So I went back to Dallas for the Fourth, finally. The first thing I noticed when I got out of the cab was that the Christmas tree was still up in the window of our Georgian. My father was standing on the front porch wearing a blue tee shirt with white stars, jeans and cowboy boots. He wasn’t dressed in the crisply ironed button-down and tie that he and all his engineer friends had worn since I could remember. His hair--what hair he had left--was white. Did it look that white eighteen months ago when I was last home for my mother’s funeral?

"Jesus, why the Christmas tree?" I asked as he greeted me with a quick pat on the back.

He just didn't ever get around to taking it down, he explained.  "Listen, son,” he said to me, “it’s a little Christmasy feeling around the house." He bent over to plug in the tree and stood up by the piano with one of those silver icicles clinging to the front of his tee shirt.

This woman CC he had mentioned on the phone came into the music room wearing a tee shirt herself, with a wide horizontal red stripe tight over her chest. There was red lipstick on her teeth. She gave me a hug even before she spoke. Her chest felt like two soft pillows and she left perfume on my shirt that lasted until I put it in the laundry back in New York.

“So, how'd you meet CC?” I asked him, when CC went into the kitchen.


“Craigs? I let out a laugh, “That's dangerous.”

“It’s not dangerous if you’re looking for a dance partner,” he told me.

“Dance partner?”

“For the ballroom class I registered for. Can’t dance by yourself.”

“It’s just. I didn’t think that
really meant dance partner.”

“Listen, sometimes things aren’t symbols...don’t have layers to be dug into,” he said, “especially on the internet.”

CC returned with a pill in the palm of her hand and a glass of water, which he took from her and said to me, “blood pressure.” She kissed the top of his head and left a red pair of lips sitting there on his shiny scalp.

There's one of my mother's photos in my apartment on West 79th. Her Christmas photos, photos of us, were always black and white. She would say, “The truth is in the shadows, boys.” I need to show my therapist this photo on Thursday. Every year, all my friends were in color shots, smiling straight ahead, families lined up against the fireplaces in their own Georgians, and my mother would say the happiness was two-dimensional.

In this one photo, she had my brother and me sitting under a chess set just when the morning light got to the place she needed it. Said this year’s photo was to be “Recursive Marriage”: a shot taken from high above of us in the music room with an earlier family photo hanging on the wall in the background.

She said, “What ever you do, don't look at the camera.” She put the timer on and jumped from her ladder, said something about the optimum focal depth, something about 1/200th second, and there we were, dressed in black, not pretending to be singing "Deck the Halls" around the Steinway, but looking longingly into the future in gray tones under a chess set, my mother and father sitting at the piano.

I had Vera from work over the other day before a play, and she wanted to know if my mother had been a photographer, and I said, no, she was a law professor. Vera half-smiled and said, "That’s a very nice photo", that she really liked the shadows, and I nodded.

So, we went to the Fourth parade. We waved our flags. We had a cookout. CC said we had to get a photo. She pulled out her iphone and said, “Look here at the camera and say cheese.” I looked to my father.

Fiction and poetry by Cynthia Litz, MD have appeared in Narrative, Camera Obscura, Night Train, and The Annals of Internal Medicine.


The human face can easily act for the camera (except for the part of expression under control of the autonomic nervous system, such as pupil size). The prompt photo reminded me that holidays sometime do bring out the actor in us, and I wanted to write about that; but by choosing a son as the narrator, the story unwittingly explored the legacy of a mother's perspective. 




Copyright 2009