I've just asked Charlie to have a role in my wedding. I hadn't thought I would ever do that, but once June and I and Kit decided on what roles we wanted there to be, I suddenly realized I couldn't imagine asking anyone else.
I found him sitting on the near edge of the Flat Field, cross-legged, barefoot, with a book open in his lap. If he'd been reading, though, something had distracted him long since. He sat straight, alert, with his eyes closed, evidently listening to or sniffing something.
I listened, sniffed: birds (seven kinds), a distant and irate squirrel, two roosters crowing (that makes eight kinds of bird), traffic on the main road, a small plane overhead, honeysuckle, roses, magnolia blossom, grass, and--faintly--animal waste. Just in case he asked.
"Daniel," he said, before opening his eyes, and then laughed a little at my surprise. "You are still as noisy as a herd of distinctively Daniel-ish elephants."
"Saves me from being snuck up on." He shrugged his shoulders. "What's up?"
"Sorry for interrupting."
He waved his hand to indicate get on with it.
"Charlie...will you be my best man?"
That surprised him. His eyebrows went up, his lips pouted outward, and he leaned back and turned to look at me.
"Not Rick?" he said. "Or...Ollie?" He seemed to have trouble calling Ollie's name to mind. They hardly ever talk.
"No," I explained. "It's not exactly ordinary best man. We didn't want elaborate wedding parties, so each of us is going to have one person stand up with us...almost like giving us away? But not quite. June is asking her mother. Not that I see you as...." I trailed off, awkwardly.
"Well, so, why not your father? What am I to you that he is not? What is this role you're asking me to fill?"
"You have more to do with who I am today that he does." I said that in an embarrassed rush. I do not like talking about my feelings, especially not with other men.
"Well, I doubt that," he said, and then considered, his lips still pouted out. "Ok, I'll do it," he said, finally. "You'll have to tell me what you want me to do."
"Kit's officiating, right?"
"Does she know you're asking me."
He harrumphed as though he half-expected her to object. He still expects the worst of her. I thanked him, and he nodded, then lapsed back into what I suppose is some kind of meditative state for him. But I had the momentary impression that he remained surprised, that he had to enlarge himself, somehow, to accommodate the request I'd made.
But I have other news, too, that I'd simply forgotten to give last week because I was so excited about setting a wedding day; Charlie has given me a new assignment.
We had met on that Friday as we usually do, so I could teach him more of what I learned in grad school. We're well into my second semester now, and another subject, besides statistics, where I suddenly know more than he does--digital mapping and related analysis. He's borrowed my computer for its software again and is having a great deal of fun playing around with his new skill. Everything else from that semester so far is old hat to him and he listens politely and then skewers me with thoughtful questions. Anyway.
We'd been talking about academics when he suddenly changed the subject and thoughtfully, almost wistfully said that he'd been thinking about the journal I used to keep for him, back when I was a novice.
"Do you ever think about what you're going to do for a living?" he asked. It seemed like a series of non-sequiturs.
I had to admit I had not thought about it, but that I liked landscaping and I liked teaching. He nodded, thoughtfully.
"Ever think about writing professionally?"
"No...except I edited a literary magazine and coached writing in grad school."
He nodded again. He knew this already. Or, at least I had told him. Perhaps he had forgotten.
"I remember you used to write poetry in your journal. It was pretty good."
"I want you to write."
"I want you to write at least one poem per day, in your special spot, for at least a year. When you have enough, we'll publish a collection. That ok with you?"
I said it was, and his strange, wistful mood passed. We returned to discussing project proposals, as I'd had a class in that subject once.
That was a week ago, Friday. Since then, I've written ten poems for him. Writing on command is easier than I'd thought--I had thought I needed to have the creative juices flowing before I could write, but I've found that the act of writing brings on the flow.
Saturday, after breakfast, I handed him my notebook with all the poem I'd written so far. Yesterday morning, he found me and returned the book and stood by while I looked it over.
"Charlie, you've added editing notes?"
"Do you want me to rewrite this?"
"How can I? It's poetry!"
"Poetry can't be revised?"
"No! It's a spontaneous expression of the writer's soul."
"You're telling me," he said, "that this promising but immature...drivel cannot be improved because it directly reflects the current state of your soul?"
"Yes," I told him, though, even as I said it, I wasn't sure I believed it was true.
He looked at me closely, then spoke.
"Hadn't we better go about improving your soul, then?"