Between This and That

Lauren Camp

He would say “definitely” when he needed to make something more like a point: definitely not. Since logic was never part of the conversation, he said the words he began and went where his attention led: a fence, a job, the world of his patterns. What we, his children, understood was suspense, what could happen and when: bellow or devastation.

He had a thing for napkins, which is ridiculous. He kept four hundred million of them. Approximately. White napkins, crisp paper frittered off from McDonalds. He was devoted to their one buck, burnt coffee. His face lit to that definite bargain. He was drawn to cities, the sound of cars singing through bridges with their sticky engines. Basketballs skinning hoops in the ghetto. The cause of noise.

Best song, only song, was “They’re Coming to Take Me Away.” That two minute ten seconds, with its universe of spirals, played on repeat in my house. My mother came downstairs in her Maidenform underwire bra and her dingy white panties, claiming “Ha haaa, ho ho, hee hee” and our Tudor house spun at forty-five rpms. No one used the stereo for anything else but such frequency. And no one ever came to our door but the postman. The slot dropped into our foyer, which was attached to the living room, which we didn’t use. Across from the stereo, the piano noted our motions and shadows. Its lid wasn’t opened once. Wasn’t dusted. I couldn’t play; we didn’t try. Definitely didn’t care. Piano lessons were a fortune, ho ho, hee hee.

He liked golden foods: figs and syrupy cheddar, a periodic bottle of Bud. B-sides of every experience. He scoured a deal. He dickered, he haggled, he squeezed toward the taking of extra, and preferred the flavor and texture of less. Liked what less cost. Keeping money was so much more succulent than spending.

One day he came home from the office on the dirty 6 train with its musical reverb, and gave my sister the Billy Joel she wanted. She had persuaded him, finally, and that pigtailed, timid, pre-teen squealed and went to her room. That’s where she spun that platter around six times an hour. But the record was faux. Two star. A counterfeit, a knockoff. Still, she sang the lyrics with angular velocity through her red room. And my father didn’t mind. Definitely didn’t. Or what he minded then didn’t spill over. Go ahead with your own life leave me alone she belted many times to her sorry, stuffed, organized animals.

When he turned eighty, I pushed part of his napkin collection into the recycling bin, and he sweated. Out there, every meal, for years he obsessed for the gotten, swiped napkins he didn’t need. What a relish. Can I even explain him? He dreamt he’d be an architect, but he couldn’t draw directions from here to the cheap gas station on the other side of our suburb. The one past the diner, up the wet sweep of hill. You had to guess at the center part of any excursion and whether it would get you to anger or the future. If I tell you he died without favorites, that’s because he was fair with his children, though never reassuring. He left us all mounds of his napkins. As many as we wanted neatly stacked on a cart in the condo we’d have to sell, though it had a perfect distant view of the bridge. You ask about his absence. I feel it. He sends no new emails to try to decipher. No wailing sirens. No never-ending. No innermost edge. Definitely awful.


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