By John Thomas Tuft

Rice cooked with milk and sugar. He remembered that, he was sure of it. Taking walks at night with his beloved Anne, looking for the breaks in the sky. That was clear in his mind, also. In springtime, noticing the deep greens of the trees etched against the Carolina blue of the sky. He always had that with him, too. Oh, and how on the days his mother fixed rice cooked with milk and sugar for his breakfast, when he got home from school that afternoon she had mixed the leftover rice with cinnamon and raisins and baked it to make for a delightful rice pudding. Why was he thinking about his mother so much these days, he wondered. All through the years he wielded memories of her as an angel blade against despair, any thoughts of giving up, or if he was tempted to rage against the machinations of a world determined to find the bloodiest answer to anything and everything.

His first kiss. Now, why was he thinking about that? Or, rather, about her? Cynthia. Ninth grade. Her living room. Her mother in the sewing room, not ten feet away. Scary, exhilarating. What was this, a damn game of Clue? And oh, wow, the rush…the rush of…mystery. Whatever became of Cynthia anyway? He couldn’t remember and wasn’t sure why that bothered him. Sorry Anne. Nobody kissed like you, honey. He shook his head and stepped off the porch into the grass. On his right, the azaleas were in full bloom. She planted those the first year in their home. Almost cut him off at the knees (well, maybe a little higher) the year he suggested digging them up for some annuals. It was an innocent suggestion, but it was nigh on summer before she’d forgiven him. He craned his neck to look at the stars as he walked toward the gravel drive, aching for that moment of feeling forgiveness one more time.

Rice cooked with milk and sugar. The simple things. The time before everything got so complicated. The car needed a good washing, he noted idly. Mostly it just sat there but “you take care of what you have, else why have it?” Daddy always said. The thing was all lights and wires now, beeped at you if you looked cross-eyed at the center line. And who was too lazy to turn around and look out the rear window to back up? Cameras and sensors and all tarnation. He kicked at the gravel, grunted when bare toes met hard rock. Where were his shoes? He could’ve sworn he put them on. But it was dark out now. Was it bedtime? “Anne?” he called out. “Annie!” No answer.

Maybe he should get the hose rolled out, grab a bucket and wash the car right now. Get it all shined up. Wipe it down with a chamois cloth. Always chamois, don’t let anybody tell you no different. Till he could see the stars reflected in the finish. Get Annie and go for a midnight ride at 9:30 in the evening. Brrr, the breeze is right chilly. She might need a jacket. If they could have just one more midnight ride… “Don’t be prayin’ for miracles,” his mother would say. “Why would God be takin’ shortcuts for you? Shortcuts are for people who think they’ll never get lost.” Now why was he thinking about that? He ran his fingers through thinning hair. Man, he had a full head of hair back in the day. Strong enough to pick up both kids and twirl them around to squeals of delight. He sighed, and headed back toward the door, aching for that moment of feeling wanted one more time.

His pocket started to chime. Crap, who invented these things? He tugged the cell phone out of his pocket. Susie’s face beamed at him. Never could figure out how to work this crazy notion of…Facetime? So he knew it would be him seeing her, but glad in a way that, like Cynthia’s mom, she couldn’t see him. Wouldn’t see him. “Daddy? Everything okay with you?” No, she didn’t see him. He grimaced. “Yes, don’t worry your pretty little head. I’m okay, darlin’!” Did that sound cheery enough? “How’s my grandkids?” She brushed her thick hair away from her face. “They’re fine, Daddy. I don’t like that I can’t see you. Touch the icon on your screen.” She couldn’t see him wave away this intrusion. “I’m good, Susie. I was just on my way out.” “Daddy, it’s nighttime. You usually go to bed around now.”

He swallowed the fear in his throat. “Yeah, I know. Just seeing if you’re paying attention.” He saw her brow furrow. “You didn’t forget about tomorrow, did you?” she asked. “You can’t forget something that hasn’t happened yet,” he covered his confusion. “Daddy, I’m taking you to look at that nice place. Time to get you outta that old house. I don’t want to have to worry about you, okay?” “Yeah,” he murmured. “No, I didn’t forget.” His bare feet were feeling so cold from his night moves. Maybe Annie had his slippers. “I’ll be there in the morning for the tour. Okay? Love you, Daddy. Anything you want?” He cut the connection, leaned heavily against the door, aching for that moment of feeling needed one more time.

He looked at the stars for the longest time. And finally whispered to them, “Yes. I want rice cooked with milk and sugar.”

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.