Part Two of two. Didn't read Part One? Posted yesterday. You run over there, I'll get a cup of coffee, and I'll meet you back here in, what, three?
“You know Burton, right?”
I look down to find a cat in my lap.
When did that happen?
“I knew him a little bit,” I say.
The darkness, like the cat, has crept in quietly, and neither of us has bothered to turn a lamp on. In the darkness of a winter’s afternoon, my father nods.
“Burton Danielski was my best friend. Man was that guy a talker – and handsome? Pfft. The girls loved Burton.”
I smile. Good ol’ Paul here was no slouch himself in the looks department.
“So it was mid-week, and I was going out to the Danielski farm, up by Arthyde. It was a good piece out into the country, maybe a 35-, 45-minute school bus ride. We would shovel snow and manure, throw hay.”
Dad leans back in his chair. I can see him smiling.
“Man. Those dinners. Mrs. Danielski was a fabulous cook, Patty.”
My father, a man incapable of remembering the names or ages of his children, frequently calls me by his sister’s name.
“I can imagine,” I say.
He shakes his head. “Roast and mashed potatoes, bread, hot and buttery…”
My father drifts back to a meal eaten over 50 years ago.
“Musta bin some meal,” I tease.
He laughs. “She kept an impeccable house, too. She ran a tight ship, did Mrs. Danielski. I always admired that.”
There is a moment’s silence.
“That night,” dad says, “it was a good 20 below. Burton slept in the attic – there were two small beds up there – but that night it was far too cold for us to have our own beds, so we shared one. Four thick blankets over us – couldn’t hardly roll over!“
He shakes his head. “An unheated attic,” he marvels. “I think it was January. Wow.”
I stroke the cat’s head, and she looks up at me, eyes narrowing in pleasure. Dad opens the door to the wood stove, throws a mitt full of wood onto the flames. He closes the door, brushes his palms one against the other.
He sits back in the La-Z-Boy, has a quick sip of beer.
“Anyway,” he says, “we fell asleep at some point, and I probably woke up about 1:00, 2:00 a.m. Had to see a man about a horse.”
He chuckles to himself. For a man who rarely swears, a conversation with his daughter involving seeing a man about a horse is risqué.
“So there I am, middle of the night, in perhaps the coldest room I’ve ever been in, in a fog. Where am I, again? Where’s the bathroom? I kinda sit up – and I nearly have a stroke.”
The fire crackles.
My father is nodding to himself, the vision of the Danielski’s mid-winter attic before him. “There at the end of the room, silhouetted against the bright winter sky, is a headless figure, five, maybe six feet tall. It’s arms were outstretched, reaching for me.”
Dad helps himself to another quick sip. “It seemed like forever – although I’m sure it was far less than that –“. He leans toward me, winks. “Eventually, of course, my eyes and brain came together, and there it was, hanging from the ceiling on a hanger, meant to be drying but now frozen solid: Burton’s longjohns.”
He shakes his head.
“I wondered for years why Mrs. Danielski would’ve made his arms like that, but thinking about it now, I’ll bet I filled that part in… She was not the kind of woman that would’ve made his sleeves freeze like arms coming toward you.”
My father rises from his chair, walks toward the fridge. “Yep,” he says. “Turns out I was scared by a pair of Burton’s undies.”
Paul on the drums, Burton on the trumpet.