In the spring of 2007, my father and I are discussing something important when the guy in the car behind us at the green light raps his horn. In the passenger seat, my father, a polite man of eighty years does not flinch, just glances in the rearview mirror and says, ‟Hold your horses, buddy. Life is short.” I want to say something to my father, but when I look again, he is gone.
Of course he is. He had been dead by then for about six months.
I did not have any telephone conversations with my father in the fall of 2006, between the time I last visited him in the hospital, 2,700 miles from my home, and the time he died there seven weeks later. I told myself it would be better not to call. Since I could not visit in person, I did not want to confuse him on the telephone with my voice. If my voice meant nothing to him, he might get upset—or more likely, I would. Or he might ask me to come. I did not want to have to remind him that I was, in fact, back at my own home in New Jersey and not still in Las Vegas, taking care of my mother in the house they had shared there for twenty-five years.
Take care of your mother, he had said. And the house, and the garden and the pool. It had been a shock to hear my father, for the first time in my life, ask a girl to do these things. He was half out of his head by then, I knew. I also knew I liked the sound of it, his asking, his asking me. He gestured with his good, unstroked right arm, pointing to his arthritic knees and atrophied hip, and said, ‟I can’t do any damned thing anymore. I’m a sad sack. You’ll have to take care of everything now.” I lied and said I would, that I would stay with Mommy, that I would make sure everything was all right. But I didn’t. I flew home a few days later.
The truth is, I did not call him because it was easier for me not to. It was easier if I remembered our last conversation at the hospital, the one where he reminded me to always tip generously and to lock my doors, as the last conversation, though it wasn’t.
The conversations, it turns out, go on.
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