Father and I know each other in passing. We exist in the changing-point in each other's lives, where we meet between shifts at the old used car dealership he still runs, the one passed down from his own father, the peeling and faded signs advertising the same old deals they did in 1957. A father and son we are, but those around us believe we are just to fellow employees. There is that much distance, Mother, and it scares me.
Sometimes I wake up to the smell of omelets and half asleep, I am back in the time when you moved gracefully around the kitchen in your housedress, cooking in the waxing light of the summer morning. Father is at the table reading his paper, his glasses comically askew on his face as he drinks his orange juice as he asks me about my plans for the day. I beam and bask in a father's love and tell him about baseball games, about Billy Hopkins' new frog, and he listens and nods along to the beat of Chubby Checker on the kitchen radio. "The Twist (Yo, Twist!)" with the Fat Boys blares with tinny notes from the old speakers and Father and I sing along. But then sleep drains away and the illusion is broken, and it is only my housekeeper Juanita who cooks the omelets for me. We meet in passing before I leave for work, similarly to Father and I, but she speaks fondly to me in broken English. She reaches out and tries. Father never even tries.
I know it is only me he doesn't try with. There is me in this little slice of suburbia, watering my immaculate lawn that is cut for me and dodging Mrs. Jenkins' questions about when I will marry. In his world, Father is still back in those old days. He still speaks to the man who runs the family deli near our old house, where he still lives, as though he is a dear friend. He greets the mailman jovially. It is only me he draws away from. I know he still tries with you his precious, beloved, beautiful, graceful, dead-as-a-doornail wife. He sits in the old study (down the hall from the kitchen, third door on the right) and writes you long, rambling letters increasingly smudged with teardrops. He owns no cell phone; he only has his old pager. His car is still a refurbished 1961 Chevrolet and his hair is still slicked back against his head. He lives in the past and refuses to press into the future, and it saddens me.
I know there will come a day when he is forced to acknowledge the present, and it saddens me even more. His pager only works about half the time now. His car needs increasing amounts of repairs (that he still does himself) to keep running, and even though he is always fixing it up, it still comes plunking down the street with a steady chug that you can hear a mile away. It would make you sad to hear that beautiful yellow car you loved so much sounding like a dying animal. And Father's hair, oh, I'm glad you can never see it. It is thinning and he looks like an old man, his face drawn with lines from squinting so many late nights into the dim light of his green desk lamp. He still has that lamp, along with your picture, and he weeps as he writes letter after letter and wishes, I'm sure (because I do) for closure.
In some ways, I think, that father would be in the present now if you had lived. If there had never been that screech of tires on my twelfth birthday, coming back from the cake store, things would be much different now. I still remember that deafening screech and the way the cake flew from its box and splattered the window. I remember the tears and the eulogy and all the blurry parts I should not, as I was a mere child. Father has repaired the dent in the side of the Chevrolet, has long since replaced the window that your skull broke before it bounced against the dashboard, hard, and gave out like an old watermelon. But I know the scars that are gone from the car still sit on Father's heart and it is still breaking, barely beating with its pain. It was my cake, for my party, the only reason we were in that car in the first place. Father blames me, Mother. He blames me and there is nothing I can do. Things will never be the way they were before, and it makes me feel helpless like the child I was that night. Father's smile is a sneer now and his face looks made of wax. I work beside him in shifts occasionally, and I feel as though I am working pressed against the wall.
Mother, I wish you were here now. I feel like a little boy who plays marbles and scrapes his knees and wishes for his mother back. I do not feel like a successful suburbanite who drinks sophisticated drinks in bars and makes small talk with beautiful women, only to leave them hanging and leave alone to drive along the empty roads and ponder why it all went wrong. Father's liver is failing again, and the doctors tell me they could operate, but Father wants to let it be.
In a way, I think he wants to die as you did. I think he wants to leave it all behind. He no longer wants to exist in a world of dodging his only son and soiling heartfelt letters written to a dead women with his bitter tears. Maybe he believes that somewhere out there, after the plane of life falls away, there will be peace for him. Or maybe he is simply tired and no longer wants to try. Something tells me, however, that he gave up a long time ago. But then again, thinking… maybe even if there is nothingness after death, to Father, it is better. Because in life we have to try, and in death he would escape his demons and rest on a cloud of nothing.
Someday, I will run the dealership when father is gone. Something about it makes me feel cold and terrified. I will be in that windowed building with the pretty secretaries and the cheap cars, and father will be in the ground, forever safe from me. He will be, as he has dreamed for years, back in the past.
Only the worms will dare to reprimand him there.