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April 2016, vol 12 no 1

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Glenn G. Coats

The Fourth Stage


My father is thin and pale, quieter than usual, contemplating shadows in his lungs, and what that means for the future. He folds his hands together and leans his chin against them. There is something to say, something that is tossing and turning like a storm at sea. I see it coming.

Morning. The family gathers around the kitchen table to hear my father's pronouncement. Someone has made an offer to buy his business; if they can come together on a price, the deal is done. "I am going to miss work terribly," my father says. "I won't know what else to do."

I take my mother and father to an old inn for lunch. It has small quiet rooms like a house and it is easy to have conversations. Service is leisurely but there is no hurry. My father has a glass of chardonnay, onion soup, and a pastrami sandwich. He finishes his lunch then asks me to walk him out to my car—needs some fresh air. We reach the porch and my father collapses in a chair, his head rests against his chest, and he stops responding to my questions. I believe my father is gone.

Afternoon. Father recovers from the blackout, quieter than before. We gather in the living room for a few more announcements, the way properties will be divided, how he wants to leave something for each grandchild. Later, I'm caught in rush-hour traffic. Cars push by on either side and all the lanes are clogged as I slowly wind past Bethlehem and Allentown. I long for the mountains, to inhale cold air, to cross familiar rivers, to know where I am going.

roadside strangers
a butterfly the color
of sand and gravel


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