Monday, November 11, 2013

That astonishing biographer, memory, contrives a life

On one of those perfect Sundays afternoons that characterize the New England autumn he went for a ride in the country on his son's bike. The 10-speed machine was as light as a feather and moved like the wind, unlike the bulky red-and-white Shelby with horn and bell and luggage rack and 3-inch balloon tires that had been his as a boy.

There were fewer hills here than where he had grown up. Still, the years between his son and himself rolled themselves up into knots at the backs of his knees. His shirt was wet with sweat. He thought of turning toward home. Then, as if by a compensating grace, the wind moved to his back and the bicycle seemed to move by itself.

He saw monarch butterflies and monarch-colored meadows pinned against the roadsides by spikes of tall mullein. He saw goldenrods and asters, and walls of pink granite boulders piled high by Yankee farmers when the land was cleared. At the top of a long, gentle slope he stopped to watch a white-fanned mourning dove beat its way up to the branch of an oak. It made a swoosh-swoosh sort of sound that may have come from the bird's throat or from the thrust of its wings as it shoveled the thick air.

He waited until his heart was still. Then he pushed off and plunged on the graphite slide of his son's bike toward the gathering dusk at the foot of the hill. Pebbles leaped into the ditches, trees did handsprings over his head, the ball-bearings spun in their oiled races.