It was dark when I opened shop and it was dark again when the old man with Alzheimer’s started to come in. At first it could have been a dream. He stood there for long, warped minutes, holding the door, letting mosquitoes swim in from the thick orange night. Then, like the reel had skipped, he was limping up to the counter. It couldn’t have been a dream though, because you can’t smell people in dreams, so no one could smell like hot diapers sinking in sour milk. He tapped at each tray of donuts in the counter and asked if they were the ones that were the treats for the dog.
He thought he knew the place: His eyes rolled from the ceiling, down the crack in the wall to the plastic ficus that Maria—before the situation with the Krispy Kreme opening on Del Vista Road, and her having to be let go—had named Donald Trump.
“This place has really gone to hell,” he murmured. Funny, how they will flicker into the real world for a second and say the most obvious thing and it sounds like prophecy.
After some hokey pokey he finally took a senior coffee. Even paid too: with three tic-tacs and a note—
love dad really soo much, but you dont know how it is i can’t
take him care of him CALL police he will have a bed at county then
— written in tight little block letters by his daughter, on the back of her overdue cellular bill.
If 911 got involved now, they’d get her, but it would be the last she ever saw of him. With the slap on the wrist she’d get, she’d probably consider herself to have come out ahead.
She hung up the first call before the r in “father”.
Second: straight to voicemail.
Fourth: blubbering-begging-snotting, then proclaiming that no damn jury would convict her.
Fifth: Okay. Okay okay okay okay okay.
Headaching light was cracking in from the body shop across the street and paterfamilias was out cold in the booth when she galumphed in, past him and up to the counter. Her grin rippled down through her chins. She pulled a duffel bag up next to the register and didn’t say a word as she unzipped it in short, coy bursts, as if it was a prop in a girly show.
Her bribe: A Discman, a brand new box of tissues and three chipped Hummel babies, with $350 in crinkled bills poured all on top.
She didn’t take to hearing the truth about herself.
No one but her could judge her, she squawked, because no one knew what it was like. He wasn’t who he was anymore. He was just a ghost who shit in the bed. She didn’t notice when her blubbering, about the men she couldn’t keep, woke him and brought him up close behind her. She flopped on her knees and offered me her womanly services—sweet or sloppy, any way—if I’d just let her go and let the County take him. He stood there, holding the nearly see-through ends of her brown hair, and asking who was coming for Thanksgiving.
No services were necessary. It seemed compelling at the time that people were born with the limits they were born with, and fussing over the fact didn’t solve anything. She was probably back deep asleep in her bed when the deputies lifted him up and walked him out, like angels of municipal mercy. Total receipts for thirty-umpteen hours: $151.77 without the bag, $213.77 with.
The sandman rode shotgun on the drive home, humming lullabies all the way. But curling up into the driveway you could already hear the Golf Channel on max volume in the living room. Dad wasn’t watching it, of course. He’d left a trail of plastic forks from the kitchen out to where he was picking leaves in the backyard. By some miracle he’d slept through the night, and now he would be up all day.
That moment seemed like a dream too: leaning there on the back porch, the events of the morning blew over like a breeze. As they left it was hard to remember who had done what or said what to who, and none of it felt worth telling.
“Hey Dad,” I eventually called out, and started across the grass. “Let’s go for a drive.”