Well, Dickie, there you go. I brought the white ones because the yellow aren’t quite ready. Do you remember the yellow daffs on the way to the orchard? Such small yellow cups, but so much waving green! We always liked the yellow best, didn’t we, even though Mary and Mother said you couldn’t tell them from dandelions. Mother kept a vase on the piano for the daffodils, and sometimes there would be lilacs, too. Do you remember? You should have lived longer. Years and years longer. You would have learned to play the piano so we could play duets, you in knickers and sturdy brown shoes and me in black Mary Janes and thin white socks that always fell down. My feet would reach the pedals and your arm would reach the music propped up there on the wire rack so you’d be the one to turn the music at our Christmas concerts with the deep green tree, spicy pine, in the front parlor where your casket had never been because you didn’t die when you were four, and we’d sit at the piano to play “O, Tannenbaum” but really we wouldn’t need the music, we’d be looking through the doors at the tree, glittering and jeweled and waiting for presents and later, no one would scold us when we broke Nana’s favorite ornament, the little glass violin, because our music was so pretty and they were all in a happy mood. We’d play in the summer, too, steamy greenish gray evenings when Mother and Father and the aunts and uncles and sometimes the neighbors sat on the porch with tinkly glasses of lemonade, some of the men had more than lemonade in their glasses you’d tell me, you saw the brown bottle just like the one in the bottom drawer of Uncle Frank’s desk and I’d believe you because brothers know these things, even when they are younger, and on a pearly June night after fried chicken and cold macaroni salad our piano playing would be so good the grown-ups would come into the parlor and exclaim over us and pat our heads and pinch our cheeks, not hard, just a little, a tickle to show they loved us and where is Mary? Mary would be good, as older sisters should be, but not valuable like us, at the piano, so she’d be in the kitchen helping Minerva with the dishes and carrying trays of tall glasses out to the porch and plates of Minerva’s thin cookies with crackly brown sugar on top but Minerva would bring us our own plate of cookies to leave next to the piano so we could eat them between songs and maybe Mary would be sent down to the cellar to chip more ice and come back with bits of sawdust clinging to the hem of her dress and her socks no matter how careful she’d d been to stay on the clean part of the floor and usually you and I, the brother and sister, wouldn’t be asked to get the ice because the grown-ups would rather hear our music but if ever we were sent for ice, we’d go together with two ice picks and one of us would stand guard with the extra ice pick ready in case the candle went out and we had to defend ourselves against whatever might come out of the darkness in case whistling didn’t work. You’d be my best friend and I’d be yours and sometimes but probably not very often we’d ask Mary to play and you’d be able to convince her she couldn’t be in charge because that’s what brothers can do and she’d have to follow us and do what we wanted to do – be a pirate or a world famous circus performer who can tame lions and tigers or the rabbits down by the raspberry patch and when we were hungry we’d send Mary into the brambles to pick black raspberries for us and she would and we’d give her some, too, and we’d spit out the seeds being careful not to drip black purple juice on our clothes that Minerva and Mother had starched and ironed all morning and no one would ever know that we spit out the seeds because Mary wouldn’t tell and you’d be able to make Mary do anything we wanted her to do until maybe she’d become nice like us and we could just be two sisters and a brother, just children who grew up together, together round the farm and the pond and the woods and then Mary wouldn’t have wanted to walk by herself and I wouldn’t have been in charge of you or if I was I would have known, I wouldn’t have let you go off too far by yourself and you wouldn’t have walked on the pond before the ice was ready, it wasn’t ready, no one could skate till after Christmas, at least, and if we couldn’t skate then we couldn’t walk on the ice, we all knew that – why didn’t you? And you might still be here and I wouldn’t be alone, and we would have been children together for a few more years after Mary became too young-ladyish to play and we could have sat on the stairs together, up high, away from the light, to watch Mary and her beau saying goodnight in the front hall and maybe she wouldn’t have married Jack she might have married Stan instead because you would have been the kind of brother to advise her and while we’re at it, you would have helped me decide about Ed and the baby and what is the right thing to do because I never know, not ever, what is the right thing or if you do a wrong thing, how many things do you have to do right to make it come out even? You would have lived long enough to find out from your own mistakes, the kind boys make, which are never as bad nor as heartbreaking as the kind girls make and when you found the answer you’d tell me and you wouldn’t be a four year old saint, forever what you could have been and not what you actually became, warts and all, and waiting your turn, like I am now, when I can hardly hear the music and there are no more tiny yellow daffodils.
2007, rev. 2/2012