I cannot keep my eyes off the tiny foil windmill. It’s surely spinning too fast for its little plastic spokes. The way it sits out there in the rain in one of those barren, terracotta troughs in my father's weed-riddled garden makes me feel sorry for its loneliness. The trough is hemmed in by four brothers and sisters of varying sizes. In the smoky autumn light coming from behind burgeoning rain clouds, the crowd of them looks like peat-filled stone coffins, taking up all the space.
For the umpteenth time in maybe ten minutes, I feel an eddy of guilt for pressuring Dad to buy those troughs. Just last year, as his battle began, for a full summer it was the epitome of stylish in all the magazines to plant exotic kitchen herbs. Naively, I insisted it might take his mind off things. No matter that he had never shown any interest in gardening. No matter he was tired, and his north-facing, paved courtyard would unequivocally fail to support a kaffir lime tree, and neither one of us had any idea what to do with the leaves anyway.
Despite our optimistic plans, the troughs have always remained empty of life.
Levering down the bolt, I slide open the patio door a couple of inches and then poke my face out. The little windmill has shed half of its curved foil petals now. Time has stirred it loose inside its base. The wind keeps throwing it off-balance: east, and then west, and around in a circle. When just for a moment it looks as though it might be about to fly off into the wall, my knee twitches, and I wonder if I should dart out there in my socks to rescue it.
Slick spats of rain freckle my nose as I do nothing. The rain thickens. Beyond the high stone wall, the buzz of a lawn mower shuts off. I can hear people out for a walk in the fields shouting to each other. They are seeking shelter.
Finally, when I am able to block all the rest out, the little whistles and whips of the windmill reach me in a stuttered pattern. It’s like the struggling propeller of an airplane, I think—a malfunctioning aircraft blazing through fuel every few seconds, but still scarily, despite best efforts, nose-diving toward an unfamiliar sea.
Not relishing the idea of breathing in the stagnant indoor air again, I don't shut the door immediately, despite the cold and how ridiculous I am beginning to feel. Inside, this once cheerful house is clouding over every day, taking on the vibe of an unpopular museum. At least by standing out here, inwardly encouraging the windmill to hold steady, I can tell myself that I am doing something useful.
A shrill outcry sounds from the kitchen. It doesn't alarm me. I guess it must just be the announcement that the argument has reached its inevitable peak. So predictable that Tamira would have her heart set on the regal pine dresser that each one of us has fallen in love with over the years. I bet on the drive over here she was already imagining it in her own kitchen, seeing my nieces’ fussy Easter bonnets hanging off its drawer handles. As the oldest though, Fred believes it is his by right. Tearfully on the fence, Lucy herself seems to have lost track of everything she has earmarked with her set of designated round yellow stickers.
Not for the first time today, I wonder what Dad would’ve thought of the four of us being here, receiving holiday pay to paw at his possessions. Maybe as a declaration of love I will refuse to take part any further. Maybe I should go out into the rain now after all and uproot the windmill. Maybe then I will take it into the kitchen, wave it high, and grandly announce this is all I am taking home with me.
The rain picks up. The noise of it drumming against the corrugated roof of Dad's utility extension merges until the sound is almost like the soft roar inside a seashell. I’m glad, but still I wonder why Dad has bothered to keep that tired windmill all these years. The B and K in Blackpool are bleached to a pale yellow now—the other letters are barely even there. Rainbow stripes have eroded to ugly pockmarked brass. I think if I squeezed a petal hard enough it would probably crumble into ash.
I suppose it would probably be a sacrilege to uproot it, wouldn’t it?
Blackpool. It was during our holiday there that I learned to fly my first ever kite. On the first day of our week-long stay, Tamira enjoyed her cheeseburger enough to be uncharacteristically quiet as we ate lunch in the lit-up Hollywood themed diner. Dad was appropriately dressed for the sea air snap in his comfortingly dad-smelling, turtleneck wool jumper. I loved the way the four of us kids were all turned fuzzy and cigarette-smudged inside his big bear hug beside the jukebox.
My favorite part was sunset. Like excited puppies and with ice cream cold bellies, the five of us scavenged the shore for plastic bottles and little bits of charred wood to write our secret wishes on sun-bleached labels. Pressing our fragile desert island hopes to our chests, we wished, wished, wished until we couldn't help giggling with the pressure. The release―the high arc into the waves―was like a bell ringing inside my head.
“What message did you write inside yours, Dad?” Despite our rule of secrecy, we all were so desperate to know by bedtime. We were all far too hyper to sleep.
He never did tell though.
Now as I watch the rickety windmill battling on, I struggle to dream up all the wishes that could have been his.
Too soon, the argument in the kitchen lulls. There are footsteps in the hallway. I think the others are looking for me.