Square of Love
by Charlie Sutphin
To state the obvious—there were four before there were three. Forever four before the square of love collapsed and only two remained. Still, no peril in the air, not yet. Parents are supposed to die before their children—it’s the law. Four reduces to two, but the departure of the third, leaving none but the one who is me: THAT, my friends, was unwarranted.
On a hot day in August in a better part of town, I’m strolling down the main artery of the neighborhood looking like I don’t belong. Tall and lanky with a drunkard’s gait, I sometimes appear like a transient, especially on weekends. If there was a defining gestalt to my attire, it would comprise a mixture of chaos and serendipity. What is is.
So I’m walking the artery of Arden in 90-degree heat wearing blue jeans and a black shirt with the moniker Fatty’s Cycle on the front. I’m a heat magnet, but it doesn’t matter because I’m in mourning or, more precisely—pre-mourning, thinking about tomorrow. I’m drinking a cola and eating a candy bar from a nearby store. It’s Sunday. A major tennis tournament is on television: Serena is about to pulverize some hapless opponent.
I see a man and woman across the road: the power of two manifest in three. The woman pushes a stroller next to the curb; the man walks by her side between them and me. They’re both wearing shorts and bright-colored tops—a unit of one.
I am conspicuous—a lone male, an outsider, a rogue dressed in black. The mother examines me and holds her gaze longer than warranted. Through her eyes she mimes: This is mine. She communicates so fiercely and piteously I almost fall to my knees. This belongs to me and I would die before letting let you harm or corrupt it in any way. This is my husband. These two serve my needs and I serve theirs. We are legion, we are one—you do not belong.
The woman is as right as she is wrong. Once upon a time, you see, I lived in the security of a collection of four: mother, father, sister, brother—a magic square adding to one. Then Father died, as fathers do, followed by Mother and, unexpectedly and outside the sequence of time, my sister passed a year ago tomorrow, leaving me alone.
Four forever has become one—irreducible in itself. I am the one and it makes me sad. When a nucleus forms, it begins to die: in the process of disintegration, there will always be a winner—the one who remains. I am the loser—the winner of life’s lottery: the remnant of the square. The woman intuits my grief as a threat to her own construction of something sacred.
She’s wise to be afraid because I represent the future of her family. What she doesn’t know is that I also represent its present. I walk alone, I look alone, I act alone but I am not—alone. In the course of time I found someone—a woman: thank you Lord—and created my own square, my own balance of strength. I am the last of the past—true enough—but also a progenitor. My children are grown, moving in their own directions, and as we speak, my wife is cooking dinner or knitting an afghan or drinking a glass of wine as I walk the neighborhood in mourning for a sister lost too soon—such is.
We pass: the family on its side, me on mine, moving in opposite directions but intersecting for a second. I shove the last of the candy bar into my mouth, turn, look back. The son who is father turns as well. Whether he knows it or not, he sees the future as I perceive the past. I’m happy for him in his colored shirt and also for her as she pushes her pride and joy so fiercely through the world. I’m sad to be alone—the last of four: tra-la—but grateful to be the creator of a new collective: my own square of love.
Charlie Sutphin is a long-time Indianapolis resident and big fan of the Indiana Writers Center, formerly the Writers’ Center of Indiana, formerly the Writers’ Center of Indianapolis. He appreciates Julianna Thibodeaux for her patience in helping him bring “Square of Love” to fruition.