The Best Time Of The Day

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1 The Best Time Of The Day Cool summer nights. Windows open. Lamps burning. Fruit in the bowl. And your head on my shoulder. These the happiest moments in the day. Next to the early morning hours, of course. And the time just before lunch. And the afternoon, and early evening hours. But I do love these summer nights. Even more, I think, than those other times. The work finished for the day. And no one who can reach us now. Or ever.

2 Happiness So early it's still almost dark out. I'm near the window with coffee, and the usual early morning stuff that passes for thought. When I see the boy and his friend walking up the road to deliver the newspaper. They wear caps and sweaters, and one boy has a bag over his shoulder. They are so happy they aren't saying anything, these boys. I think if they could, they would take each other's arm. It's early in the morning, and they are doing this thing together. They come on, slowly. The sky is taking on light, though the moon still hangs pale over the water. Such beauty that for a minute death and ambition, even love, doesn't enter into this. Happiness. It comes on unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really, any early morning talk about it.

3 Photograph of My Father in His Twenty-Second Year October. Here in this dank, unfamiliar kitchen I study my father's embarrassed young man's face. Sheepish grin, he holds in one hand a string of spiny yellow perch, in the other a bottle of Carlsbad Beer. In jeans and denim shirt, he leans against the front fender of a 1934 Ford. He would like to pose bluff and hearty for his posterity, Wear his old hat cocked over his ear. All his life my father wanted to be bold. But the eyes give him away, and the hands that limply offer the string of dead perch and the bottle of beer. Father, I love you, yet how can I say thank you, I who can't hold my liquor either, and don't even know the places to fish?

4 Late Night with Fog and Horses They were in the living room. Saying their goodbyes. Loss ringing in their ears. They'd been through a lot together, but now they couldn't go another step. Besides, for him there was someone else. Tears were falling when a horse stepped out of the fog into the front yard. Then another, and another. She went outside and said, "Where did you come from, you sweet horses?" and moved in amongst them, weeping, touching their flanks. The horses began to graze in the front yard. He made two calls: one call went straight to the sheriff - "someone's horses are out." But there was that other call, too. Then he joined his wife in the front yard, where they talked and murmured to the horses together. (Whatever was happening now was happening in another time.) Horses cropped the grass in the yard that night. A red emergency light flashed as a sedan crept in out of fog. Voices carried out of the fog. At the end of that long night, when they finally put their arms around each other, their embrace was full of passion and memory. Each recalled the other's youth. Now something had ended, something else rushing in to take its place. Came the moment of leave-taking itself. "Goodbye, go on," she said. And then pulling away. Much later, he remembered making a disastrous phone call. One that had hung on and hung on, a malediction. It's boiled down to that. The rest of his life. Malediction.

5 What the Doctor Said by Raymond Carver He said it doesn't look good he said it looks bad in fact real bad he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before I quit counting them I said I'm glad I wouldn't want to know about any more being there than that he said are you a religious man do you kneel down in forest groves and let yourself ask for help when you come to a waterfall mist blowing against your face and arms do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments I said not yet but I intend to start today he said I'm real sorry he said I wish I had some other kind of news to give you I said Amen and he said something else I didn't catch and not knowing what else to do and not wanting him to have to repeat it and me to have to fully digest it I just looked at him for a minute and he looked back it was then I jumped up and shook hands with this man who'd just given me Something no one else on earth had ever given me I may have even thanked him habit being so strong

6 Gravy by Raymond Carver. No other word will do. For that s what it was. Gravy. Gravy, these past ten years. Alive, sober, working, loving, and being loved by a good woman. Eleven years ago he was told he had six months to live at the rate he was going. And he was going nowhere but down. So he changed his ways somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest? After that it was all gravy, every minute of it, up to and including when he was told about, well, some things that were breaking down and building up inside his head. Don t weep for me, he said to his friends. I m a lucky man. I ve had ten years longer than I or anyone expected. Pure Gravy. And don t forget it.

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