Looking on my shelves for one book yesterday, I found another, a slim paperbound volume by Reginald Gibbons called Five Pears or Peaches. This swept me back, instantly—in the way only an unexpected encounter with a beloved book can do—to the time some 19 years ago when I was father to three girls who were still very young. Five Pears or Peaches is a collection of short pieces; not short stories, but rather—perhaps this word is apt—illuminations. None is longer than four pages. Most are shorter, including the one I’m going to copy for you, below.
A few of Gibbons’s pieces—the usual description might be “prose poems”—are about a father and his small daughter. My own daughters back then were 4, 8, and 12, so, as you can imagine, my emotions were ripe for the tweaking. I’m still quite the softie when it comes to fathers and their girls. You should see me sometime when King Lear awakens to find Cordelia before him. And when he confesses that he has given her cause not to love him. And when she replies, “No cause. No cause.”
Here is a piece from Five Pears or Peaches called “Mission.”
After she had been in her first school for months already, one afternoon at home she was crying because of something a friend had done or maybe only said to her, and I was trying to offer some solace, some distraction, when she nearly shouted all of a sudden, “You and Mommy left without even saying goodbye to me!” I said—shocked to have caused a wound so lingering that other pain must inevitably lead back to it—“When?”
“The first day of kindergarten,” she said, and she really began to wail, looking up at the ceiling, tears pouring from her, her face crumpling.
“But you wanted us to leave! You were lined up with the other kids to go into class behind the teacher, I thought you were happy to go in!”
“But the other parents were still there! And you left without even saying goodbye!” she said. The way rain can arrive with a violent flurry of pouring and thunder but then settles into a steady fall that is the real rain, that will after a while flood gutters and basements and streets and fields and rivers till there’s damage it will take time to repair—so she settled wearily and deeply into her crying.
However a wound was caused, it is already there, it can’t be undone, it needs to be healed.
My child is standing before me on the steps down to the back door, her eyes level with mine as I sit on a higher step holding both her hands, and she is crying as if she will never stop, and the friend’s slight is forgotten, the first day of kindergarten is forgotten, there is a deeper sorrow than that, incomprehensible and punishing, and for now I am pouring over her the unslakeable longing and helpless protective presentiment that bind me irremediably to her in love, and I understand again what I must do as long as she and I live, and how much I want to do this, to love her, and need to, and how too it is not enough. It is in the way of things, and no blame on anyone for it, that it is not enough.