I had known the Paris family for so many years that the boys called me “Uncle”. But what could I say to him? Could I tell him that his father, the dreamer, was the most powerful mountaineer and woodsman I had ever known? What would it mean to him that I had seen his father fearlessly and patiently carry for day after day without complaint enormous suffering? Suppose I described how his father’s simple presence had embarrassed desperate people to calm themselves? Suppose I described to him the many adventures with foolhardy people, who had made disastrous mistakes, whom his father had saved from danger with his methodical risk taking? None of this would mean anything to Dewey Paris. Dewey worked hard and he was ambitious for himself. Dewey worked for money.
We were sitting on the porch steps, quietly enjoying a beautiful summer morning. Over the years my visits here had become less and less often. Paul and I did not go into the mountains any more. We had gotten work. As Paul said, the mountains were too hard and complicated: they did not feed you. Then I remembered a time when Paul and I had leveled with each other. It had seemed advantageous. We were bivouacked on a cliff side in sleet and ice and it had seemed likely that before dawn something desperate would happen. I remembered very well what Paul Paris had told me. And this is what I repeated to Dewey.
“One night many years ago your father and I were hanging onto a cliff for dear life. We had been caught in one of those sudden fall storms that surprise every one. I was very nervous, but to your father the storm meant little, for he was remembering and dreaming. Even then many years ago he was a dreamer. So there we were, if you can imagine, hanging from this cliff in zero visibility, the wind howling around us. Your father was telling me about when he was ten years old and beginning to get around a little in his life. As he was wandering into more distant territories, he explored as far as Atlantic Avenue. The pastures of the famous Billings Stables were spread out alongside that road. Often in these pastures were turned out famous racehorses. Your father told me his heart would pound when they’d gallop. It was the first time he ever remembered his heart pounding quite that way. One of these horses won the Kentucky Derby by a nose, then lost on a technicality. Later he learned which of the horses it was. The idea that you could lose though winning struck him like a bad disease, a disease that got into his bones. Even when he didn’t want it, it came over him, and he could never shake it. Then your father said to me, ‘It made me a dreamer.’ I don’t expect that would explain much to you, Dewey. There was more we talked about that night.
“Paul said that some days he would avoid the stable because he didn’t want to feel bad about that horse. What kid wants to feel bad on a sunny day with the turquoise sky towering almost to heaven? So your father would stop his travels at the pond on River Road, which was this side of the four corners before the stable.
“Your father admitted that if there had only been that pond in his life, he might have done better, and he might not have been a dreamer after all, for he loved that pond whether in winter or summer. It was sacred ground in his youthful universe.
“Your father and I went there together quite often. Needless to say, I didn’t see in it the same things he saw, but it was the best skating pond in Pewter. The surface iced solidly sooner there than anywhere else. After two days in the teens before the first big snow there would be a smooth sheet of glistening ice to skate on.
“When we went there, we would have to be careful because Ray Moulton would get together some men from the neighborhood and they’d cut the ice off that pond and stack it in a barn near the shore. So the ice would be thin in patches where they had cut it. Your father always tried hard to keep track of the happenings in the neighborhood. He always was a great student of happenings: wrecks, stray dogs, fires, cat fights, crack ups. I guess I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. But he admitted to me that night on the ledge that he never actually saw the ice sawed off the pond and collected. It must have been a grim, awful and dangerous task, he thought, the pushing and pulling, as the slabs were transported onto the shore and stacked in the tall barn, a cold and dreary job happening in the slanting twilight of a mystery. That was a troubling thought to him: how had he missed the possibilities of that happening? What else had he missed? But he did see the ice when it had been stacked to bed in the barn between blankets of sawdust. On the ledge that night he admitted that never having seen the ice sawed and collected had been a great disappointment to him in his life. And if there was one thing he could change, that would be it. Does that sound strange to you?”
Dewey looked at me for a long time. “Uncle, to be honest, yes, it certainly sounds strange to me. But then that’s Dad, whom I’m wondering about.”
“But why should it be?” I replied. “Dewey, I have sat much of my life on a bough. I’ve seen a thing or two passing by. I’ve suffered some, hit upon a little bit of success and a little bit of failure. It does not surprise me at all. But he had more to say, your father, the dreamer, as we fought off the storm on the rotten stone of that ledge.
“He described to me how this new experience of his youthful drifting roused in him enormous longings. Then he began his career as a dreamer. He dreamed about the ice, and he dreamed about horses, and goats prancing around in the back yard and cats and dogs and strange shapes and shadows rent in darkness, the big lonely eye of the cyclops, lots of things.
“His dreams happened at night, but sometimes they were dreams in daylight, too.
“I remember very well how he described the ice, as it has been a great consolation to me in times of hardship.
“The ice was packed away in sawdust in Ray Moulton’s barn beside the pond. Do you know where I mean? The barn has been taken into a housing development now, but if you look for it, you’ll find it. The ice hangs on to its cold year round, and far from melting, it doesn’t change at all. Instead it waits. It waits through the seasons of many a year.
“The barn stands to this day tall and plumb, but here and there in the boards in the walls are these knotholes. These holes are just big enough for a boy to fit an eye over and peer through. The ice looked clear and clean, undisturbed by the world’s influences. He studied and studied for a sign of change, but observed nothing—petrifaction, icy stillness. Or is that a sort of something? A silent reality?
“Now, sometimes your father’s father, your Grandfather, John, whom I know you remember very well, liked to go skating, and we’d go all of us together to the pond. His skates had extra long steel blades. When he skated fast across the ice there was a sibilance sounded. Ducking as if to hide from the world’s resistance, he’d clasp his hands behind his back. His slow, graceful strides dwelt in a background of extreme haste.
“Your father said that his father used to hang his skates on a nail in a floor rafter of the cellar. So your father would contemplate them there. They could easily be fetched in cold weather when the new ice was smooth.
“Now, these skates had over the years acquired marvelous powers. Your father dreamed about them, Dewey. And when he put them on he dreamed that he could turn great circles in the ice at amazing speed. Therefore, they allowed him to investigate the darkness and light across the universe. But though he turned these great circles in the universe beyond the stars, he always returned to the barn in which was the ice.
“This is how your father told me the story. He raced effortlessly. Sometimes in the wind he could hear the cheering and applause of me and his other friends. He wasn’t alone? No! Even you, Dewey, his son of the future was with him as he skated supernaturally fast around the big pond of the world. But he always came back to his pond in Pewter, USA. The door of the barn was a big, gray maw. And through the door into the ice like iron filings to a magnet flew his boyish, bleak thoughts. And the ice saved them frozen still, and he skated on in all innocence, new and fresh. Everything had been saved and nothing would be lost. In the centuries to come, even when the souls of the dead would come to light, even past doom, nothing would be lost.
“But your father told me more on that cloud tormented ledge that night. And this is the part that may help to explain to you what is puzzling you.
“In summer, when there was no skating, as if by magic, observing some mysterious inclination of the universe, he’d drift toward Ray Moulton’s barn where the ice was. He said that he could not help himself. By now after these great circles through the universe, they were memories long gone. But when they’d see him coming, they’d wake up! Bold as a flight of sparrows, they’d fly out from the ice where they had been kept still and they’d fly out of the knotholes and they’d flutter around his head to greet him. He hadn’t lost a single one! True and whole they came out, circling him in a joyous dance of recognition.
“He marveled how they had protected him over the years. Even now on the storm chaffed ledge they were protecting him. They were at once alive and active, and yet still and quiet like history.
“They took a moment but they perched on his shoulder, whispering truths in his ear.
“So that was the story your father told me that night. There was nothing confusing or obscure. He recognized everything clearly. In the ice was more like a web than a plot, and in the ice he’d live forever.
“You see, Dewey, nothing is wasted. That is the story of your father, the dreamer. You will see one day. Nothing is wasted! Nothing so paltry that it is wasted by forgetting.
“And then at the height of the storm that night, into the song of the wind your father shouted, ‘Oh look! There is the big horse now. He has returned after many a year. What a dilemma he lived! Who ever heard of such a thing, winning to lose? He’s the big roan with patches of pure white on his flanks. I see him as clearly now as I did that day many years ago. See him romping in the pasture? How handsome he is!’
“This Dwight, while we were inches from death, it was your father’s dreams that kept us alive.”
Dewey studied me. Perhaps he thought that I could not understand. Perhaps he thought I was daft, though a family friend of long standing. I knew that Dewey worried about many things. He had become a carpenter and he was ambitious for his work. I also knew that he hated being poor.
Then Paul Paris his father walked out the door of the house and crossed the porch in front of us. He seemed not even to notice we were there. He walked down the driveway to his garden and he bowed down to his plants and tended them with a distant look in his eyes.
Dewey, observing the instinct of a good son, stood and went out to the garden to help him.
“Hi, Papa,” he said.
And Paul Paris looked up from his tomato plants, and he said, “Remember I was thinking about the Angels’ wings. Remember, Dew, not so long ago, while you were helping me with the roofing on the barn. I could not figure out what those wings could be made of so they would be able to protect us the way they do. Well, I think I have figured it out. It is a great relief to me.”