The Best He Could
My dad took us out to eat most evenings.
At Piccadilly Cafeteria, I'd push my tray
along the serving line, load it with my favorites
glowing beneath the heat lamps: chicken and dumplings,
fresh biscuits, and strawberry shortcake. I'd speed-walk
to keep up with my brother as he threaded his way
between tables till he found the one he wanted.
Overhead, dim chandeliers hung like showy birds,
their light barely reaching the walls papered in gold
with burgundy velvet flock. I remember the soft
drone of silver-haired diners who wiped the corners
of their mouths with red cloth napkins and lined up
to load their finished trays on the conveyor belt.
If I try hard, I can see us sitting at our table.
Me, still dressed in my blue-gray uniform
and tight brown ponytail. My brother, sun-bleached
cowlick jutting up from his forehead. My father,
skin and bone in his pale dress shirt, his blue eyes,
his aged, pitted face, his thick, dark hair, and false,
even teeth. I can see him lift his fork to his mouth
with swollen hands. I can almost hear his thoughts
turn as he chews his food, as he looks at us wondering
if we'll remember him, know that he looked after us
the best he could.
First appeared in The
Noe Valley Voice, December 2001
P. J. Taylor ©2001