My father sent me a postcard of the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. On the back, he wrote:
“Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow
Speak gently, she can hear
the daisies grow.”
Oscar Wilde’s lines, but I knew “she” meant my mother. It seemed we both still ached from her passing a year ago, though he had divorced her two decades earlier and I was a grown man myself, happily married with three children. Then, as now, he had no words for me that had not first passed through another’s lips. My childhood was a pastiche of stock photographs and poems from dead men.
“You should call him, Paul,” my wife Cary said. “When did you last speak?”
“At the funeral.” That was a lie. We hadn’t spoken, instead letting the others around us do it.
“He could come visit?”
“I can invite him, but he won’t come.”
Cary frowned at me. “It’s no good like this. He’s your father.”
I kissed the crease between her eyes. How could I explain to her what I didn’t understand myself?
Still, her rebuke hounded me. Why had he sent the postcard, after all this time? What was he trying to tell me? Perhaps this was a peace offering, a way to bridge the gap that had always existed between us. He had his grandchildren to consider, after all.
I arranged to visit him while on a business trip in France. We met at a café near the airport, under an azure sky, surrounded by other men eager to be elsewhere. Both of us ordered espresso, black, no sugar. His face was a softer, thicker version of the one I saw in the mirror each morning. He worried at pills on his ribbed sweater while I picked at my brioche.
I pulled the postcard out of my briefcase and laid it on the table between us. He stared at it in silence. It was up to me, then. “I think we should no longer be strangers,” I said softly.
He lowered his eyes, looked away. “I’m sorry. I have been trying to, to think.” He paused, his breath heavy, as if the words were deep inside him, under snow and hard soil, and took great effort to exhume. “You know my brother, he lived with us, before you were born.”
“Your mother, she was a good woman. A good woman. But we all make mistakes.”
It was my turn to struggle with speech. “You’re sure?”
He shrugged. “There are tests, if you’d like.”
What would it change? He’d made up his mind about me years ago. I thought of Wilde, and my mother. “All my life’s buried here, / Heap earth upon it.” I finished my coffee and left money on the table for both of us.
That was the last time I saw Paris.
Valerie Valdes has been published by Tidal Basin Review and Every Day Poets, among others. She earned her BA in English at the University of
Miami, with a minor in creative writing. Valerie still lives in Miami, with her husband and his miniature doppelganger.