“Happy Father’s Day, daddy.”
“Wanna know what we got you?”
“We fixed up your bike. It was my idea.”
“ELENA,” Maggie explodes, “it was not. It was both of our ideas.”
I smile. In my head, that’s how I was greeted this morning for Father’s Day. Actually, Kim had my bike fixed up. I haven’t ridden it much since Elena died. The Father’s Day before she died she gave me a new bike pump and a rear reflector. I took my bike up to have it cleaned and tuned a few weeks ago and Kim surprised me by taking it back up and putting smoother tires on it.
Maggie got up around six this morning and popped into our room and went back to sleep while Kim went out for my Father’s Day breakfast. Our tradition for Kim’s Mother’s Day breakfast is pear crepes. For Father’s Day the tradition is bagels broken only once when Kim decided to make us Huevos Rancheros. Part of the tradition is that she forgets to pick up the bagels ahead of time. Usually I remind her the night before but last night the bagel place had closed before she got a chance to stop in.
I think it’s better this way. The bagels are fresh. I made coffee and cut up a tomato and an onion while Kim ran out for the bagels. Traditions.
After breakfast while Kim cleaned up I loaded my iPod shuffle with disk one of “The Essential Bruce Springsteen”. The Big Man died last night. A retrospective seemed like the best soundtrack for this morning.
I hopped on my bike and headed for the cemetery. Actually, in my head I hopped on the bike. In reality I made old-man noises as I threw my leg over and pushed off, wobbling back and forth til I gathered speed.
I ride down our block to Coventry. I cross Shaker Boulevard and pick up a little speed going down hill. It’s a perfect morning for a ride.
In my head, Elena is biking beside me. Her hair is blowing free in the wind.
That’s right. No helmet.
What’s the point. She’s already dead. Streamers in her handle bars and a banana seat. She’s still six and yet she’s keeping up pretty well.
We stop at a light and I lose her. She mainly exists in motion.
“Daddy, next year I’m going to middle school.”
I play along. I know she’s not going to ever go to middle school, but then again she’s not really biking beside me either.
“I know, baby.”
“I’m almost in high school. Then I’m going to drive. Daddy?”
“I’ve been thinking. When I’m driving the car, it’s ok if you ride in the front seat.”
You would have liked her.
Anyway, I’m sitting on the same green bench I’ve sat on each year. Six Father’s Days looking at Elena’s grave. Traditions.
In my ears, the extended sax solo from “Jungleland” plays. The hand of the Big Man on my shoulder. He gives it a squeeze. “I see her,” the gesture says, “she’s ok. She’s down front doing an interpretive dance and raising a lighter encouraging me to play more.”
A lighter? In Heaven? Sure, you say, we were with you when Clarence Clemons was visiting you in a cemetery in Cleveland. But the lighter — that’s going too far.
In my head Clarence is painting a picture of my baby swaying to his solo and holding a lighter as high as she can. She’s trying to bring him back to play more.
Bruce sings, “Everything that dies someday comes back.” Clarence doesn’t play on this one. The only way to bring him back is to skip to the next track.
“I miss you baby.”
“I know Daddy, but it’s not time.”
“I know. I’m sitting here in the front row on the green bench holding a lighter as high as I can.”
“A lighter, daddy, really?”
“In my head, baby.”
“Well, daddy, that’s where I’ll be performing my encore. In your head.”