The farther we got from the hospital the more Uncle Lloyd seemed to come back to life. We drove through blocks and blocks of what most people just called "Dallas", but was really the urban sprawl turned metropolitan area of a handful of cities with irrelevant names. As we got onto the freeway we could still see Saint Benidict's. Uncle Lloyd gave it a long stare, but was interrupted by a deep hacking cough that exploded from his chest.
"Lloyd", I said as if I could help. He shook his head and raised his hand in a motion that meant "I'm OK", and continued to bark into a handkerchief cupped in his hand. Eventually the cough was reduced to an unsettling wheeze, and as he looked up he was greeted by thinning traffic, a panorama of open country, and an exit sign for Gambridge. A smile spread across his face as he cleared his throat.
"That's where I met your Aunt Netty."
"Yep. Oh boy was that a long time ago... I was in town gettin' some things and I bumped into her at the grocery store."
"Really... I didn't know that."
Uncle Lloyd was not the type to indulge in conversations that were not of mutual interest. He knew I was humoring him; he could always tell, and there was nothing I could do about it. I wanted to be a good audience for him, but the fact was that I had heard the story before and could practically recite it from memory.
It's not that Uncle Lloyd's memory was bad; in fact, it was extraordinary. He could remember the birthdays of all of his employees. If he ever met a man, and shook his hand, he could remember his name long past it was of any use. A few years ago, when I was with my family for the holidays, he came up and patted me on the back and said, "He was a good dog kid. Damn could he play fetch!”. After a few minutes of confusion, I realized that it was indeed the anniversary of the day my dog, Bandit, had died a few years before.
It seemed to me that Uncle Lloyd never thought about the month, or the day, but had some natural connection to the individual signature of a moment. For him, last April 5th wasn't just another day at the office: It was the day that one of his accountants showed him pictures of his new born baby. It was the day that his wife cooked him a steak that was medium rare and shiny with grease and homemade gravy, and she wore a perfume that smelled like fresh cut daisies. She had reached over to kiss him on the forehead, and her blouse opened up like curtains to expose the ivory white of her breasts, and he comprehended the artistry of beauty’s maker.
He knew that I knew the story. But today, he wanted to hear it again.
"Yessir", he said in an amused retort. "I literally bumped into her! Bout' gave the girl a heart attack. She was holdin' a carton of eggs.. and I knocked em' straight out of her hands!"
He paused as if he had remembered something important and shifted his attention from me to his window. The side of his face became animated, embellished with amber evening sunlight washing over the subtle winkles around his eyes and the gentle shadow of gray stubble burgeoning from his ear to his throat. The medicine and ultra violet lights had muted his leathered complexion, but under the array of a setting sun it had become the color of infant gold.
"She was pretty. God damn your aunt was pretty. I told her right then 'I wish I could say I was sorry mam, but you are honestly the best thing that has happened to me this week!'"
He glanced back at me for a moment, in search of any sign of disinterest, but upon finding my expression acceptable, continued his story.
"I said 'Lady, I hope you don't mind if I buy you some new eggs. Also, I hope you wouldn't mind me buying you dinner- if you don't already got one.'" He laughed out loud in spite of the benign rasp that lingered in his throat. It was good to hear him laugh again. For a split second, we were back the fair, back on that rickety wooden rollercoaster, and back in front of those mirrors that shaped us into giggling clowns.
"Damn kid I was slick. Ha... She told me her mama was expecting her back for supper. Well, you know your aunt, she was pullin' my leg. She just wanted to watch me squirm and stutter. Haha... god damn she was sly. Eventually she threw me a rope and said that her mama had made plenty for an extra stomach, and that I should tag along back with her."
He was back looking out his window now with an expression of pleasant contemplation. We passed more little towns, and houses and grocery stores. I wasn't sure if he saw them all like he saw people, each with its own set of memories and emotions, or if he was looking at something else, more distant and more specific. We took the next exit and drove toward a carved wooden sign with a dairy cow and some wheat painted on it. Uncle Lloyd's eyes snapped away from the side window and trained in on the sign, then dutifully read it out loud as we came to it.
"Welcome to Bigsby"