For three days I carried my friend’s unhappiness like a bag of dogshit I could find no place to set. Goodbye breakfast at a diner, my tongue came loose with the caffeine and broke the air between us. “When was the last time she said ‘I love you’?” He shook his head to find the memory, but nothing rattled down.

Leave her I said. He cleared his throat and chuckled into his coffee—an animal that won’t leave his cage.

We’d met at fifteen over a pack of Luckies at military school and marched through it together, though he with a lighter gait than me.  And years later, as promised, he threw the rope that tugged me free from the swamp of Houston, West to San Francisco, into a converted attic off the Haight. Twain had it right, cold as hell. But he’d just gotten off the Appalachian Trail and gave me the bed preferring to sleep outside on the landing where he would proceed to get drunk and rail against his high school sweetheart, a red-lipped stewardess who dumped him for a guy that sold calendars. FuckYou! He screamed over the fog horns. FuckYou! Yanking hard at the trap of her memory. The next morning, always the gentleman, he apologized.

The first to leave, he returned to the South with his architect’s degree. Back to mama and three sisters. The only man in the family. The second cry came over the phone, wedding cake still on his fingers, “I think I married the wrong woman.”

“Why didn’t you stop it?”

“They were all coming. It wouldn’t have been right.”

And so, the sons came one at a time to make a lanky pair. And he disappeared into the woods with them; scouts and the rites of deer hunting—mapping for them the dangers of the world outside while back at home a mean-ness grew and dropped from her. So his steps were always considered and the sudden prick stinging and real.

She willed him out of the house each morning, his sacraments of instant coffee and oatmeal clutched in Styrofoam cups. Banished each day to his office, returned in the evening to something covered and once warm on the counter. One more beer, dazed by the TV and slide into the bed like double-wide coffin where any movement would be suspect.

She’ll dump you when they’re both out of college. I said.

An odd smile rose up over his coffee mug, floated out the window of the diner, off  into the woods escaping among the trees.

And I recalled that morning, making my way down the hall of his perfect tomb of a home to find one son had returned from college late in the night, the door open as I passed the boy’s room, startled to come upon such intimacy: there was my friend leaned over the bed, intent as a farmer bent to a hand planted furrow, arms around his half-sleeping son holding him in an embrace as if he were breathing him. And I understood the odd smile, the look out to the green woods beyond, I understood for the first time what I had always wanted from my father.

Comments
  1. James says:

    I love this, Mel. Absolute mastery.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s