Certain Lines

Kallie pulled one last handful of breadcrumbs from the paper bag and tossed it to the ducks floating near the edge of the pond. She brushed a bushy lock of red hair from her broad, pale face, then jogged up the shallow hill and hopped onto the park bench next to Bill. She grabbed her sketch pad and finished a drawing of the ducks she had been working on intermittently.

“Grandpa,” she said, “when we get home, I want to draw some more. I made up a game I want to play with you and mom.”

“OK, what’s the game?” Bill asked.

Kallie touched her finger to Bill’s cheek and sketched an imaginary line down to his chin. “I draw a picture, and we mold a clay figure of it.”

“That sounds fun,” he said. “Keep the pictures simple, though. We only have so much clay.”

“I know,” she said. “You see, things are changing here for us. It helps when Mom and I stay with you now and then for a few days. It’s not fair the other way.” She ran her finger from Bill’s chin to the tip his nose and left her finger there.

“What’s the other way?” Bill asked.

“When Dad and Mom are mean to each other.” Then she flicked Bill on the nose and asked, “Why are they so angry, Grandpa?”

“Well,” Bill said, “I know Doug is partly that way because I was pretty rough on him when we were both younger.”

Kallie grabbed a thick patch of reddish-gray hair on the side of Bill’s head and asked, “Why were you rough on him, Grandpa?”

“Because I wasn’t very smart, and I blamed him for just about everything. It’s an age-old problem. Don’t do that to people, Kallie. It isn’t worth it. Ever.”

Kallie released Bill’s hair, poked her finger in his ear, and said, “Dad and Mom yell at each other for everything. Dad blames Mom for his drinking. And Mom says Dad doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do, but Dad’s always working in the garage or around the house! He looks like he’s working to me. Mom and Dad just don’t understand each other.”

“Yup,” Bill said. They sat quietly together for a few minutes watching the ducks. Then Bill glanced at Kallie from the corner of his eye, stared back at the pond, and said, “Say, let’s stay out a while longer. We can drive to the marina, and you can draw the fishermen. I’m sure your mom won’t mind. Would you like that?”

“Yes yes yes!”

“Oh, and by the way, what would you think about you and your mom living with me for a little while so your dad can sort some things out? He’ll be around to see you plenty, and the schools here are way better than the ones you’ve been going to anyway. You could have probably guessed that.”

Kallie’s face flushed dark red. She said, “Grandpa, what do you mean?”

“Sweetheart, it’ll just be for a little while, and I’ll take good care of you and your mom. What matters now is that everyone is moving in the right direction. Your mom is even talking about going back to school, which I think is a great idea. Let’s head on down to the King’s Arms for dinner. We’ll get a window seat by the dock. We can stop at the hobby store for some more sketch pad paper and pencils along the way. We should have dinner on the table before the sun sets.”

Kallie hugged Bill’s arm tightly and asked, “Grandpa, is Daddy OK? He’ll never leave us, will he?”

“No, Kallie, he’s never going to leave us,” Bill said, “and yes, he’s generally OK. You know as well as I do that he’s struggling a little right now, but if you ask me, he’s actually better off than I was at that age. He’ll be fine, and like I say, he’ll be around. He is my son, after all. Now let’s get rolling before we lose the sunlight on the bay, Kallie. We can talk on the drive, but we have to keep moving.”

They stood up and walked to the car hand in hand. As Bill opened Kallie’s door, she said, “I’m going to draw a picture of Daddy the next time we see him. Then can we mold him in clay?”

“That’ll be his choice, actually,” said Bill.

“I wonder if he’ll let us,” Kallie said.

They hopped in the car and headed off to dinner.