In his own dialogue, "Phaedo" Plato himself makes a very rare and unusual personal appearance to say of Socrates:
Such was the end, Echercrates, of our friend; concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest and justest and best.
The running board of the Overfield's Packard was almost even with the next to the last step of the Zook's back porch. An empty milk can propped open a rear door to the car's purple interior. The can rocked to an unpredictable rhythm of the wind and added just-audible clinks to the few sounds of the morning.
On the porch, Asa Zook and his brother Raymond flanked their grandmother, Mrs. Nora Wilson Overfield. She clutched Raymond's right hand within the slant pocket of her unbuttoned fox-collar coat. He wore a misbuttoned plaid mackinaw of blue- green algae color that once belonged to Asa and now smelled of mothballs. Mrs. Overfield took a deep breath, held it momentarily and then exhaled a series of partially smothered sighs.
Muffled noises came from within the house. In a moment the door opened, and Loretta Overfield Zook appeared on the threshold supported by her husband, Elwood. Her father, the Reverend Dr. Milton Overfield towered behind her and Elwood and tried awkwardly and unsuccessfully to maneuver a massive white hand under one of her elbows.
Loretta arched her long neck, tipped back her head and lowered one foot to the porch. A plank slowly yielded beneath the leather toe of her slipper. Then the plank stopped yielding. Loretta checked her descent. Her eyes rolled upward and showed only white. Her lower jaw sagged as though it had no bone in it. A long wavering hum escaped from the depths of her to dominate all sound carried on the thin air of this day.
Dr. Overfield spoke. "Etta darling dear, shall we carry..." His speech ended amid-sentence, as though he had been struck in the chest with a hammer. Loretta tried to smile; her large, parched lips mimed No thank you.
Both feet finally on the porch, she straightened and looked at Raymond. He had just inserted a finger in a nostril, but immediately withdrew it at her glance. He disengaged from his grandmother and walked to Loretta. "Be my darling goodboy for Poppa," Loretta said. She kissed Raymond, twice on the top of the head. Then she moistened the tip of her index finger with saliva and erased a faint track of dried blueberry jelly from his chin. She kissed him again, and he returned to his grandmother.
Loretta now shifted her gaze to Asa. He immediately walked to her, tiptoed slightly and kissed the fleshy part of her cheek. She cupped his chin in her hand and adjusted his line of sight to her own. Then she recited,
"How did we manage before you came?"Asa resumed his position alongside Mrs. Overfield.
Half way to the car, Loretta could go no further, and Elwood carried her the rest of the way. Dr. Overfield set the milk can on the porch and, with the weight of his upper body translated through the heels of his hands, pressed the car door shut behind Loretta and Elwood. Dr. Overfield glanced briefly at his wife and grandsons and assumed the driver's seat. The motor caught on the first full whir of the self- starter.
Snow flakes suddenly materialized, large and delicate, many swirling upward as though their true source had been the ground. Raymond raised his free hand, pointed up and began singing,
"Old Mother Goose,Cinders and crushed seashells crackled under the rotating stress of tires as the Packard began to move. As the car reached a bend in the driveway, Loretta's face flashed momentarily in the window but quickly vanished behind a reflecting glare. The car paused at the end of the driveway, as though to take a labored breath. Then it swagged slightly as it eased over the narrow dirt shoulder onto the macadam of the road, in transit resembling a soon- doomed horseshoe crab on its way over a ridge of beached seaweed.
"Mother living in the sky
"When she shakes her featherbed
"See the feathers fwy
"See the feathers fwy."
Raymond, arm still raised, opened and closed his fingers to the universal tempo of a child's bye-bye! The Packard accelerated, grew small, reached a bend in the road, was gone.
"Let's go in the house boys," Mrs. Overfield said. At the door, she paused and looked back at Asa who had not moved. Her lips tensed as though she would speak. But she said nothing further, turned and escorted Raymond inside.
Now the snow fell heavily and quickly and in the form of earnest little crystals with the frigid wherewithal to cover a world in lasting whiteness. Asa glanced at the low sky. Then he thrust both hands deep into his overall pockets, walked down the steps, across the yard, through the garden, between the compost piles, onto the field and toward the woods.
Copyright, 1996 by Paul Pietsch, all rights reserved.
May be copied for personal, educational or other non-commercial "fair-use" purposes, as defined by U.S. copyright law.
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