."
"Amuse me. Will 'ya Willem."
"Who killed Kennedy?"
"Some people say Oswald, and some a group of right wing extremists."
"What do you say Willem?"
"I believe in the conspiracy."
"Okay. Who was John Lennon"
"Lead singer of the Beatles."
"Who were they?"
"Influential rock band from the 50s and 60s who revolutionized rock music."
"Okay. When was I born?"
"What's that thing you always say?"
"You were a space baby and a war baby." Vern goes silent. Smoke begins to bellow from the grill behind the counter. Vern gets up urgently to tend to the problem.
"Guess I burned your omelet. You want another?"
"Yep. Sure Vern. Take your time."
Vern begins the process of re-scrambling the eggs in a small stainless steel bowl next to the grill, tossing each broken egg shell into the garbage can at the grill's edge.
Vern is a medium sized man. Medium waist and an equally medium sized head, he seems to fit together nicely. Feet which are properly connected to his legs, where they attach neatly to his hips, but Vern has a taste for beer, and from this point on his body takes the form of balloons levitating slightly, but loosing air slowly. The skin on his face hangs meekly and his eyes are drooping slightly, which makes him look perpetually sleepy. After he's made Willem another omelet, doing a better job this time around, adding just the right amount of cheese which is just how Willem likes it, Vern delivers this breakfast to Willem who seems lost in thought and is staring out the front door of the diner onto the vacant street outside.
"Here it is my friend." Setting the over sized platter down in front Willem, which contains a perfectly succulent omelet steaming in its center. "Thanks Vern." And with out much else being said, Willem eats his breakfast in silence.
As Willem is leaving and standing at the register to pay he looks around the diner and sees that all of the seats are empty and that the morning rush has come and gone.
"What'd I charge you yesterday?"
"Four-fifty, plus eighty cents for the coffee." Willem hands over a five dollar bill and two singles.
"Oh yea, that's right." The register rings announcing the drawers opening and Vern takes the money from Willem.
"You have a good day Willem."
Walking out the door of the diner something in the distance that has caught his eye, Willem waves over his shoulder, "You too Vern." With those few words he leaves the diner looking across the street as he goes.
On the sidewalk that runs like a spine between the town's main street and the park Willem ambles carefully, stopping to look up at the sky, seeing in the distance, approaching him from further up the sidewalk Samson Felt, who's just crossed the street from the Police Station.
Still a distance away, but shouting to Willem, "Willem. Hea. How?s the wife?"
"How's the wife?" Samson gets closer. And still Willem hasn't responded.
Now Samson finally approaches Willem. "I can't hear you?"
"How's your wife?"
"I thought you asked, how's my life."
"No-no. Just saying hello is all." Samson sets his thumbs in his belt which hold his pistol and handcuffs.
"She's fine. No change since yesterday."
"Change from what? You have a minute? I saw you leaving Vern's and thought I'd ask you a question."
"Last week we had that accident. Do you remember?"
"You want to tell me what happened?"
"Sure. The Barker Brothers forgot to set the brake on their pickup truck and it rolled down the small alley out onto Main Street, running over the fire hydrant in front of their store, and flooded the entire street." Looking over Samson's shoulder as he says this, he sees the front of the store where the fire hydrant used to be. A small board covers the spot on the sidewalk and surrounding it a small puddle of water can be seen; ripple free, a reminder of yesterday's incident.
"Do you remember whether I wrote them a ticket?"
"Yes. You did. For careless driving, even though neither brother was operating the vehicle."
"I'll tell ya' Willem, it's not everyday that we have this much excitement around here. I sure am glad we have you around to keep it all straight. You know, with all the goings on around here, you never miss a thing."
"No problem." Willem looks like he'd had enough; his eyes peer away from the conversation, they're wandering as Samson Felt stands in front of him. Samson's body stiffly holds its place, the uniform hanging on him firmly.
"You always remember everyone's birthday, how old they are, what there favorite color is."
Willem interrupts Samson.
"Yea. I guess I do. Samson. Unless you have any other questions, I've got to go home. You know Millie is in her last month. It could happen at anytime."
"What's wrong with Millie?"
"We're having a baby, remember?"
He shakes his head back and forth. "Oh right. Yes. I remember now. You know, the only reason we have children is to replace ourselves."
Walking away from Samson Willem slides his hands into his pockets and walks with a purpose.
"That's right." Willem smiles and turns away.
"Willem! Are you going to be around for the rest of the day? I've got a bunch of questions I need answering?" Samson shouts to him as quickens his step and disappears around the corner back behind the Feed Store across the street from the park.
The days when he talked to everyone are over, he's spent his last breakfast with Vern at the diner, and he's got everyone calling him now. He used to walk around each day answering all the questions from the different people of St. Vern's. Who won the bingo game the previous week, or who's getting married this year or when everyone moved to St. Vern's. The phone rings only during the day time, he made that rule right away, and people respect it. If they have questions they know when to call. Willem is a man who knows too much. His time is important.
The house is filled with noise, crying mostly, the baby makes his presence known. He's not thinking straight, he's not thinking about other people. He's only thinking about his son. They named him Max. Millie stands next to him as Willem looks down at their son. Willem knows that his life has changed, will change, and that from now on there is no one else but his son, and nothing else matters.
"I"ve always wanted a son Millie."
"He'll be strong. Smart. Charming."
"A good man."
"Like his father."
"I hope so."
"This is our opportunity to raise a good person." Millie steps away from the crib and Willem. They're son is sleeping comfortably. The baby's room sits in the front of the house, and the crib just a few feet away from the window. Outside the leaves in the trees are moving slowly in a late summer breeze.
"I'm going to get some rest. We should try to sleep." Millie says as she continues out of the room.
"I wonder what he'll be like when he's grown older."
"He'll be a good man. He'll always be our son." She sounds tired, not willing to worry while the baby sleeps.
Running his hands over the railing of the crib Willem turns away from his son and follows his wife out of the room.
"But will he be like me?" Millie doesn't answer him and as he nears their room he notices that Millie has already lay down and closed her eyes.
Willem lies on his bed staring up at the ceiling. A look of concern crosses his face, it stays there for a moment and disappears when he suddenly gets up from the bed and walks back to his sleeping son.
Standing over him, looking down with a soft gaze, patiently staring at his little chest rising and falling in measured moments, he gives his son a smile.
"Someday you'll be like me. You'll talk to everyone, they'll tell you everything, and they'll expect you to remember it. I'll help you. You'll find it hard at first, but after a while it'll get easier. Remembering will be the easy part; it's listening that's hard. Someday, you'll be the man with the great memory."
Willem leaves his son asleep in his crib. The baby's room is quiet with only the sound of his breathing to occupy it.
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