The last time I saw Daddy, we laughed so hard
about the singing bass which hung over his mantle
that we both began coughing, me with an inhaler.
him without. Some sharp sound activated it
and the fish twisted off its plaque toward the room,
began singing "Take me to the river" in a deep voice.
We looked at each other, startled, then collapsed.
He was a sucker for gag gifts, bad magic and anything
by Ronco. He wanted to be funny, to be quoted. People
always told us "Your dad is such a gas", and I smiled
politely, Bill quipping "No, that was a whoopee cushion"
which was genuinely funny even though his tone
belied his fury. After we lost Mama, Bill decided to
stay close to Daddy, the only parent we had left, and
listen to the jokes he told over and over. He said somebody
had to do it.
That laugh landed as we sat in our funeral clothes, me and
Dad. We'd put Bill's ashes next to Mama's three hours earlier.
I did not know then it was the last time I'd see Daddy,
I had no plan to make it so, but I am not surprised now.
As the idea of a return visit, another drive up 35, became
a wraith which staticked our phone calls in the following years,
he once dared "You blame me for Bill dying." I told him "No,
I don't" and meant it. Then.
He tried to delay my departure that day, wanted to feed me
though I had not kept anything down since Bill had died.
He kept offering me things, an ancient clay lamp he'd found
in the Libyan desert, a Reader's Digest large-print book, but
his gifts were never what I really wanted, never to do with
me and him. I said carrying anything to the car while leaning
on a four-point cane was too tricky just then, and he went silent,
not able to carry it for me himself.
The rattle of his front door set off the fish again, and we grinned
but I was already in pain from standing, wondering how I'd manage
getting down his uneven steps with no handrail, then make a long
trip with one knee unrepaired. He had taken out his teeth once
we got to his place, and his stubble was evident, so the kiss goodbye
was a familiar chore of suffering masculinity. It was already dark
outside. He told me to call when I got home, and I hesitated before
I promised I would.
The next month, he'd take Bill's insurance money and buy himself
a funeral plan with ostentatious casket. He never gave a cent
to Bill's common-law wife and her daughters, evicted them and
took Bill's clothes to Goodwill. She got off light, I eventually
decided: She'd have stuck by Daddy and he would have sucked
her dry, if she'd been a white woman.
Copyright Maggie Jochild. Written 12/12/12, 2:29 a.m.