When the door clicks shut, his mouth starts running. Outside there is only snow, a pale sheet stretching three miles in all directions. Sunset turns the sky into an aging bruise. From the glass, this reflected father looks healthier, thicker, less translucent.
He’s lost in her hair now, the way it fell in tangled strands. A briar patch of red curls. They met at an engineering conference in Jersey. Things devolved quickly. I wipe juice from the dying forest of his beard while a stranger watches through diluted eyes. A steady voice.
I‘d never, I’d never, I’d never.
Dying lungs wheeze. Urine stink fills the room. Reaching for my book, I try imagining how he sees me. Still wearing his nose. Still wearing mom’s cheeks. Still wearing those faggy earrings.
He mutters something. Mistakes, maybe. Pushing forward, hands grazing arm hair, I am a child left by the highway. Gregory calls this relationship stunted. For him, understanding came with birthday presents and a Christmas ham. My father and I remain frozen in that night, so I lower an ear, waiting for murmurs to yank us out, to drag us through terrorism and war, elections and recessions, into this snowy twilight.
But the planet is empty beyond her ten toes, her chubby ankles.
Feet of a woman not my mother.
Lovers and magnets, he says, pulling together then thrusting apart. He laughs in that familiar half-choking, half-gargling way. The bedside monitors scream high murder. Listening, I can feel the abandoned children of my daily routine assembling outside, waving frantically in the gathering storm.
Better he dies before the highway gets slick.
Guiltily, I massage my father’s wrist. Gregory interprets these ramblings as fossils of love, signs that twelve vacant years lay overtop a thread of understanding. Like my father, I have chained myself to a fool.
I rest both feet on the bed, eyes clamped shut. The television drones. Beneath it, his mouth keeps moving, a steady sing-song of physical descriptors, sewing her back together piece-by-piece.