You get up early as the pre-summer sun slants around the gap in the blinds. As you leave your wife sleeping, the coffee is brewed and the paper dashed. It's Father's Day and you have decided to get out of the house and drive the hour or so to where your father has laid for seventeen years now. You're not exactly sure why, but you are happy to be on your own this morning, alone with some appropriately melancholic music.
She wants to come with you, but you say no thanks. How do you tell the love of your life, whom you have awakened just a half hour ago, that you would rather be in the car this Sunday morning, heading down an empty four-lane, barreling towards where your past rests?
On the way down your daughter calls from five hours into the future. "Happy Father's Day. I love you, Dad." You remember the photo of your father and daughter walking away from you, towards the bridge next to the old, old house, hand in hand, each mimicking the other's slightly bowlegged, tentative gait, one because of a life just beginning and one just beginning to end.
Solitary, quiet, you drive to the house of your boyhood and stop on the side of the road near the tiger lilies. You can't see the back yard, but you wonder if the peonies are still there, if their scent is perhaps lingering a month late. But you know that it is past time for them, even here, past Pentecost, past the cool Spring that calls the perfumed buds to explode in a riot of floral Hydras.
You weave through the forgotten little hamlet, up the steep hill and down again, past the places you met friends, played games, went to school. You arrive through the back door of the dosing college town and follow your memory--turn right here, left here--until you come to the hidden bower that makes for the cemetery entrance.
There is no one else here except for the attendant and his family, the kids riding a mini pickup truck that probably carries earth and debris on other days.
You know where everything is. You have been coming here since you were too small to remember. You smell the earth, feel yourself kneel to attend to the graves that your father looked after lovingly: his father, his mother's mother. You walk first to your grandmother's grave, dead years after her son, and your grandfather's, who you never met.
On your father's headstone, the small rocks are still there, those that your wife taught you to leave with a prayer as a sign that someone who loved this person had been here. You search for two more--one for you and one for your daughter--and lay them on the granite. You sit. And for a while, your mind wanders past the day after your aunt's wedding when your father took you with him to visit his father's grave. You can see him standing there, at the foot, weeping quietly. You wonder if your mother minds having her name and birthdate already cut into the stone. You glance towards the ancient maple that shades the site and that has been in this spot for generations. It is a good place to be right now, and you are grateful for the quiet.
There's a touch of weeding to do, but you are not there for maintenance. You are there because you have to be, because not to would make no sense.
You walk over to your great-grandmother's grave, one that you used to care for along with your father and find, to your utter surprise that the peony planted there has remained, impossibly, one last bloom. It is full and fresh, even amidst its brown, shriveled companions. You kneel to take a sniff and you slip on the damp grass, and as you hit the ground you find that you have assumed a posture of reverence and you stay there a moment.
The flower fills your nose and you recall how the sweet, heavy scent hung around your parent's yard. You know what to do. You take out your pocket knife. Neatly cutting the stem so that there are a few leaves to accompany the bloom, you thank your great-grandmother for the gift and transfer it to your father. You lay the flower on the headstone, imagining something like a conversation. "You should see your granddaughter. You would adore her and she would adore you."
You turn, your past catching in your throat as you head back to your car. You call your wife to let her know you are on your way home. Then, with no music save that playing in your head, you are gone, back to the life that awaits.