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Column: The lines of the lightship

BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE

PUNGO — We scramble this morning to send our girls to school again. The lunches are made for two of them, one heading back to elementary school and the other starting middle school, but we’ve forgotten the bag for the baby.

We haven’t realized that yet, but it will dawn. Perhaps we realize the baby is four, that we are out of babies now, but may that realization never completely dawn.

Everything else is packed. Even the notebook my wife showed me inside a binder. The one the eldest girl drew on. She marked with her name and what looks like green vines.

We need pictures of our girls. We take them in the front of the house.

We tell them to stop playing around. We need to take the pictures before they go to school. They stop playing around, but still they remind us how to smile.

They make a line in front of the house, and we take pictures to immortalize the line.

Then the middle child gets her own photo made. She stands alone on the path, the rough route from Princess Anne Road through a family farm, pumpkins to the north, soybeans to the south, and then she walks toward the road. The yellow bus slows, headed south to Creeds. Some cars pass to beat the bus. Others stop so our second baby can cross to it.

We know a blue northbound van that stops because it carries their cousins.

And the middle child yells names of her family as she crosses Princess Anne Road. These are our instructions, a ritual for three years now, to send her regards to a line from mom and dad to sisters and pets and sometimes to the chickens we went and named, too.

The eldest gets a solo picture made on the same path. The silver lines of braces are off. She has a new white smile to carry to middle school that wears the old county’s name.

Once, when she was little and I was headed out to sea, she read about a lightship, and she drew one in green pencil. My first daughter gave this to me. I carried it away in my seabag to the Atlantic Ocean. It got me home fine.

Years later, I started this newspaper. I wanted my girls to know me doing this sort of thing for however long I could do it. It’s more selfish than that, of course. The most beautiful sins are pride when you look close.

Earlier this year, at the elementary school, the principal announced how my eldest wanted to take over the family newspaper. Some people smiled. I cringed and prayed.

May spirits light up all the bankers so she admires them. In any storm, sweet children, look to rock upon which bankers stand.

My wife realizes we haven’t gathered items on the list for the baby’s new daycare room.

I manhandle the list while she drops the eldest off at the middle school. The girl is nervous, but she is brave, too. Maybe the eldest will meet bankers. See how they glow, some helpful angel will whisper.

I gather the items for the baby while my wife is gone, line them up atop the dining room table — clothes in zipper bags, toothbrush and toothpaste, a picture of the family at a restaurant in Red Mill, the picture a waiter took of our family in its little line.

My wife returns. She finds a box of tissues, which was on the list. It’s a small house, but I could not find tissues. Maybe she spun them while my eyes were closed.

We go over the schedule. When are the girls back? When is the city council meeting? When does the car need to be where?

Time to go again. I hug the baby until she says she’d had enough. They’re off.

The house is too quiet. I bring my computer out to the barn to work. I hear traffic on the road, chickens in the yard.

The old lawnmower is nearby and broken. It wasn’t big enough for a Pungo yard, anyway, but now it is too broken for any yard. I think about how to replace the lawnmower instead of writing. But I need to write something. Even little newspapers don’t fill themselves. So I have to write this.

Until my wife returns. I head inside and find a picture tucked in an office drawer. I show her the picture. Do you remember?

No.

The eldest drew it back when I still went to sea, before the newspaper, before her littlest sister, before a roll call of goodbyes when a yellow bus slowed, before our life in Pungo, before chickens, before braces went on then came off, before middle school.

It has the creases from how the first baby folded it so I could carry it in my seabag when I still carried that sort of thing. It is just pencil on a page, the lines of my lightship.


© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

The Independent News

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