Joe De Matteo

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Forty

His attention was not on the Service, but on the little girl who sat four spaces to his right in the semi-circular pew.  She swung her legs, which did not reach the ground, back and forth.  Not in a hurried way, but with the rhythm of a lazy summer afternoon. 

He could feel the slight warm breeze.  He could sense the smells of the seemingly still river bay.  The strong August sun in its blindingly radiance removing moisture from plants and mud and the river itself, filling the air with odors and fragrances that sometimes melded together, sometimes distinct, recognizable. 

The one little girl of his life beside him on the bench swinging her legs in time with some unwritten sonata - sun-visored, sun-screened, content - watching for movement in the bobbing red and white float.  Movement that would mean that a fish was very interested in the food she’d placed on her hook. 

 

Everyone was standing. 

Thomas stood.

With a glace he saw her sitting back in the pew, doll cuddled against her chest.

 

The one little girl in his life had a small rocking chair in her room.  She would sit there caressing Nicci and eat candy.  The two often dressed alike.  The room smelled of chocolate.  The smile she greeted him with was a chocolate smile.  It always made him laugh.

 

Everyone sat.

Thomas sat.

She had dropped something and was looking under the kneeler and the pew in front of them,  Down on all fours in her pretty yellow dress, the tops of her white shoes against the floor.  Her mother gathered her up and dusted her off.  Her dad handed her the recovered doll sandal.

Everyone was standing.

Thomas stood.

They knelt.

Thomas knelt.

The small sound of bells came to him from the front of the church. 

 

An electronic dinging sound, a voice from the speakers in the ceiling, “Dr. Barnes 2-2-7, Dr. Barnes, 2-2-7.” 

The one little girl in his life lay still on the gurney.  Crying eyes that were dry and afraid. So afraid.  Her once swinging legs…

 

Everyone in his row was standing and getting ready to walk to the isle.

Thomas stood.

“Thomas,” the old woman still sitting beside him, said, “Please help me dear.”  He slowly bent down to help her to her feet.  “Where is your mind right now, I wonder.” Reaching up to his face with hers, she kissed his cheek, as she had a million times over the last forty years.

He looked to the child and was surprised to see that she was looking at him.  She smiled.  It was a smile that reminded him of chocolate.

 

Daddy, are you alright?”  They were out side of church.  The pastor had just greeted him and whispered in his ear, inquiring if he was alright. 

Memories.  Memories did this to him.  They took him to places, often, one after another, and they were so real.  They engendered such strong emotion.  They were so compelling.

After all, they were his life.

“Yes my dear one, I am alright,” Thomas said, “I was just remembering.”

“What did you remember?”  She was truly interested.

“Two days long ago.  One a happy, wonderful day of fishing with my favorite fishing partner.  The other,” he reached up and cupped her cheek in his wrinkled palm.  With a tear working its way to the corner of his eye, he said in a husky voice, “the other was the worse day of my life.

“Oh, yes.  There was a third thing I remembered.  Chocolate.” 

The word changed the mood completely.  They both smiled and she put her arm in his.  Her sons would wait with their grandmother while daughter and father went for the car.  Arm and arm they walked toward the deep blue mini-van. 

“Let’s stop on the way home and get some chocolate,” she said.  “Then you and I can sit down before dinner, maybe on the bench in the yard, if it’s still warm enough, and split the chocolate bar.”

“A bar of chocolate,” he said, reverently, “Okay, you’re on.”

The little girl form Mass, doll held tightly to her pretty yellow dress, her hand held securely in her father’s, walked quickly past them.  As she passed she turned her head around to look at Thomas over her shoulder.  Thomas winked at her and she smiled at him. 

He wondered if she liked Chocolate.

The one little girl in his life noticed the encounter, smiled to herself, then said, “I want dark chocolate.”

“Yes.  Dark chocolate.  Plain. No nuts or anything.”

“A big bar of bittersweet chocolate.  A really big one daddy.”

Joe De Matteo


Joseph De Matteo, FalconRun, Inc., 31 Walnut St, New Windsor, NY 12553

Joseph De Matteo

 

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