An interstate restaurant. An evening rush. The place was filled with people. There was a long wait. We’d been on the road for hours, with hours left to go.
An old man sat beside me in one of the benches out front. He had a fleshy face, cotton hair, and an Auburn University hat.
We talked while we waited for tables.
He was meeting his daughter and grandkids for supper.
“She’s coming in from Franklin,” he said. “She’s gonna stay at my house this week.”
He rocked forward and said nothing more.
And I should’ve left him alone, but I didn’t. I have too much of my mother’s curiosity in me. I asked questions to get the rest of his story. I don’t like prying, but I’m not above it.
I asked why his daughter was coming into town.
“She’s coming for a funeral,” he went on. “We’re, uhh…” He pauses. “My wife just passed.”
He was sad. I could see it in his face. Now I
really felt bad for not leaving him alone.
“Her name was Robin,” he went on. Then he stopped. He pinched his nose.
That word. “Was.”
I remember when my father died. The first time I referred to him in the past tense broke my heart. All at once, I realized that most of the other tenses would never apply to him. Present, future, and subjunctive were useless now. Once, he WAS alive. But now he wasn’t. It’s as simple as that.
“Robin was great,” he said. “She was a painter. She took it up when she turned fifty, she was so good at it, nobody could believe how good.”
She used to paint portraits of him for practice. The first paintings came out looking like monstrosities, he explained. But she got better.
He would pose for her, sometimes three,…