- Until Everything Goes Blurry
I'm never awake this early. October sunlight, in through the window low and flat, warms my feet. Already, chain saws whine, the crews still cleaning up after the hurricane that hit here a month ago. That's what wakes me, I think, the chain saws. I hear birds, the early morning kind. Outside, metal doors meet up with metal latches and car engines cough to life. Out on the street, my neighbors exchange tentative, muffled hellos. I'm jealous of the coffee that must be in their aluminum mugs with the plastic tops. I want coffee, too. Thick with whole milk and a spoonful of sugar to blunt how strong I'll make it. The sun makes everything drowsy and warm and content and for now, just swirling my legs beneath the covers is enough. I breathe through my nose, slow and easy.
I think of a girl in my British literature class. Hips, curly hair, and soft, pale skin that I do not know. I think about how her cheeks flush red when she raises her hand. How her question comes out stuttering, but if you wait it out, full of insight and wit. I pull the covers close to my chin and settle into the bed. I lie there like that, the chain saws buzzing. The phone rings.
This thought: either someone selling long-distance plans or something worse. The walk to the kitchen is therefore pregnant.
"Hey buddy." My dad's voice. "Did I wake you up?"
"No," I say, and this time, this one time, I am not lying. With the phone between cheek and shoulder, I move automatically, taking the coffee can down from the shelf and fishing around in the drawer for a spoon. "I was up."
"Sorry to call so early."
I clear my throat. "No, it's OK." I clear my throat again. "How are you?"
"Pap passed away last night," he says. Immediately after he says this, I notice that he is not crying. [End Page 49]
"Oh, no," I say, staring at the spoon I've heaped with the tiny brown crumbs. I hold it like that for a second, conscious of not letting the grounds tumble from the top of the little pyramid. It's a balancing act of the hand muscles and then, in a strange flash, I realize that I'm good at it.
"He called out for Sis around four," my dad says. "By the time she got downstairs, he was gone."
Neither of us says anything for a moment. "Oh, no," I say again. No other words come.
"We think it was, you know, congestive heart failure."
"I'm sorry," I say. I can see a little of my grandfather now, his eyes behind the thick glasses, his blue Post 13 Legion hat up top. "He was a wonderful man." Only now am I awake, now, after I remember this: Pap, hooked up to his oxygen tank, grayer and more wrinkled than I'd remembered him, coughing each time he laughed, which was often. That was two, three years ago?
"How are you doing?" I ask.
"I'm OK," my dad says. "Keeping busy, I guess."
"He was a good guy."
"I know, buddy," my dad says. He takes a deep breath. "I'm OK. Ryan's taking it pretty hard." Ryan, my younger brother, whom Pap called "Ry Guy." Ryan, the college baseball coach, the kid who started shaving his head three years ago because he got bored with combing his hair, who reminds me more and more of a wisecracking drill sergeant, is crying right now. I try to imagine what that sounds like, but I've never heard it before.
"What happens now?" I ask.
"Pap wanted to be cremated," my dad says. "But no service. Not much to come back for, really."
I do cold math. My students have their midterm on Monday. My friend Rutledge can cover that. Then Norfolk to Baltimore in four and a half hours. Stop at my older brother's place, get some gas and maybe a sandwich, a Dr. Pepper. Then Baltimore to Cumberland: another three hours...