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  • Alone, Together
  • Jill Talbot (bio)

My father, eighty, leaves the house in the middle of the night. At two o'clock in the morning, he walks our suburban neighborhood, fifteen miles from Dallas, the skyline once visible from our front yard now blocked by years of trees. Every time my daughter and I visit my parents, I wake at the click of the deadbolt in the front door and Dad's whispered urges to the dogs, their collars jingling as they follow him out the door. An hour later, the key rattles in the lock, the deadbolt clicks, and Dad goes back to bed. He's done this for years.

I worry about him out there in the dark.

And I never fall back asleep until I hear the key.

Dad looks about sixty-five and moves like he's thirty. He still works as an administrator for the school district, scoffing at anyone who asks when he plans to retire. Every weekday morning, he leaves for his office in a different sport-coat-and-tie combination, my mother often snapping photos of him in the kitchen before he heads out the back door and drives the mile to his office. She keeps one of these photos on top of her secretary desk in the room where I sleep. In the frame, Dad smiles in a gray-blue jacket, a yellow, orange, and blue tie. Another [End Page 71] photo in the living room: Dad in a charcoal gray sport coat, a pink and silver tie, his gray-silver hair trimmed close.

The house was built in 1979, when I was nine and only a few random houses dotted our undeveloped subdivision, a wonderland that allowed me to play with my Star Wars figures in the dirt mounds or pretend I was riding in a saddle on the sawhorses sitting on concrete slabs. But after almost forty years, houses now surround us, block after block. The field nearby where cattle roamed was sold long ago and transformed into another, larger subdivision. Our street became a thoroughfare, a nervous speedway for cars passing day and night. With hundreds of houses and streets winding in and out, Dad never took off at night in the same direction.

I've reminded my mother more than once that people come home from bars at that hour, and I worry some drunk will careen into him, the way we have found evidence—once a silver bumper and skid marks—of other cars driving into our yard. Beyond that, Dad had a mild heart attack at seventy, and his father had a stroke at the same age, so I often spend those long minutes in the middle of the night picturing him still on a dark sidewalk, the dogs sniffing around him, dragging their leashes.

One night, when the clock in the front room read 3:15 a.m., I tiptoed to their bed and put my hand on my mother's leg. I might as well have been five years old, even though I was in my mid-forties. "Mom, it's 3:15, and Dad's not back yet." In a moment, she was out of bed, turning on the light in the kitchen and busying herself, rearranging leftovers in the refrigerator while I paced from one front window of the house to another, leaning into the glass, far to the left and far to the right, so I could see as much of the street as possible. At one point, I stepped out into the night, standing on the concrete path to our front door, still warm from a day-long Texas heat.

Mom and I were quiet in our vigil—tense, separate—the way we had always moved through the house and around each other, our relationship distant. At some point, I noticed that all the lights in the house were on, as if she were calling my father home. And then, from one of the windows, I saw the blue Rangers T-shirt and black running [End Page 72] shorts, the dogs skipping along, Dad speed-walking as if he were in a race. When I told Mom I could see...