- The White Suit
My father dreamed of wearing a white suit on his last day of work at Medallion Kitchen Cabinet Factory. "So if you ever see one at a thrift store, Annie," he said, "buy it for me, okay?" I said I would. "Boy, wouldn't everybody look." He smiled at the floor and shook his head. It was his grand vision of greatness, a showy play at humor he'd been preparing for all his life.
My mother went in for a routine surgery shortly thereafter: nothing went right. We watched for a month to see if her brain would flicker back to life. At her funeral, my father wore a dark suit.
Weeks later, my father went crazy. He ran to a neighbor lady's house in the middle of the night. "There are men in white suits sitting on my windowsills!" he screamed. The cops came, the ambulance. I flew home, sat with him in the lockdown psych ward, where he was considered an "elopement risk." They removed the string from his hooded sweatshirt and took his shoelaces. I bought him Dollar Store soccer sandals that kept flapping off his feet.
At night, I held his nervous hands. My father kept asking: "Why are we in a play? How did we become actors in a play?"
He planted a flower in a Styrofoam cup at occupational therapy. His [End Page 29] roommate, Dave, was a catatonic who lay flat on his back and told us he'd been committed after attacking his brother with a hammer. It was hard to leave my father there each night.
One day my father got a two-hour pass; I took him to McDonald's for a shake. He wore orange institutional scrubs—the pants highwaters, the words MENTAL HEALTH stenciled across his chest.
We sat outside on a metal bench and sucked on straws. The sun shone harsh and hot upon us. "This shake is so delicious," my father said, "it could almost bring a tear to one's eye."
I laughed, almost, and so did he. Almost. [End Page 30]
Anne Panning is the author of Super America, which won the 2006 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction and was favorably reviewed in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Publisher's Weekly, and others. She has also published a book of short stories, The Price of Eggs, as well as short fiction and nonfiction in places such as Beloit Fiction Journal, Bellingham Review, Prairie Schooner, New Letters, The South Dakota Review, The Florida Review, Passages North, Black Warrior Review, The Greensboro Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Quarterly West, The Kenyon Review, and Brevity. Her essay "Specs: My Life in Eyeglasses" was listed as a Notable Essay in The 2006 Best American Essays; another essay, "Secondhand," was listed as Notable in The 2007 Best American Essays. She has just completed a memoir, Viet*Mom: An American Mother of Two Moves to the Mekong. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and two children and teaches creative writing at SUNY-Brockport.