At nearly 8:00 a.m., a second pot of coffee simmers on the one-burner. Breakfast dishes and mugs await the flow of water into the kitchen sink. The bags of food for the high school's food drive stand on the porch. Outside, the dog finally falls silent, having vanquished the wind or the crimson leaves drifting to the ground. I see a stretch of delicate sky in the space between the broken slats of the blind.
My brother's family, or a fragment of it, has already trooped down the front stoop out to their truck and driven away. I held my cell phone as they left, thinking to snap a photo at least of them. But I couldn't stop smiling and the moment passed. The teenagers slipped into the back seat, Frank and Teresa into the front, and off they went to the Swope Park soccer fields.
Many months have faded away since the last time young voices murmured in my home; since the pulling of a cork from a wine bottle after the sun has set and responsibilities have receded with the quieting of the neighborhood. The grown-ups talked until midnight while the high-schoolers, Mark and Devin, the youngest of my brother's sons, watched flickering screens and savored their team's victory over Rockhurst under the Friday night lights.
As I watched Frank leave this morning, a hundred stories from our childhood clamored to be written. The time he fell off the back of a pick-up truck at the end of a long line of cars involved in an accident. His profile, standing in the kitchen, intently explaining to his siblings how you turn a styrofoam cup inside out without the thing imploding. My mother's anxious vigil over the telephone, waiting the problematic birth of one of Frank's older children. His wedding; his graduation from St. Louis University High School; the happy noise of Christmas Eve jambalaya.
My favorite memory of Frank involves me, and the terrible menstrual cramps which plagued me in my own teenage years. I lay on my bed in the coveted front bedroom. I heard Frank's voice in the kitchen, saying, she doesn't look sick. My mother's low reply eluded me so I don't know what she said. But a little while later, Frank brought me a tray with a plate of vanilla wafers, a cup of tea, and the comics section from the evening paper.
When we lost our baby brother, our number tipped from Even-Stephen to eternally odd. Frank became the youngest living member of the once infinity Corleys. I think it must be a daunting spot to occupy, holding the banner for four hands, two brothers, the little boys. But his broad shoulders have borne the burden of raising seven children, standing as one with his college sweetheart. He's proven himself to be capable, to be honorable, to be the best of what his parents' genes afforded him.
Frank and Teresa intend to come back tomorrow, between soccer games, to get an old desk that I think would look good in their refurbished schoolhouse, their weekend home out in the country lanes of Missouri south of St. Louis. I bought the thing at auction more than a decade ago, intending to restore it. I never have. I think my sister-in-law will make it shine. I'm hoping that even though they will have just a few minutes in the morning, we'll get a photo of my brother and me. I'm feeling the fullness of time. You never know when he will pass this way again, or whether, when he does, I will still be here.