Conversation with My Father
I hadn’t spoken to my father in over a decade. And then, there he was at my front door: an apparition. But somehow, strangely more.
Hello, he says, and takes his bowler hat off. That’s the first sign. I’d never seen him with a hat, a suit, hair even. It’s as if he were some kind of salesman and now he was at my door looking as if he were no older than forty, handsome in ways, in the prime of his life, ready to make a deal.
I know it’s been a long time, he says. Too long probably.
I can only nod, unsure what to say to him, unsure of the last time we’d spoken. What do you say to someone you’d forgotten in so many ways?
“Do you want to come in?” I finally ask him.
He smiles a little, nods, then sort of floats in.
As he crosses into the foyer, the light shines down and seemingly through him. Perhaps that’s the second sign. He has a gray pallor to him, and I have to blink a few times to adjust to what I am seeing. In the light, he looks weak, tired even. But he’s not some kind of hologram or image. He shakes my hand, and though it’s not warm, it’s also not ice cold as I’m somehow expecting.
“Do you want something to drink?” I ask.
He puts his hand up to signal that won’t be necessary. You’re probably wondering what I’m doing here, he says.
“I’m not sure how you found me,” I say.
Oh, that, he says and smiles. Well, it’s easy when you’re dead. You kind of just have a sense about things. He lets out a small laugh. Shall we sit, he asks.
I nod. That’s the one way we know how to communicate.
We head into the living room and before we can sit, he looks around, then slowly moves over to the bookcases.
Have you read all of these, he asks, picking up a book and flipping through it.
“Most,” I say.
I see. Some things never change, he says.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
Well, he says and puts the book back, but he keeps looking as if he’s searching for something in particular. If there’s one thing I can remember about you, it’s that you always had a book collection. He suddenly turns to face me and I take a step back. Do you remember how you used to make sure all of your books were aligned just so, and he put his hands up, side by side, and in front of himself, to suggest flushness. You even alphabetized them all. You don’t remember?
“No,” I say. “Actually, no, I don’t remember that.”
I see, he says. Well, how about Duke. Do you remember him?
I nod. “Of course,” I say. “Only dog I’ve ever had. Right before you went missing.”
He was a good dog, wasn’t he, he says, though now he’s looking at a photo on the end table.
I suppose your mother didn’t tell you, he asks. About the accident?
“No, she never mentioned an accident, only that you’d gone off somewhere and probably wouldn’t return for some time.”
It was my fault. Well, and he raises his empty hand as if to toast someone, and looks at it, as if he were seeing it for the first time. Really, he says, looking at his hand, this was what was at fault. Still, he says, then pauses as if considering the past, a particular moment, but he does not finish his thought. He puts his hand down, but he doesn’t sit. He just looks at me. There was an accident, he says. You were probably around ten, maybe eleven. But it’s why I never came back.
I nod, then close my eyes a moment. I try to immerse myself in that memory, recall it back.
Are you seeing anyone, he asks? Anyone special?
I open my eyes, nod at first, but then think if my dead father can find me, maybe he can also sense if I’m lying. I have no idea what powers the dead hold.
“Actually, no, we broke up a few months ago.”
I’m sorry to hear that, he says. It’s tough to find the right one. Your mother and me, though we fought a lot, we were right for each other. Don’t let anyone ever try to tell you otherwise. She was always the one for me, he says, seemingly to himself, an afterthought.
I nod, unsure how else to respond.
Would you do me a favor, he asks. Would you tell her I said I love her, and that, well, she was right about California. Right about so many things.
I nod again, even though in telling her she would choose not to remember him, if she could. It was more than the pain he had caused her. In telling her those simple words, of course, she might be reminded momentarily; she might be forced to contend with a latent memory. I could see her closing her eyes, sifting the past, finally locating perhaps a happy memory, before tears would form at the corners of her eyes. Then she’d sit in the past, feel the weight of it push down on her chest. But then soon she would probably forget I even said anything. Confronted with my dead father, I think it’s a kind of blessing my mother has Alzheimer’s.
You okay, he asks.
I nod. “Yes,” I say. “Fine.”
He smiles, says, Thanks. I knew I could count on you. And then, somehow we are outside on the front porch, him doffing and waving, before walking off and dissipating in to the darkness. It is a familiar scene from childhood. But this time, I want to shout out his name; I want to ask him so many questions. But I do not. That’s how conversations with my father always go, in life and in death: his intermittent presence, his way of apologizing, his penance.
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