His daughter smiled up at him weakly, her face pale and beaming. Her boyfriend handed the bundled sleeping creature to him, its face shut tight against the world. He saw with disappointment that the babe had inherited his nose.
The lights flickered a bit, and his hands spread with their own wisdom to cradle the child. The bones of a memory sprung to life, of his own grandfather, the one he could barely remember, the one that was so great, so big-hearted that his passing left a gaping hole in the lives of everyone he had loved, a hole that pulled at them with an insatiable gravity. Try as they might, they could not hold themselves together without him, his grandmother flying after him after a few terrible years of bewilderment, his father trembling with a grief no drink could quell, his uncles stumbling through life.
He could remember his grandfather holding him in his large hands, the strength that filled his own small body from the wide and rugged fingers, the smoke of his breath and grizzle of his cheek. In the space of a breath he felt his grandfather there, with him, the magnitude of his presence filling his own body, coursing in his blood, filling his hands and radiating over the child.
He closed his eyes, a little unsteady, then looked at his daughter, the child he had not loved enough, who had raged at him for his failings, over and over again, then finally, blessedly, had turned her face away from him to leave him in his own shadows. Somehow she had found her way into light.
“He is beautiful,” he said, in almost a whisper, his voice shaking a bit, “and blessed to have you as a mother.” Her eyes were open, without their usual and righteous resentment, rare and loving.
A tear surprised the dry wrinkles of his skin, slid through the cracks along his eyes before drying up. Had she seen it? he wondered with slight embarrassment. He could not wipe it away. He handed the child back to his father, then stepped forward to his daughter, his rough cheek scraping her soft face as he kissed her. “Perhaps I will be better as a grandfather,” he whispered in her ear.
“I love you anyway, Dad,” she said, without hesitation, her eyes looking straight into his.
He stood up, humming with love, loose and lifted at the same time. He said his good-byes and congratulations, tripping over the words a little, smiling all the same. He walked out the door, the small weight of the child in the memory of his hands.