From a photo album, from behind my cherubic face, a note fell out and landed on my foot. Neatly written. One page. My father’s handwriting.

“I wish,” he said, “that my father had been around to see you.”

It was dated October 19, 1971.

The day I came to be.

There are stories I would learn—

The horse in the backyard.

The watch in the attic.

The flood in the cellar.

His serious, black-and-white wedding photo would sit on our mantelpiece, almost expressionless, as if love were not the reason he was standing there. Like he was in a line to buy something that everyone else in the neighborhood already owned. He was just the last to submit to getting one.

I had never seen the letter before. Tucked there so perhaps it might fall out when I was in my fifties and needing reminders of where I came from. Instead, it fell out in my thirties, when different stories were being told of my grandfather.

The girls in the barn.

The two-by-four and the boy.

The daughters and aunts and nieces.

The basement.

The uncles traveling to Weymouth Cemetery on a drunken night and urinating all over his gravestone.

I held the letter and read it in its entirety, a father of his first son reaching out to a father of his last son. He was on a plane, returning from a business trip, sad that he had not witnessed my arrival, but wanting to share it with someone. So proud in that moment. So free of the truth that half his family knew. The women.

“I wish that my father had been around to see you.”

I glanced at the photo album, at the opposite page. The day of my birth became the first two to three months. The proud father stood at a white marble dish, joined by his wife holding an older child. A daughter. A priest perched between them, all stuffy white robes, stern face. A christening.

Flanked by the family from behind. The patriarch included. Thick as an outhouse. Dark suit. Hands crossed at his belly.

I checked the date on the note again.

I read the first line again.

“I wish that my father had been around to see you.”

And there he was. Seeing me. In moments, holding me. A rough set of lips kissing my bald head. An attempt at a smile for the camera.

Attempts at smiles all around me.

How would a man not know when his father died? Write me a eulogy as if he were…?

All the good encapsulated, insulated in that form, outlasting the other stories.

I folded the note.

I replaced it behind the baby photo.

I closed the album.

M Mary Sullivan

M Mary Sullivan is a writer and mental health nurse practitioner living in Richmond, Virginia. His poems and stories have been published in numerous magazines and several anthologies. He was the recipient of a Pewter Plate Award from Highlights Magazine for outstanding contributions to children’s literature.

Hailey Renee

Hailey Renee Brown is a professional illustrator born and raised in mid Michigan. A former field biologist, she moved across country from Michigan to New Jersey, also moving from science to commercial art. A professionally trained artist, she attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, NJ. She was selected the recipient of the 2017 Norman Maurer Memorial Award as well as the 2019 Joe Kubert Jumpstart Project.