July 1944 by Jim Nichols
The word “change” brings my father to mind, because in the past few months he’s sea-changed from an elderly but still recognizable version of himself to an ancient, fragile soul who, if you’re not careful, can become a completely different person in your eyes. You have to look past the old-timer dozing in his chair and remember the whole being. Photographs help: there you can still reference the tousle-haired, wise-guy farm boy, the chock-full-of-life teenager. Then, abruptly – there were few childhood photos – the eagle-eyed fighter pilot. (His people didn’t do college, but he was a bookworm, and smart as a whip, and he made it through aviator training handily enough.)
You turn album pages, see the new husband with his pretty wife. Then the thirty-ish father of three, and quickly the forty-ish father of (!) nine. You see the insurance exec in his Portland office (handsome as Don Draper), and the strapping deer-hunter and fisherman. You see the still-boyish grin of the fifty-year-old selectman and recall a town meeting where someone made a crack about family size, and his quick response to that (unfortunately) childless wag: “Seems to me that really vital people never have any trouble reproducing.”
You turn pages, see the weekend musician with his rambunctious band, the self-taught portrait painter. And then the retiree in various locales, like Scotland, where he took my mother so he could retrace Mary Stuart’s escape route; his idea of a good time.
I’m still at the photos when this old man comes awake.
“Well, hello!” he says, and reaches, trembling, for his pipe.
“Hello!” I say (loudly). “How goes it today?”
“Oh,” he says, “as well as can be expected.” And he draws on the pipe and winks through billows of smoke. He grins like a wise-guy – against doctor’s orders – and I grin back and put the album away.
Jim Nichols (and Brady)
Jim Nichols lives on a little river in Warren, Maine, with his wife Anne, their Springer Spaniel Brady, Brady’s new stepbrother Jesse (a flat-coated retriever), many ducks, cormorants, osprey, eagles, two hives of Italian bees, cardinals, waxwings…well, you get the picture. Jim has published work in many venues, including december, Esquire, Zoetrope ASE, Narrative, Night Train, River City, elimae, The Clackamas Review, American Fiction Vol.9, Conversely, Germ, and Portland Monthly. He is the 2014 winner of the Curt Johnson Prose Award for Fiction (december magazine), a past winner of the Willamette Fiction Prize, and a prize winner in the River City Writing Awards. His collection Slow Monkeys and Other Stories was published in 2003 by Carnegie Mellon Press, and his novel Hull Creek appeared in April 2011. Closer All The Time, a novel in stories, will appear in February 2015 by Islandport Press.
Read Jim’s story “So Long, Brother” in our debut issue of Change Seven here.