The light that dripped through the Venetian blinds was so inviting that the doctor, waking up, wanted to lick it like caramel syrup.
He slid away from the sheets, lowered his naked feet onto the rug and put on a flannel bathrobe with the idea of following this light out the door. Marlene was still asleep, face downward. Her broad shoulders had slipped past the lime colored sheets.
He overcame the urge to study her asleep, knowing from past experience this would lead him to melancholy thoughts.
In the front hall, by the umbrella stand, the sunlight had made a sailboat out of a triangle and three parallel lines on the brown cork tiles.
Werner Hartmann stepped outside and heard the birds, the buds, a truck laboring uphill, gnashing its gears. All was blissful across the United States. Good day. Then he remembered the chamber music gathering that night, and felt a contraction, a pinch at the heart.
It was all because Geary, their violinist, had phoned the day before to say he couldn’t make it. He had to pick up his wife’s brother at the airport. Werner was upset; he had been looking forward to playing the Brahms piece and thought Geary was taking the group too casually. Either they would have to postpone the evening or else play trios. Then Annette, his oldest daughter, volunteered. Werner didn’t know if she could handle it. She was only thirteen, a willing but not noticeably gifted musician. Furthermore, she had the habit of sticking her tongue out when she played. Her violin teacher had warned her he would not allow her to be in the music school recital unless she cured herself of this ridiculous habit.
Well, this would be a good experience for Annette. He phoned the others for their opinion and they thought it was a wonderful solution.
So today Annette was going to have her debut.
“Pick me up!”
Terry scooted over to her father as soon as she saw him in the garden. Annette, who had been playing a game of tether ball with her younger sister, followed chastely behind, her chinked eyes frowning from sunshine as she waited beneath the rope-swing and the dogwood tree.
“Pick me up!” demanded Terry.
“There goes my gardening,” said Hartmann. He was more amused than put out. His chest hairs tickled Terry as he lifted her with his bony arms. She got right up close to his face to see it as if for the first time: the crusty brown pores, flabby lips and crag of a nose with its nostril hairs at the entrance of the cave, and the omniscient eyes, alien, watery blue, that looked into hers from a distance that could never be crossed.
“Hee-hee,” she laughed apprehensively.
Higher she rose, and now it was perfect. She giggled and her cheeks bloomed. Once...twice...thrice!” he pretended to drop her, and let her gently down.
“Again. This time a piggyback ride.”
From her kitchen window Marlene Hartmann laughed to herself at Terry’s directness. Pick me up! She knew just what she wanted, that girl. Heaven for her would be to swing in Daddy’s arms forever. But see how Annette hung back, already with that adult’s look of missing out. Maybe she thought she was getting too old for Daddy’s pick me ups.
Werner had a tightening sensation and immediately straightened his shoulders for Terry to slide down.
“That’s enough,” he grumbled.
Terry pulled a long face.
“No more now, no more.”
“Why don’t you give Annette a turn?” Marlene called from the back door. “I think she wants a piggy ride too!”
The girls were stunned that their mother had been “spying” on them. Hearing her tensely gay accent Annette made a sarcastic face. In fact she was glad someone had noticed her hovering and hovering, with her arms folded across her chest like a crushed bird.
“Well come here Annie! Soon you’ll be too heavy for me. One two three four Alley Oop!”
Annette closed her eyes and went limp. She thought she smelled the white dogwood blossoms growing on the higher branches.
“Come on, let’s finish the tether ball game, Terry. I’m winning 18-7.”
“Okay, but one more pickmeup.” Terry ran to her father’s knees and hugged them.
“Kids, let your father have some peace. I’m sure he doesn’t want you in his hair all Sunday.”
“We were going, mother,” Annette said.
“Well I should say so. Gosh, what a tone of voice!” Mrs. Hartmann said.
Her htisband waved to her. He looked so charming in his new goatee. She fancied him as a German courtier: distinguished, cultured, handsome to the ladies, a shade of melancholy. She remembered his face when it had been suffering but now that vtilnerability was losing ground to the warm fatherly fuzz of his beard, and a good thing too; perhaps she could relax and stop worrying about his discontent—begin to think of her own satisfaction more.
“Breakfast is in five minutes, okay?” Marlene called out.