This Present


While their father drove Mrs. Smiley home the children unpacked their shorts and their shirts and then wandered into their mother’s room, where she had already set out her brush and her comb and piled her library books on the bedstand beside the freshly made bed.


She turned to them. “Bored already?” she said and they denied it, without vehemence because it was not true; they merely wanted her presence, the sight and the scent of her for a little while. She saw this, and saw for a brief moment, too, what her husband might have intended when he chose, year after year, a different cottage to bring them to. The family had no history here, no memory of another time — no walls marked off with the children’s heights, no windowsills or countertops to remind her of how much they had grown.


She smiled and shook her head at the three of them. It was as if he stopped time for them two weeks out of every year, cut them off from both the past and the future so that they had only this present in a brand-new place, this present in which her children sought the sight and the scent of her: a wonderful thing, when you noticed it. When the past and the future grew still enough to let you notice it. He did that for her. This man she’d married.


~ Alice McDermott, At Weddings and Wakes (1992)

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