I find him sleeping in front of a fan, his shirt unbuttoned, a highball glass of Alka-Seltzer in his hand. The fan’s blowing the little hairs on his chest over the scar that runs like a ladder from the button of his Bermuda shorts to his breastbone. The TV’s on, playing Silverado, a movie he watches continuously. Ike, his dog, struggles to his feet and comes and licks my hand.
“Dad,” I say.
He snorts awake, drops the glass on the carpet. The Alka-Seltzer fizzes anew. He sees the six-pack in my hand, the bag from The Wishbone in the other, says, “Oh hell yes.”
We sit on the garden swing out back, drinking our beers and eating our tenderloins. His cheeks are greasy. I hand him a napkin. He’s got a tattoo of a lightning bolt on his bicep and a gold tooth that shows when he smiles. He’d make a great pirate I think, even now, even as an old guy with a bad heart. A pirate or a cowboy.
We bend and straighten our legs, rocking the swing slow, watching a squirrel eat the ear of corn my dad’s nailed to the tree. For some reason I imagine my dad’s heart nailed there too. Given a supply of oxygen the human heart can run on its own source of electricity and will continue to beat outside the body. But not, I suppose, with a nail driven through it.
“Kind of gruesome,” I say.
“Yeah,” he says.
“You don’t know what I’m talking about.”
“Doesn’t matter. Everything’s gruesome. Even the word gruesome.”
We sip our beers. I give the rest of my sandwich to Ike and crumple up the wrappers and stuff them into the Wishbone bag. Having cleaned the cob of kernels, the squirrel skitters up into the tree, leaping, leaping, leaping from branch to branch.
“Do you remember when you used to play the oboe?” Dad says.
“Of course I do.” I have never played the oboe. I’m not even exactly sure what an oboe is.
He’s fallen asleep again. His skin looks gray in the dusky light. I tap his leg and he opens his eyes.
“Dad I gotta go.”
Ike shuffles ahead of us. It takes a long time to get from the swing to the door. We hear the surging music from Silverado playing inside the house. It sounds like victory, like triumph.
*Originally published in January, 2013 in Connotation Press.