Only Words Stand

He has been a child and he has been a father and now he is nothing other than himself. He has buried his parents, buried his husband, outlived them all. His children have children, and their children have children, too. He can’t keep their names straight and doesn’t try, but he held them all when they were diapered and wept at their beauty.

“Cankered,” the younger Hans calls him, “a cankered old man.”

“Hard and unlovable,” agrees the older Hans.

“He did his best,” says Rosetta, the daughter, the only one his husband had named, unable to stomach a third Hans. “Lord knows he tried.”

They are eating in his kitchen, eating the pecan pie he made, drinking the coffee he made, talking and reminding while he dries the dishes. It is the tenth anniversary of his husband’s death, and they have come home to keep him company. He doesn’t cry anymore, but he forgets to turn the lights on when it gets dark and the younger Hans worries. They will drink too much, later, and grow easy with each other again, thawing after a year apart; it is a little harder each time.