“And then there were two,” my father whispers.
Seven siblings. Lucky number seven. Seven deadly sins. The day God rested.
Six months apart. Six feet under. Six degrees of separation. Six six six, the end of times.
Five dead. Five senses, smell, sight, touch, sound, taste. A perfect fifth. Five wounds of Jesus on the cross.
Four boys. Four directions, north, south, east, west. Four-leaf clovers. The Four Horsemen.
Three girls. A triangle. Three wishes. The Holy Trinity.
Two remain. Two peas in a pod. Two sides to every story.
My father does not communicate with the rest of our immediate or extended family. If not for the recent spate of sibling casualties, he would continue to ignore them enthusiastically. And yet, here he stands, again, awkwardly off to the side, his ill-fitting jacket hanging on him like an off-duty circus clown. He can’t help it. It’s the Catholic in him. Funerals and faith, the ties that bind, invisible and unbreakable.
He is the baby of seven children. A self-imposed recluse, his prematurely gray hair now completely white, making him appear older. A compulsive buyer of all bait strategically stationed while on line at a dollar store, hand sanitizer, plastic flashlights, stale breath mints, flimsy picture frames. A dog lover with a penchant for naming them after dead presidents. Eisenhower. Hoover. Kennedy. A rambling and repetitive story teller.
But only if I call him.
At the restaurant hosting the latest repast, my father approaches my uncle and whispers, “and then there were two.” To cover his shock at the unsolicited conversation, he barks out a laugh, hearty and genuine. My uncle is a Santa Claus, the jolly icon stationed at a Denver mall for the past decade. A Santa plucked straight from Central Casting complete with corpulent belly, naturally ruddy cheeks, and authentic beard, an electric shock of fluffy stark white. Equal parts jocular and earnest. The children at the restaurant eye him with undisguised glee, hope, and greed.
The thing about family rifts is that as the offspring never knows the cause. I imagine spousal interferences, jealousy, catastrophic arguments, name calling, physical blows, maybe a botched poisoning to win an inheritance. It must have been significant for my father to sever all relationships, and yet, it remains the one topic he adamantly refuses to discuss. We are part of a family tree where my father is the branch, half-broken from silent rot, that everyone hopes will finally snap off.
“Can we get a picture together?” my father asks my surprised uncle.
They pose in the bland corner of the restaurant, and I snap three pictures. In the last one, my uncle gives my father bunny ears. Some jokes are eternal. I will give this picture to my father, where he will encase it in his dollar store frame and place it on his bookshelf. It will sit, squeezed among the dozens of other old sibling photos in place of books, telling stories, regaling memories, but only to himself.
Seven, six, five, four, three, two, one.
Connie Millard is a full-time working mom of three who once made it to the final callbacks for the reality television show, Worst Cooks in America. After much practice and perseverance, she now spends her time writing stories in between stirring risotto. Her work has appeared in 365Tomorrows and is appreciated for her lush descriptive language.