I watch my grandson David varnish the deck. Sweat slides off his bronze neck and adds to the dark stain on his college t-shirt. It is a hot and sticky July afternoon. The maples and elms offer as much shade as always, but the crisp, breezy days of my childhood seem far away. I put down my glass of pink lemonade quickly. I can’t hold on to the cup for long anymore. The glass precipitates on the table while I caress the hand that carried it.
The backyard looks like a postage stamp compared to the world of wonders it was when I was young. I look at the tool shed in the back corner by a small vegetable patch. Something picks at the back of my mind; it attempts to pull a memory from the cauldron that used to be clear but now is murky.
David clears his throat like the snap of a deck of shuffled cards. The sound reminds me of Papa playing solitaire on the living room rug. It tugs the memory a bit more from dark depths. I look at the tool shed and replay the crack of the card deck in my mind. I see Papa, but the memory still doesn’t appear.
I look back at David and watch him bring the brush across the surface of the wood. His strokes are uneven. He dips the brush in the can of varnish and brings it back to the deck for more uneven strokes.
The memory comes back.
My little sister, Berta, and I found a can of paint by the tool shed. There was a long screwdriver on the lid with a brush and folded rag towel next to it. We looked around for Papa but didn’t see him or Mother around. I was sure they went into town.
Berta was wary. Just the week before, we took Mother’s heels and pranced around the kitchen. Mama came home to find Berta and scuff marks all over the floor. I heard the car pull in the driveway and was able to run away and later blame it on my sister. She hadn’t forgiven me for that and now didn’t want to partake in this new adventure.
I assured her it was okay. I saw Papa paint our room before, and I knew how to make it look like we never touched the paint can. Berta changed her mind when she saw me efficiently pop the lid of the paint can with the screwdriver. We took turns dipping the brush in the can and painting the shed. I looked down and saw a smile spread across my sister’s face. I had one too, but the sound of a car pulling up replaced our grins with wide-eyed panic. We dropped the brush and ran inside the house.
I watched Papa even up the coat on the shed out back. He paused and took a sip from a cup. Berta fidgeted next to me and dreaded the moment Papa would come inside to reprimand us for our actions. I used this time to formulate the story I would tell Papa to get me out of trouble.
When he came inside, I didn’t wait. It was Berta. It’s always Berta. She’s always messing with things she shouldn’t. Papa looked at me. This time my lies didn’t stick. The brush strokes were too high for Berta to reach.
The present reasserts itself with a cool breeze.
I smile as I watch David varnish the rest of the porch. I get him a glass of pink lemonade and remember that Papa used to drink the same thing while working outside. David works his way along the deck and evens out the coat while the sun falls in the now clementine-orange sky. The uneven brush strokes disappear with time. Only memory will be able to recall.
Drew Alexander Ross studied business and film at the University of San Francisco, class of 2015. His primary focus is screenwriting, and he enjoys reading at the pace of two books a week across various genres, fantasy foremost. He hopes to be a successful writer one day and currently works at a middle school in Los Angeles. Drew has placed in three screenwriting competitions and has short stories published by The RavensPerch, The Book Smuggler’s Den, Down in the Dirt Magazine, and Drunk Monkeys.