*Italicized phrases from the song “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” by Bob Dylan
My dad said the coffee was still hot on the table. Still alive. His father had been complaining of cold feet the week before.
The death season was almost approaching, one could see it in the way the shriveled sapphire leaves blew about against grey concrete. They were no longer vibrantly blood filled red, but parched and dehydrated. Corpse-like.
The sun would have begun to settle in the afternoon at that time of year, its warm body slowly approaching sleep before the children did. During identical weeks years later I would deeply inhale as I walked with my younger sister home from after-school, and years later still, I would sit in the coffee shop and watch as the pigeons scrounged for their final hot snack. I would remember the red-punch air of summer while softly letting the hairs of my nostrils be tickled by the fresh coolness permeating the fall air. “When we get home lets make leaf piles,” I would say to Riley. She would skip ahead laughing with her friends, her blonde braid looking like a tattered corn-silk rope worn out from too much time spent on the seesaw in Harvard Square.
My sister and I would arrive in our S.U.V. sized weed yard and build natural faulty trampolines out of oak leaves.
During the same month, week, or day some decades before, he lies on a couch smelling of antique books and musty pig feed.
I call him now. Is he listening? Is he listening? Would he have thought of us then?
We sit in the car. My dad is driving. I won’t leave the city with my hands on the wheel. I call it highway fear. I am going to die prematurely; perhaps if I refuse to speed I can stay alive a little longer.
This grey van is bigger than our old one, and lighter too. Silver actually, not grey.
My sister and I used to sit topless in the backseat of the grey one in August. I would pull my sunflower shirt over my bare flat chest, and Riley would do the same with her identical outfit. Imitating me when there was still something solid left to imitate. When my dad pulled off the highway to refuel, we would unbuckle quickly and climb into the humid day.
My dad would reach into his jean shorts and pull out two empty hands, his face beginning to glow. The glow that illuminates his ice blue eyes when he watches his three girls (my mother, sister, and I) dance to Fats Domino in our mango colored living room, the same glow he gets when he tells us of the lady on the train who got her poodle thrown out the moving window along with a lit cigar. This is his glow of happiness.
His painted hands would reach behind his ear, then lower down to our eye level. In his palm would lie just what we had been waiting for, a quarter to use on the Coca-Cola vending machine. It’s bright red frame lonely leaning against the white-paneled wall. This was the one time during the year when we are allowed to drink soda; I think that is the reason we chose to ride with dad instead of mom anyways.
After the tank is full, and our aluminum cans half empty, Riley and I climb back into the van. We would engage in our annual ritual of getting drunk off the Coke on the way to the Cape. I’d pretend it’s the beer my dad drinks on our porch on summer nights.
As the van speeds up, the glass windows no longer protect us from the sun, so we would peel off our tops once more and get shit-faced.
When I drive above sixty my palms begin to drip out water as if the highway has just created one thousand new pores across my fingertips. Is that highway fear? Or fear of self?
My dad holds the wheel loosely. I want McDonalds, but we pull over at a rest stop with a drive-through coffee shop. My dad insists we walk to the ordering window (stretch our legs). Because of this I am wet and cold, but he charms the lady at the counter, and I walk away with a free blueberry muffin. We sit in the silver van in the Honey Due Donuts parking lot; the rain has polluted my platinum hair. I watch the drops beat like cops against our windshield.
Raindrops think they’re flying, until they hit the ground.
I used to listen to the sound of rain against my skylight at night (this was before the time when Apple changed the way we hear). I would press the black velvet sack lightly against the record, hit repeat, and watch the arm move over and needle lower to produce melodies. The water against the roof would serve as my personal disc jockey, remixing Nina Simone’s “Like a Woman” on vinyl.
I still break like a little girl.
This afternoon the rain is silent.
We choose to listen to Dylan; I think we left Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in New Orleans.
Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
My father is my father. My father is his father’s son. We pull out of the parking lot and escape onto the American road that has no end.
I want to drive in love to Hollywood someday, just like my parents did.
My father asks me to taste his coffee so it won’t spill. I refrain. The coffee spills. I should have listened to my father. I should always listen to him.
He said the coffee was still hot on the table. Still alive. He had been complaining of cold feet the week before.
“I bought a pack of white socks.”
His feet had been cold.
“I left Boston in early afternoon. I hadn’t been out to visit in a few weeks”
The Citgo-sign was still asleep as he followed that dirty water home.
The car I have failed to remember pulls up to the stucco house. An impoverished Californian home in the middle of New England. Farmland on the brink of being transformed into suburbia.
The times they were a changing.
A Big Mac wrapper blows by us in the wind.
Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
“I walk into the house. Nancy comes inside.”
This is normal, except usually Nancy is not home. The high is where her heart is.
Nancy has only been to our house once. Her breasts looked like elongated Christmas ornaments hanging from her frame. Yet, her eyes weren’t sparkling gold (I wonder if heroin deludes the shimmer). She is in her early forties, but the wrinkles on her forehead have deepened beyond her years.
It’s my mom’s idea to do brunch. It is not her idea to do it with Nancy, but she is my dad’s younger sister so she does not complain (aloud). My mom hands my father a twenty to go get some bagels around the corner. She pours the coffee beans down the drain.
My father rides his bike over to Brueggers. This was during the years when we still sat there on Saturday’s. Just the two of us.
“I dream things that never were and ask why not?” The sign looms large above the city landscape, black ink boldly striking the color absent backdrop. We eat a bagel each, and I drink my Nectarine Fizz gazing out the glass walls. The sun’s vertical rays move against the horizontal crosswalk. When the streetlight is red, the ants play chess on mother natures man-made game board until dusk.
My father rides his bike home from Brueggers, the tan bagel bag steadily sitting in his front basket like I used to do when he rode me to preschool in the church singing, “down by the bay, where the watermelon’s grow.”
Riley and I both prefer Hey Arnold, but she watches Blues Clues in the TV room. She does this on purpose to annoy me, this way she can have the whole couch to herself.
Nancy is arriving soon. I don’t feel like helping my mother put plates on the table for this woman who sent me a pink bracelet once. I don’t even like pink. I like my graffiti sweatpants.
And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
We’re gaining mileage now; the hills on either side of us are capped with fog crowns. This would be beautiful, if it wasn’t Western, Mass.
My father continues to tell me the story, “Where’s dad? I say to Nancy.”
He was planning on a hello; there was no room for goodbye.
“Your didn’t hear?” Nancy said to him. “Dad died this morning.”
She said it matter-of-factly.
But the facts did matter to him.
From my eyes that are struggling to watch his face, I catch a teardrop drip down his sixty-three–year-old skin.
I guess we can’t keep the rain outside today, after all.
His father died at 60.
Oh, who did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
In my dreams of waking hours – my father eases onto the empty couch, the bag of socks slipping out of his too weak hands. The only warmth filling the hardwood room comes from the thin lines of steam exhaling off the aromatic liquid.
He sits and talks to the coffee cup, the last living thing is father had touched.
We silently listen to Dylan. He sips the coffee that I refused to drink. It is cold now. Corpse-like. He parks the car and I thank him. No father wants to watch his daughter testify.
We exit the car before manually turning off the soundtrack to this story. Two hours and half a lifetime have just passed us by.
We stand in the parking lot. I face my face of the future.
He looks into his own eyes of long ago.
“You know what they say Mase” he says, and I smile. His painted hands rise. “If the rain keeps up, it wont come down.”
He had been complaining of cold feet the week before. The coffee was hot on the table. Still. And alive.
Oh, what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
A stranger removes his dirt-covered shoes. His body lies naked on the table in the morgue. Clothed and sock-less.
Only his soles were warm.
What we create, will outlive us (for the most part).