Saturday nights, alone in the upstairs hall he paced in shirt and tie through a tunnel of ancient books with his shoes on, never in stocking feet or barefoot, on the velvet leaves of the Persian runner, rehearsing his Sunday sermon. Striding rhythmically by the books aligned at the edge of every shelf, his feet rang the steps from one end of the hall where his oak desk filled the bay window to the other end at the screen-doored balcony, the toes of his pendulum feet dotting each “i” and jotting every tittle of his Biblical speech.
Beneath him, I sat in the living room with the TV, hearing through the ceiling the creaking cadence of his feet. I prayed the walking would carry on, that he wouldn’t come down and see me watching and listening to a program he didn’t approve with a worldly man on the screen: Dean Martin, born forty years before me, the same year as my dad, but destined for a different vocation. In a black tuxedo, white shirt, and bow tie coming undone with one finger, he crooned. He stood on a different kind of platform, with another kind of mic than my father's. He sang me a rock glass lullaby, loving me with eyes half open from within a nimbus of cigarette smoke.
I had a thing for older men who looked different than my red-haired father. I went for men with dark hair and graying temples. If they were olive-skinned and brown-eyed, I was smitten. Even as a teenaged girl riding on airplanes to visit my sister in Chicago, I kept my eye on the middle-aged gentlemen in suits. I was too innocent, and outwardly aloof, to fall prey to the wrong kind of man, but I had fantasies of their attentions. Dean Martin was the model older man of my daydreams — beautiful, charming and funny.
If my dad paused in place in the hallway above me, suddenly silent, my heart would stop. I’d watch with anxiety for him to appear at the French doors. Then the old oak floorboards above me would chirp again and chide: a phrase in the sermon had been wrong. He’d stopped his hallway itinerary, corrected the line or word, and his steps were off again, pacing steadily, my heart commencing its beat.
Top: Rolfe Horn
Bottom: "Candy Cigarette" by Sally Mann