Narrative Magazine: Amy Bloom's stories are dark, funny, improbable, devastating. She is the author of six books, including two critically acclaimed novels, "Love Invents Us" and "Away." Her stories have appeared in the Best American and O. Henry prize collections. The story here, taken from her recent collection, "Where the God of Love Hangs Out," travels the anxious road between a cruel, aging father and a wary daughter who by turns both tenderly care-takes and hates him, proving that familial ties are hard-dying and possibly the most saving of graces.
"Between Here and Here"
by Amy Bloom
I HAD ALWAYS planned to kill my father. When I was ten, I drew a picture of a grave with "Alvin Lowald" on the tombstone, on the wall behind my dresser. From time to time I would add a spray of weeds or a creeping vine. By the time I was in junior high, there were trees hung with kudzu, cracks in the granite, and a few dark daisies springing up. Once, when my mother wouldn't let me ride my bike into town, I wrote "Peggy Lowald is a fat stupid cow" behind the dresser, but I went back the same day and scribbled over it with black Magic Marker because most of the time I did love my mother and I knew she loved me. The whole family knew that my mother's feelings were Sensitive and Easily Hurt. My father said so, all the time. My father's feelings were also sensitive, but not in a way that I understood the word, at ten; it might be more accurate to say that he was extremely responsive. My brother, Andy, drew cartoon weather maps of my father's feelings: dark clouds of I Hate You, giving way to the sleet of Who Are You, pierced by bolts of Black Rage.
Most of the mothers in our neighborhood were housewives, like my mother. But my mother was also a very good cook and a very accomplished hostess and even if the things she made and the way she entertained is not how I would have done it (red, white, and blue frilled toothpicks in lamb sausage pigs in blankets on the Fourth of July, trays of deviled eggs and oeufs en gelée--with tiny tulips of chive and egg yolk decorating each oeuf--to celebrate spring). My mother worked hard at what she considered her job, with no thanks from us and no pay, aside from the right to stay home.
Five minutes before the start of a cocktail party or bridge night, my father would make himself comfortable on the living room couch, dropping cigar ash on the navy blue velvet cushions or he'd stand in the kitchen in his underwear, reading the newspaper while my mother and I put out platters and laid hors d'oeuvres around him. Sometimes he'd sit down at the kitchen table and open the newspaper wide, lowering it almost to the tabletop, so we'd have to move the serving dishes to the counter. One July Fourth, when I was about twelve and Andy was ten, my father picked up a pig in a blanket as my mother was carrying the tray past him. "What is this, shit on a stick?" he said and knocked the whole plate out of her hands and then there we were, my mother and Andy and I scrabbling to grab the hot flaky, oily little things from under the sideboard and out of the ficus plants. My father picked up a couple and put them in my mother's apron pocket, saying, You kids crack me up. He was still chuckling when the doorbell rang and my mother went back into the kitchen and Andy and I went to our rooms and he was still smiling when he opened the door for Mr. and Mrs. Rachlin, who were always first.
WHEN I GOT to college, other people's stories were much worse. A girl down the hall told her parents she was pregnant her senior year of high school and they drove her to a home for unwed mothers on Christmas Eve and moved out of town. A boy I liked had a long, ropy scar on his back from a belt; my roommate had cigarette burns on her instep. Gross cruelty with canapés and bad temper hardly seemed worth mentioning. (Amazingly, my brother chose to come out to both my parents his sophomore year. He said my mother wiped away a quick tear and hugged him and thanked him for telling her and just as I was about to say, Good for Mom, Andy said Dad lowered his newspaper, poked him in the stomach, and said, "A fat fag? Not much fun in that," and went back to his paper.) In law school, at night, over drinks, everyone told funnier family stories and no one pulled up their shirt or rolled down their socks to show their scars. When it got really late, a few guys told my kind of story and then they would say, frankly or sadly or fondly, that these things happened only when the old man had been drinking.
My father didn't drink. He had a glass of white wine at the cocktail parties, and in the summertime, when he was grilling hamburgers, he'd have a beer. One glass of wine. One beer. I didn't have to watch to see if this was the drink that turned Good Daddy into Bad Daddy; there was no slow, nightly disintegration of the self. I never had to tiptoe around Daddy Sleeping It Off because my Alvin Lowald took a four-mile walk every day and if it rained, he spent an hour on the rowing machine in the basement. Andy and I always caught the late bus home and after dinner we did our homework in our rooms and when I got a stereo for my fifteenth birthday, Andy and I would lie on my floor and listen to loud rock and roll, very, very quietly.
"Am I talking to myself, goddamn it?" my father said one night at dinner and in the silence Andy said, "I guess so, Dad," and I laughed, which I knew was a mistake even as my lips parted and my father stood up, hands wandering from head to head, unable to choose which one of us to kill first. I pushed Andy under the table and pulled him down the hall to my bedroom and pressed the lousy little push-button lock on the door. My father threw our dinners on the floor. My mother was still sitting at the table, trying to be calm, which did sometimes work, and sometimes not, as when he took her two favorite silk scarves and used them to stake his tomato plants or another time, famous in our family, when he drove her car to a used-car lot, sold it, and took a cab home with a bag of cash in one hand and a box of pizza in the other.
"You could kill yourself on these creamed onions," he said, stepping over them and I could hear my mother murmuring agreement and I heard him say, pleasantly, that sometimes the kids were too smart for their own damned good. I heard my mother agree with that too and my father said he would catch the tail end of the news. About an hour later, my mother knocked on my door and handed us two plates of Saran-wrapped dinner, the meat loaf slices reconstructed and carrot-raisin salad instead of the creamed onions.
I DATED A few boys of the kind you'd expect from a girl like me with a father like that, with no real harm done, and in the middle of law school, I met Jay Johnson and I won him, the way poor people occasionally win the lottery: by shameless perseverance and embarrassingly dumb luck, and every time I see one of those sly, toothless, beaten-down souls on TV holding a winning ticket I think, Go, team. When we went to his family in Wisconsin to announce our engagement (on my side, my mother took us both to lunch at her favorite restaurant on Northern Boulevard and my father met Jay the night before the wedding) I found a second family; the Johnson women were good, tireless cooks and all the men, including mine, could build you a willow rocking chair or a pair of handsome nightstands in just a few afternoons. And, as it happened, almost all of them were recovering alcoholics. I loved them. The Johnsons drank coffee and diet Coke all day (even the toddlers had highballs of fresh milk with a splash of black coffee at breakfast) and at cocktail hour my mother-in-law served Ritz crackers with cheddar cheese and a giant pitcher of Virgin Marys with Tabasco and celery sticks for garnish. You could smoke a pack of cigarettes or eat an entire sheet of crumb cake if you wanted and no one said a word. Most of the Johnsons were obese chain-smokers and if, like me, you were not, and on top of that, never drank to excess, you were admired almost every day, from every angle. I am the Jackie Kennedy of the Johnson family and it's been a wonderful thing. We still go to Racine for the major holidays.
MY BROTHER WENT a different way, as casting directors like to say in Hollywood, which is where he settled and what he became. After twenty years of smoking pot every day, for his health, as he put it, Andy found himself at a dinner party in West Hollywood, seated next to a handsome tree surgeon in good, but not coke-fueled, spirits, with compatible politics, no diseases, and absolutely no interest in celebrities. According to Andy, who was calling me with updates from restaurant vestibules, men's clothing stores, and his own bathroom, they had amazing sex fourteen days in a row, without pot or liquor, at the end of which Andy said, Please, marry me and Michael said, You bet, and they bought a house in Silver Lake the day it went on the market. Andy said that if Michael and affordable housing weren't signs of a Higher Power, he didn't know what were and he quit everything cold turkey the day they moved in, dropping off a $400 Moroccan hookah and a bunch of hand-blown glass bongs at the men's homeless shelter on the way. For the past eight years, he's been doing an hour of yoga every morning, much the way the Johnsons drink coffee, bake, and whittle. Aside from being in much better shape than he used to be, Andy is the same good and dear person he always was although Michael says, when I'm visiting, as I'm sure Jay says about me, it's not all sweetness and light. You will have noticed that neither of us has children.
I'D BEEN WAITING for the call about my father since he turned seventy. I thought that would be a nice gift from the Universe--ten or fifteen healthy years of widowhood for my mother, traveling with friends, taking courses at the Elderhostel, and winding up on a hotel verandah, sipping a tall, fruity drink with someone who looked like Mr. Rachlin. I hoped Mr. Rachlin was still alive and I hoped that Alvin wouldn't dawdle in shuffling off this mortal coil. He'd had a fairly serious car accident when he was sixty-eight, which left him limping a little, and he was a heavy cigar smoker, which seemed promising. I sent him crystal ashtrays and silver cigar cutters for his birthdays, expensive humidors and a subscription to that stupid cigar magazine for Christmas, and when friends went to Cuba, I'd ask them to bring back a box for my father. I was, roughly speaking, watching the clock.
Their next-door neighbor called me, using the tiny phone list my mother kept taped to the kitchen wall. Your father's too upset, Mrs. Cannon said, so I'm calling. Andy and I met at the airport and rented a car and drove to our house. Mrs. Rachlin greeted us very warmly and Mr. Rachlin waited in the living room, sitting next to my father, who was reading the paper. Mr. Rachlin jumped up to hug us. He jerked his head toward my father. "It hasn't really sunk in," he said and Andy and I nodded. My father said, "Hey, kids." Mrs. Cannon left a lasagna on the kitchen table. Broadway Delicatessen delivered platters twice, fried chicken from the hospital where my mother volunteered, and right before dinnertime, six pounds of corned beef and pastrami, with a pound each of coleslaw and kosher dills, from my father's law firm. We let the Rachlins go home and I gave Mr. Rachlin a little kiss for my mother's sake. My father unwrapped the corned beef and made himself a sandwich.
"You kids want some?"
We said we weren't hungry. My father ate his sandwich over the sink.
"You slimmed down," he said to Andy. "The trick is keeping it off. Discipline. Without that, the avoirdupois just piles back on."
I put all the food in the fridge and, for the same reason that I still recut the flowers in a bouquet before I put them in a vase with an aspirin and always put scented soaps in with my underwear and cedar chips in with my sweaters in May, that is, because I am my mother's daughter, I made us all sit down in the living room, To Talk.
"Go ahead," my father said, flirting with a corner of the front page.
"Daddy," is how I started and I couldn't say another word. On the phone I always called him Alvin, as if it was a joke.
Andy picked up the ball and ran with it. Nope, my father said, no sitting shiva, your mother and I didn't believe in that. And no memorial service, your mother wouldn't have wanted that. I couldn't imagine why she wouldn't have wanted it but my father was adamant about everything. Cremation, he said, your mother felt very strongly about that, you know she hated cemeteries. And I'll take care if it.
"We'd like to participate," I said.
"The fact is," my father said, "I already had it taken care of."
"Where's the urn?" I said.
My father laughed. "What, you don't believe me?" He pointed to the sideboard and we saw a black box about the size of a lunch thermos and sealed with gold tape, sitting next to a bottle of Tia Maria, two bottles of sherry, and a bottle of Scotch someone gave my father fourteen years ago. Andy and I got up to look.
"And the will," Andy said. "I'm just asking because . . ."
"She left everything to me," my father said, "but if you kids want something from her jewelry box, go ahead and take it."
My father picked up the paper in both hands and we went into their bedroom, which was as neat as it always had been, except for my father's underwear on my mother's bargello bench. Her jewelry box was on their dresser, centered beneath their big Venetian mirror.
"I wish she had something you'd want," I said.
"She kept Poppa's watch in the bottom," he said. "I'll take that. I don't think the Erwin Pearl clip-ons are going to work for me."
Our grandfather's handsome old Hamilton watch was not in the bottom of her jewelry box. And her good pearls were gone and her diamond watch and the sapphire earrings and matching bracelet she'd bought for herself on her sixtieth birthday, cashing in the bonds her father left her.
"Daddy," I said. "Mom's good stuff is missing."
"Nothing's missing," he said coldly and I thought, Christ, I'm going to have to show him but he cleared his throat and said, "I put all of her valuables in a safety deposit box. With people in and out of the house, it seemed smart."
There was no answer to that. Oh, good thinking, I said. I went back to their bedroom with a handful of plastic bags.
"Just take half of it," I told Andy. "In case you have a daughter or you have a friend with a daughter or you start dressing up. Just take half of every fucking thing that's in there."
He picked up a turquoise bracelet and a handful of cheap Indian bangles and I nodded. I put the beautiful Italian shoes she stopped wearing when she got bunions into a garbage bag and I put the beautiful heavy silk French scarves that she wore until she died in my suitcase. When Andy and I had cleaned out her closet and her jewelry box, leaving her tracksuits and sneakers and her sensible poly-silk blouses for my father to deal with, we went into my room. I pressed the push lock on the door.
"Please sleep in here," I said.
Andy patted my hand. "We didn't say goodnight."
"Goodnight," we both yelled through the closed door.
"Goodnight, kids," he yelled back. "I'll be back for lunch."
We took a walk in the morning and threw some bad costume jewelry (Boca Bohemian, Oaxaca Farm Girl) into Long Island Sound and cried and talked while the gulls circled and we waited until my father came back. I made three corned beef, pastrami, and coleslaw sandwiches and we each took an A&P diet soda from the case on the kitchen counter.
"So," Andy said, "no service, no interment, no obit, and no visiting. Is that it?"
"That's it," my father said.
"Do you need anything?" I said.
"Like what?" my father said.
"We'll head to the airport this afternoon, then," Andy said.
"Sure," my father said. "You've got jobs, don't you?"
I DIDN'T STOP speaking to my father. I did what my mother would have wanted me to do (I like to think that her wish was for my father to have slipped painlessly and just hours after Andy was born into a deep crack in the world and never return but I could never get her to say so. What I wanted was to have come out of her womb armed to my little baby lips and killed him with my superpowers before the cord was cut). My weekly phone calls had none of my mother's social flourishes. (It doesn't hurt to be nice, she said, but that wasn't true, in this case.) I did make sure my father wasn't dead and that he was not, with his driving, a danger to others or, with some old man slippage in hygiene or nutrition, a danger to himself. I hired Delphine Jones to keep the house tidy and to look in on him three times a week and when she couldn't stand him anymore ("Your father is a very exacting man," she said, her island lilt just about knocked flat after days and weeks with Alvin Lowald) she would pass him on to a colleague for a week of R and R.
Delphine called me on a Wednesday afternoon in January.
"I see the pipes have burst," she said. "Your father isn't sure who to call."
I called Andy and he called a plumber who for only $1,400 up front would make things right and I found the Cutler Brothers Catastrophe Company, whose receptionist said, very kindly, that they specialized in "this kind of thing" and I canceled my appointments and got back on a plane to make sure that things were okay. ("I'll give you a million dollars if I don't have to go this time," Andy said. "Seriously. I will give you a weekend at the spa of your choice. I will buy you diamond earrings.")
I RANG THE doorbell and my father let me in. Aside from needing a haircut, he looked good. The house did not. And it smelled the way it did forty years ago when our whole family sat on the kitchen porch and watched Long Island Sound rise past the pear tree and onto the driveway and then into the TV room, which had never really recovered.
"Better late than never," he said. "The girl left a note for you."
The note said, as I knew it would, that Delphine found herself too busy to clean for my father and it was her distinct impression that he actually needed more than a cleaning person since, as she wrote in her neat, curvy handwriting, there was an exceptional amount of filth and personal uncleanliness accumulating from week to week (she itemized the most offensive occurrences at the bottom of the page). She was happy to recommend Beate Jaszulski, a Polish person who had been a nurse in Poland and whom she had met at Adult Education. She left me Beate's number. My father and I ate the only things in the refrigerator, hard-boiled eggs and American cheese, and he asked why Andy didn't come. I said Andy was very busy and my father snorted.
"Busy sucking some guy's cock," my father said.
"You know," I said, conversationally, "we try to be nice to you. We try to be nice, which isn't easy because you are an emotional black hole and the coldest, most self-centered sonofabitch I have ever known, we try to be nice in honor of our mother's memory. So, if you can't be civil, why don't you just shut the fuck up?"
My father took his slice of cheese into the living room and read until he heard me go to bed.
IN THE MORNING, I showered with my mother's Arpege bath soap and used her antique hairdryer and got dressed and started again. I suggested that it might be wise to sell the house and move into assisted living. Near me, I even said.
"The only way I'm leaving this house is feetfirst," he said.
I have to say, I did laugh and I did say, "That's not a problem." Oh, we should have smothered him the night after my mother died, we should have just snuck into their bedroom, pulled back that Venetian damask duvet cover she was so proud of, put the matching pillows over his face, and leaned in until he stopped moving.
Look, I said, You can sell the house and move into assisted living or you can keep the house and hire someone to care for you--a housekeeper-type person--and you do that for as long as you can afford it and then your back-up plan is you die before you run out of money.
"Fine," my father said. "Hire someone. A nice pair of tits wouldn't hurt."
BEATE JASZULSKI MOVED into my old room. My father handed her the car keys ("What do I need the hassle for? People drive like goddamn idiots around here anyway"). And every Friday, she dropped him off at the five o'clock movie while she did the grocery shopping. She kept the house clean, he said ("You could eat off the goddamn floor") and cooked the meals he preferred ("Just plain food, no French song and dance"). Two boiled eggs and dry rye toast every morning, a grilled-cheese sandwich every day for lunch, and two broiled lamb chops and rice for dinner, or sometimes, caution to the winds, she cooked a small rib eye with a side of mashed potatoes. I know this because I spoke to Beate every Sunday and she would recite the meals cooked, the walks taken, the minor household repairs her cousin Janek performed and she billed us for. She never complained about my father and she never criticized me for not visiting. At the end of every conversation, I'd ask to speak with my father and she'd say, "Sure. Sure, you want to talk to Dad," sympathetically, as if she understood that I was so eager to talk to him, I just couldn't stand another moment of chitchat.
"Alvin," I said.
"How's it going?"
"Okay. Good. Everything good with Beate?" What did I think? She would rob him and he would know and report it to me, in due time? She would, at not quite five feet tall and as big around, and at sixty-five if she was a day, hurt him or seduce him?
"It's okay." Sometimes he would tell me that Beate listened to the radio too loud or used too much ammonia on the kitchen floor or he'd found the lamb a little tough and I would mention these things to her very delicately and she'd say, I take care of it and no complaint was ever repeated. Andy referred to her as Mother Beate and he made a lot of jokes about the number of old men she had buried and their grateful children. ("That's how she got that Porsche and that house in Cap Ferrat," he said. "God bless her.")
AFTER ABOUT A year with Beate:
"Alvin." I said.
"Dad? Are you all right?"
"Never better. Bea--how am I?"
I hear Beate talking in the background and my father chuckles and he says, "There you go. I'm--how old am I, Bea?--there you go, I'm eighty-eight and holding my own. No pun intended."
Beate got on the phone and told me that her own mother was dying in Poland and she had to fly home.
"Just for a week. I be back for Mr. Lovald. I go on a Saturday, I be back on a Sunday."
I asked if Beate had any thoughts about who would keep my father company, make his meals, drive him on his errands, do his laundry. Forget the laundry, I said, it can pile up for a week. Who will do the other things, I asked Beate and there was a long, flat Polish silence.
"Fine," I say. "I'll be there Saturday and we can do the . . . handoff."
Beate understands well enough what I mean and her voice brightens as we go back to her plans, which include dry-cleaning her raincoat, buying a pair of good boots, laying in a supply of frozen lamb chops and clean boxers for my father for a week, and bringing peanut butter to Ruda Slaska.
"Janek will take me to airport," she says. "Newark."
MY CAB PULLS up in front of the house at four o'clock. Beate shows me the eggs, the sliced American cheese, the rye bread, and the fourteen frozen lamb chops. She hands me the keys. She gestures toward my parents' bedroom.
"He naps," she says. "I see him Sunday. Seven days." She holds up seven fingers and then she picks up her suitcase and waves good-bye. As she steps onto the porch, a car appears and my guess is that her brother has parked up the street and is just waiting for my cab to leave.
Beate is out the door and it's just Alvin and me for the next seven days, unless I kill him, in which case I could spend at least half the week in jail. The house looks, somehow, more like my childhood home than it has for the past twenty years. Beate's found my mother's old spring slipcovers and covered the cigar-burned navy couch with pink and yellow chintz and she's even found the yellow chintz pillows and the yellow and white striped slipcover that went on my father's armchair. It is all aggressively and hopelessly cheerful and I expect my mother to walk out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a clean apron and saying either, "Who wants quiche?" which was a good day or "There's no reason to upset him," which was not.
"BEA? BEA?" MY father is yelling, pretty loudly.
I open the door a crack. I have no wish to be in my parents' bedroom with my father, where he stills sleeps on his side of the bed and there is still, on my mother's nightstand, a box of tissues and a paperback.
"It's me, Dad. It's Alison. Beate'll be back in a week. I'm here in the meantime."
"What?" he says and he sits up, patting his nightstand all over for his glasses, which are lying on the floor. I hand him his glasses.
"Thank you. You're a good kid," he says.
His hair is going in four different directions and there are little scabs on his chest and the backs of his hands. He scratches a scab until it bleeds and he presses his bleeding wrist against the sheet.
"She's gone to see her mother. In Poland. Her mother's not well," I say and I am trying not to yell because I know that yelling does not help people understand you better.
"That's a shame," he says. "My mother died when I was nineteen and my father, I don't think he got over it. He became an old man overnight. You know what I mean?" I do know what he means, of course, but since I have never heard my father mention his mother, or his father, or the emotional state of any living being, I am speechless.
"An old man overnight, Alison," he says.
"I know what you mean," I say. "You want some lunch?"
I make two grilled-cheese sandwiches and I wonder whether I should offer my father a beer, since on the one hand, I have no idea who he is and in his altered state, alcohol might be bad for him and on the other hand, what the hell. My father and I have our sandwiches ("Burn it," he says, "that's what they used to say in the diner. Put a farmer on the raft and burn it." "What diner?" I say and my father says, not unkindly, "Well, you're no Julia Child.") And we drink our beers.
"Salud, amor, y dinero," he says and clinks my bottle. "Is everybody okay?"
"Sure," I say. I don't know who everybody is. He calls Andy Fatso, he calls Michael the Faigele, he calls Jay Babe the Blue Ox, and my mother's been dead for two years.
"I'll take a grilled-cheese sandwich," he says.
"Another? Okay." Is this good? It could be good, an appetite for life or something like that, or it could be that he doesn't know if he's eaten or not.
"Can't I get some lunch?" he says and I make the sandwich, which he nibbles and then he says, "I'm gonna take a little nap." He stands up and waits for me to stand up too.
I walk him to the bedroom and to his bed and he uses my arm to swing himself into bed.
"Good kid," he says patting my face.
I call Jay and he says, "You are too Julia Child," and we exchange I love yous and he says, "Hurry home," and I say I will and I plan to.
I call my brother and tell him that he might not want to miss the Second Coming of Alvin Lowald, in which our father has been snatched by pod people who've sent us a nice old man who thanks me and calls me a good kid.
"Is this permanent?" Andy asks.
"I don't know. Maybe he'll be back to normal tomorrow."
"Great. Back to the crypt. Does it seem like he's dying, is this predeath niceness?"
I swear to him that our father does not seem to be dying, that he did a good job on one and a half grilled-cheese sandwiches and all of a Heineken's, and is now snoring loudly in his bed. Andy swears back that he will get on a plane on Thursday night, as soon as they're done casting a police drama in which none of the criminals or women can be more than five-foot-five, which is the height of this particular TV detective.
"Does he know you?" Andy says.
"I don't know. He looks glad to see me, so no. But he called me Alison, so yes."
"See you Thursday, unless he completely recovers, in which case, you won't see me at all."
"You better get me those earrings," I say and we hang up. I read my father's old magazines until I fall asleep.
IT IS POURING rain and I am driving our old Dodge Dart. My father's standing patiently on the steps of the old library, without a coat or an umbrella. He gets into the car and I have to help him with his seatbelt. He clasps his wet hands in his lap. I want to drive him to his new apartment, in the assisted living place but he doesn't know the address and neither do I.
"I'll just pop out here, for directions, Daddy," I say, hoping that the two women I see standing under the green awning of a pretty restaurant will be knowledgeable and helpful and guide us to the assisted living place. They're not and they don't. One of the women says, "Is that your father in the car?" And I say, "Yes, that's why we're looking for his apartment," and she says she certainly never drove her father all over kingdom come in a goddamned monsoon without even an address and the other one says, "What a harebrained scheme," and they sound, together, exactly like my father, as I've known him. I get back in the car and my father looks at me with hope and just a little anxiety.
"Is everybody okay?" he says.
"Yes, we are," I say and I just start driving in the pouring rain, hoping that one of us will see something familiar.
MY FATHER YELLS, Bea, Bea, and I wake up and run down the hall. I turn on the overhead light and hand my father his glasses as I sit down on the edge of the bed.
"Oh," he says and he clutches my hand. Any fool can see that he knows it's me. "You're here."
"I'm here. You probably had a bad dream," I say.
"Could be." He's already lost interest. "That's a pretty necklace," he says. "Was it your mother's?"
"No. I don't have any of Mom's jewelry."
"That's a shame," he says. "I would think you'd have kept a few of her things, to remind you."
I nod and I breathe deeply.
"Well, we were a lucky family," he says. "All around us those years, kids were doing drugs, getting in trouble. People were divorcing, right and left. I always used to say, you know, at parties or things, 'This is my original wife.' We were lucky."
I nod again and breathe so deeply this time I can feel my ribs separating from my sternum.
My father lies back down and I pat his hand.
"I'm going to turn out the light. I'll see you in the morning."
I get to the door and turn off the light.
My father says, "Is everybody okay?"
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