Saturday 22 June 2013

'Lending a Hand' by Mark McClelland

My father stands at the kitchen island, buttering scraps of paper with a Sharpie.  He is humming, sweeping the pen through the soft butter and spreading it carefully, working through a pile of scraps collected from around the house.

"Is this going to be enough?" he asks.  My mother stands at the sink, peeling carrots.  Her eyes well up with tears.  She drops her work and joins me in the next room, sitting down heavily beside me.  "He sounds so honest, like a little boy."  She shakes her head, sniffling.

Later, I watch out the back window.  My father is washing the dining room chairs.  He sprays one down with the garden hose, scrubs it with steel wool, and rinses it.  The lustrous finish is ruined.  Satisfied it’s clean, he carries it to the clothes line, where two more are already hung to dry.  He takes a length of twine from his pocket and expertly ties up the third.  Humming a merry tune, he starts to wash another.
I go to my mother.  "I know," she says.  "I know."  She looks down at me with compassion and understanding, and hugs me close.  "He'll come around."
In tromps my father, still humming.  "Where's the coffee pot, honey?"  My mother points to a cupboard.  He resumes his tune, grabbing the stainless steel percolator from its shelf and hurrying outside with it.  I watch after him, my mother hugging me closer.
After the coffee pot, he takes out the family photo albums.  My mother wrings her hands, but feels there’s nothing she can do.  I run to the back window again.  A fresh breeze meets me, lifting the curtains into my face.  And there is my father, on the lawn, dismantling our oldest album.  I see a page of my mother in her wedding dress, washed and clipped up on the line.  Page after page, rarely have I seen him so industrious.  Running out of room on the line, he looks to the chairs.  He tests one, wiping a finger across the seat, and nods vigorously, deeming it dry.  Up go the Niagara Falls postcards from their honeymoon, the baby pictures, and photos of my first birthday.  The pages play in the breeze, the percolator sparkles in the sun.
It’s not long before he comes back inside.  My mother intercepts him.  "Don't you think you'd better take a break?  I could make up some coffee and toast."  "No thanks honey.  Not hungry.  Besides, the coffee pot's still drying."  He moves past us, into the living room.  There he wraps both arms around the old television, lifts it with a great heave, and comes back through the house.  "Dad!" I exclaim.  My mother interrupts me.  "He just wants to lend a hand around the house," she says.  Again that look of compassion and understanding.  As if this should all make sense to me.
"Could you get the door for me?" he asks.  I hesitate, but my mother shooshes me after him.


  1. Very evocative. This story provides a glimpse ino the mindset of those stalwart souls who literally pick up the pieces of their lives after a disaster and begin the process of moving forward. It breathes life into the cliches of not "crying over spilt milk" and "what's done is done." I was especially moved by the example of strength and determination in the midst of adversity that the father sets for his son.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, Ryan -- glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Definitely feels as if the father is experiencing some sort of crisis and this is his way of dealing with it. I enjoyed this very much.


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