The adults shunted the old man into a corner with a rocking chair and lukewarm cocoa, little Maryanne deposited on his knee. His crumbling lips hardly made a sound, croaked syllables wobbling on the tip of his tongue and tumbling to the carpet. Maryanne said he sounded like God sneezing, accidentally erupting frogs, and the adults blushed and her aunt sent her to her room for blaspheme, but the old man didn't mind. His hands told his stories, gleaming with candlelight, broken like his horses, thin veins and tendons sticking rod straight over his bones, bulging against his skin. He reached out over Maryanne's head and spun cobwebs around sleeping beauty’s castle, set winged demons loose on the rooftop, floated a tiara down on a princess’s head, sparked sunlight in an airless cave. Maryanne spoke his language, and that was all the mattered to either of them.
Aunt drew her pointer finger over the lip of her glass of orange juice, making it hum. “I think we need to talk about a home.”
“Oh, Marsha,” Uncle said, sticking his fork into a fat sausage. “He’s no trouble.”
“He’s shriveling away over there, it’s horrible to watch.”
“He’s your father, Marsha.”
This was their breakfast conversation, and Maryanne and the old man had stopped listening exactly four years and two months and one day and three hours ago, which was the moment Maryanne was born.
Today the old man fluttered his fingertips at Maryanne’s cheek, and she laughed and clasped his hands. I love you, I love you, his hands said.
“To the moon and back,” she whispered.
But five years, six months, seventeen days, and three hours after Maryanne was born, the adults’ hands started talking too. Their hands were tapping at their kneecaps under the table at breakfast, and later sliding under papers and boxes and envelopes as if afraid of being listened to. Aunt kept checking the door because she thought she heard someone knock, and Uncle slunk into his study and locked the door.
“This is my favorite painting,” Aunt said to the old man as she tucked it into a box along with tissue boxes and a roll of toilet paper. She jumped and glanced at the door, then tittered nervously. “Silly me. They wouldn’t be here yet. Oh, don’t look at me like that, dad, it’s best for everyone, especially you.”
Five years, six months, seventeen days, and nine hours after Maryanne was born, the old man’s hands were saying nothing but goodbye.