By Don Foster
Day-drinking naps give me the best dreams, and this one’s no different. I’m with Renee, a figure I’m still connected to in a weird, offensive way. In my dream, though, it’s all honeymoon. She’s unzipping my pants, about to do something marvelous, when a knock rattles my bedroom window.
I throw the blanket off and pull back the curtain. It’s not yet dark but soon will be. Rain slashes against the building. Wind whips a fast-food wrapper stuck in a branch and ruffles my neighbor’s makeshift garbage bag car window. Nothing out of the ordinary. Probably just a branch rubbing against the siding. I’m turning back to bed when I hear it again. It’s more of a persistent tapping than a knock. I look outside and see the same. Then I look down and there’s my father standing on the sill, no bigger than a baby squirrel, half-drowned and shivering. I open the window.
“Christ, dad, what’re you doing? I mean…how?” I bring him inside, cradling him in my hand.
“You thought throwing some dirt on me would get rid of me.” His shivering makes my handshake. I use two hands like you would a communion wafer.
“Usually that does the trick. Twelve years, why now? And how’d you get so small?”
“Boy, get me some dry clothes. You want me to catch pneumonia?”
I glance around, bewildered. “Clothes? There’s nothing to fit you.” I carry him into the bathroom and set him on the counter. I shut the door.
“We’ve got to be careful. I’ve got a cat.”
He looks at the red hairdryer pushed against the corner of the vanity. “You must got yourself a woman, too.”
I laugh. “Don’t you recognize it? It’s yours.” I tell him to strip.
Plaid shirt and his favorite jeans—the clothes he was buried in. Dad never was a suit man. He pulls his shirt over his head, unbuttons his jeans, and shimmies out.
“But you don’t have enough hair.”
I pat my buzz cut. “I know. But I had trouble getting rid of your stuff after…you know. I’ve kept most of it. Every time I take a piss, there it is reminding me of you. Call me sentimental I guess.”
Dad still has great hair, flowing loose curls like all the best paintings of Jesus. With his blue eyes, broad shoulders, and big hands, there was never a shortage of bar hags crashing at our house growing up. But it’s hard to make out these details now on account of his stature.
I plug in the blow dryer, set it to warm at the slowest speed. I put my left hand behind his back so he won’t scud off the vanity. “Okay. Turn.” After I finish drying his backside, I switch the thing to the faster speed and dry off his clothes. “They feel good now.” I hand them back.
“Why were you in bed so early?” He slides his arm into the sleeve.
“I’m doing some babysitting. Just resting up a little before Renee brings her boy over. He’s very active.” Of course, I don’t tell him about the day drinking.
“The kid’s not yours?” Dad pushes the button through the last hole on his shirt.
“Nah.” I hold my hand out for him to step on.
“Then who is this Renee?”
“Why the fuck are you volunteering to watch her kid?”
“It’s complicated. I worked for her dad as a salesman at his furniture store. He fired me two weeks ago saying business sucked, yet I outsold Renee every week. He just didn’t want me there anymore, staring at his daughter like some lovesick clown. Plus he might’ve heard me call her a slut when I discovered she was sleeping with the warehouse guy. Anyhow, he never mailed my final check. I can’t reach him because he and the Mrs. are on a cruise. Renee said she’d drop it off if I watched her son for a few hours.”
I carry dad into the living room. Pusser, my 18-pound tabby, is lying on the couch. “That’s going to be a problem.”
“You told me you had a cat, not a mountain lion.”
I set dad on the armrest farthest from Pusser. I scoop up Pusser and carry her to the spare bedroom and shut the door. His clothes, his tools, his high school wrestling trophies; it’s all in there. I hear Pusser knocking into things, things falling.
“What’s all that racket?”
“Nothing. It’s just Pusser being Pusser.” I offer dad a beer, figuring things are different now, but he waves me off. With dad still on the wagon, I feel funny about boozing in front of him, but this is my apartment. Am I not a grown-ass man? I grab a beer for me and a bottle of water for him. I grab a few slices of imitation cheese while I’ve got the fridge open.
Dad has the remote on the sofa cushion, hopping up and down on the power button.
“You’re wasting your energy. The cable got shut off.”
He looks at the blank TV. “How do you entertain yourself?”
I pull my phone from my pajama pocket and blow his mind. When dad had passed, flip phones had just been invented. I find Key & Peele on YouTube. We laugh our asses off.
“I help pry Spike off her leg so she can leave.”
“Phones are televisions. Unbelievable. What else have I missed?” “Not much.”
“Not much,” he mocks me. “You’ve got phones that are televisions —televisions!”
“I mean, yeah, we’ve got these tricked out phones, but everything’s gotten fake because of it. People don’t want to hang out anymore. Kids just sit around and type messages to each other.” I scroll through Renee’s text messages to demonstrate.
“Damn. She didn’t have the lady nuts to break up in person?”
“I know. Ridiculous considering I worked with her. I give her seven months of my life and this is what I get in return. A goddamn text.”
Dad presses different icons on my phone. I let him play around with it for a bit until he clicks on the photo gallery. I take my phone back, unsure whether I deleted all the pics I sent Renee back when we were screwing all the time. I get back on my soapbox.
“All people do is showboat, posting pictures of their new house, new car, new abs, new butt lift, their kid’s perfect report card. And they’re always going on and on about how blessed they are. It’s so damn phony. It makes me want to puke. We’re all eating shit sandwiches breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but no one will cop to it.”
Dad scratches right below where his hair hangs down on his neck. “What’s this posting pictures?”
I click on the Facebook app. My last posting was from two months ago, a selfie of me and Renee in front of a Lamborghini at a car show. “There’s this thing called a Like button—see it? People try to get as many Likes as possible.” I can tell dad’s not following. “Look, it’s not worth explaining.”
I go back to YouTube, scroll through some recently loaded videos. I hit play on one called Chicken vs. Gorilla. Two grown men—I assume they’re men—dressed in costumes are beating the shit out of each other.
Dad tilts the phone to see better. “So what’s this thing you’re showing me?”
“YouTube. What it is, you shoot a video and upload it to this site for the world to see.”
“And people Like this, too?”
“Yes.” I point to the thumbs up button. “Or if you don’t like it, you press this one.” I point to the number displayed beneath the video. “This tells you how many views the video has. When you get enough people watching, companies wave money at you to play their ads. That’s why we had to watch that truck commercial before the video.”
We sit quietly, enjoying the action. It looks like chicken is done after gorilla lands a left hook, but when gorilla charges in for the double-leg, chicken times a beautiful knee to gorilla’s nose, laying him out.
The doorbell rings. I check the time. “She’s not supposed to be here for another hour.” I pan the room, figuring where to hide dad. “Here, slide behind this throw pillow.” With dad out of sight, I open the door.
Renee’s wearing red lipstick. Her winter coat hides the hem of her dress, skirt—I can’t tell. Knowing Renee, whatever she’s wearing won’t be on long. Spike hides behind her; she’s got to push him through the door. “Say hi to Uncle Kevin.”
I tussle the little guy’s moppy brown hair, then deadeye Renee. “You said seven-thirty.”
“Yeah, I’m early. So what?” She turns to leave.
I clear my throat. “Forgetting something?”
“I’ll give it to you when I get back.”
“You’ll give it to me now or you’ll have a two-year-old cock block stuck between you and Mr. Swipe Right.”
Her look says it all, but she says it anyway. “You’re such a dick.”
“Go on,” I shoo her back to the car. God damn it, look at that run in her stockings! She’s playing mind games. She put that run in her stockings because she knows it makes me hard. She leans inside her car, digs around for a bit, then reemerges with an envelope. She puts the envelope in my hand, careful not to let her fingers touch me.
She bends down. “Come give mommy a kiss.” She offers her cheek so Spike won’t smudge her lipstick.
“Don’t slut around too long. I’ve got stuff to do.”
“Sure you do,” she says. I help pry Spike off her leg so she can leave. Her headlights arch onto the neighboring duplex as she backs out of my stumpy driveway. I wait until she turns onto the next street before closing the door. Spike starts up with his sniffling routine, but I’m prepared this time.
“Hey buddy, want some M&Ms? Uncle Kevin’s got a whole bag. A big one.” The little guy follows me to the kitchen. I cross back into the living room with a bag in hand.
“Dad always had too much confidence in the wake of ridiculous obstacles.”
“You can come out now.”
“What about him?” It’s hard to hear dad behind the pillow.
“Our buddy here is speech delayed.” I pretend to have Spike’s nose. “But that don’t make him no dummy, right ol’ Spike?” Spike grabs my thumb and puts his nose back on his face.
Dad steps into view. Spike stares at him, eyes big as Frisbees, gaped mouth drooling red and green holiday saliva.
“Chew your candy lil’ man. The landlord likes his carpet beige.” I lift on Spike’s chin.
Spike takes a step toward dad but is distracted by the thumpety thump against the bedroom door. He looks at me.
“I put the kitty in the bedroom. Why don’t you let her out?” Spike toddles toward the sound. I walk to the armrest and pick dad up.
“This is getting to be too much. I’m moving you to higher ground.” I carry him into the kitchen, set him on top of the refrigerator next to a cookbook featuring that guy with the frosted tips. When Renee was living here, we thought we were going to cook and save money. We never did. I hear Spike working the doorknob until he gets it.
Renee doesn’t pick Spike up until three a.m. She could’ve put her stockings back on but she didn’t. Like it’s not enough for her to stick the knife in my heart—she’s got to give it a twist. It’s too late to wake Spike, so we put a blanket down and lay him across the backseat.
After they leave, I check on dad. He’s still sitting next to the cookbook, wide awake.
“Don’t you sleep anymore?”
“I’m tired. I’m just worried about rolling off the edge.”
“Sorry, I would’ve moved you earlier, but Spike and I fell asleep on the couch.”
“How come your ex knocks and you open right away? Look at my knuckles. I was pounding that window for twenty minutes.”
“Don’t know. Maybe it has something to do with you weighing less than my sneaker.” I pick dad up and carry him to my bedroom. I shut the door to keep Pusser out. I set him on my pillow until I find a suitable sleeping arrangement. There’s a tissue box on my nightstand, the squat, rectangular kind. I rip the top off and splay the sides. I lay him down on tissues. “How’s that?”
“It’s the store brand, but I think they’re just as soft.” I turn off the lamp and close my eyes. I think about what it would be like to never open them.
We go out the next morning to stock up on ramen noodles and non perishables with my last paycheck. Dad fits in the inside pocket of my jacket. I leave it partially unzipped so it won’t be as stuffy. There’s a PetSmart next to the grocery store. We stop in there and buy a birdcage on clearance, something to keep dad in when Pusser is sharing the room with us. On the way home, I buy a bottle of Old Crow at the liquor store.
It’s hard not to overdo it with my drinking in front of dad. Two weeks had passed since I lost my job. None of the neighboring retailers would touch me because of my neck tattoo—one of the many bad decisions I’ve made while under the influence. Next month’s rent wasn’t getting paid. Dad instigates the shit out of the cat, butting his face up to the bars of the birdcage, knowing they are set too close for Pusser to stick her paw through and attack. Pusser tries regardless, flicking her tail and twitching her upper lip. I hold out the whiskey bottle, offering to splash some in dad’s drinking bowl inside the cage. I know I shouldn’t press dad, but drinking by yourself feels weird when you have company.
“You really want to wind me up and set me down that road again?” He runs his fingers across the bars. Pusser presses her nose against the cage. Dad flicks her right on the tip of it. Pusser hisses and bares her teeth, then scrambles out of the room.
I swirl my whiskey. The ice cubes have melted into one big lump. Of course, neither of us want him going down that road. The last time he went down that road we had gotten into it after he’d had too many. He threw a sloppy right that caught me just above the jaw. The punch didn’t hurt. What hurt was knowing I would’ve flattened him if I swung back. That was the first time I thought of dad as anything other than invincible. Who would look after him when I wasn’t around? Who would wake him up when he hit the snooze too many times? The morning after, I heard him in the bathroom flushing the toilet to drown out his sobs. He never had another drink, even when the cancer moved in and dismantled his body.
The spring-latch squeaks as my father reaches through the bars and opens the door. He climbs onto my lap and sits there like a child. We stare at a hunk of Pusser’s fur rolled up in the corner of the room like tumbleweed. Pusser prances back into the room. Dad steps back into his cage just as she hops on the couch. I latch the door behind him. Dad studies Pusser for a spell.
“How hard is it to create one of them YouTube channels?”
“You got something to film it?”
“Right here.” I hold up my phone. “What are you getting at?” “I think it’s time for us to grab some of that ad revenue.”
Dad always had too much confidence in the wake of ridiculous obstacles. Like that time I was fifteen, working out in the basement, attempting to turn my concave chest into a hulking chick magnet. Dad came down and demanded I put every plate on the bar even though he hadn’t benched since high school. “Every damn plate,” he yelled. He had set his beer on the washing machine and helped me load the plates. It took everything I had to pull the weights off of him that evening. And here was that bravado again, thinking he can outrun Pusser through an obstacle course.
“It’ll be like a modern-day Tom & Jerry.”
I shake my head. “Except that was a cartoon and you’re not a mouse. This is a bad idea. A very bad idea.”
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“No, it’s a crazy idea, not a bad one. Every great idea sounds crazy at first.” He stops pacing and grabs the bars. “Until someone proves it possible.”
I’ve heard this story before from dad. Roger Banister. The four minute mile. Blah, blah, blah. “Look, you can’t outrun Pusser. You just can’t.”
Dad points to Pusser’s underbelly. “She’s got a lot of flesh hanging there. A whole lot of gunt action.” Dad punches himself in his abs for effect. “I’m in the best shape of my life. Haven’t had a drink in fifteen years.”
“You can’t count the years you were dead.”
“I’m not sitting here splitting hairs with you all night. Take me for a spin.”
“I’ll know when I see it.” He rattles the cage door. “Open up.”
We drive around town looking at Christmas lights and nativity scenes. Dad has me slow down every time we approach a manger and plastic figurines.
“Pull over, son.”
I pull onto the shoulder in front of The Church of God. “What’s your obsession?”
“Do you see that? The clothes are real, not just part of the mold. Go snatch that shepherd.”
“I can’t steal from the church.”
“Yes, you can.” He pushes on my hip. “Get out there. Quick, before a car comes along.”
I jog across the frozen grass and kneel by the icons. The fluorescent cross attached to the church washes over me with its artificial glow. I grab the shepherd and run back to the car.
I shut Pusser in the bedroom when we get home. Dad has the shepherd disrobed and is shoving his arms through the sleeves. The cuffs hang past his hands; the bottom bunches on the carpet, hiding his feet. “It’ll have to be altered,” he says.
“Would you please tell me what’s going on?”
“I’m Jesus. Lil’ Jesus. LJ. The miniature messiah. This shit’s going to go—what you call it?”
“Yes, viral. Everybody’s hopping aboard the LJ train. Think of all the sponsors we’ll have. We’ll shoot an episode every week, each escape more daring than the last. We’ll build an online store. Lil’ Jesus hats, hoodies, tee shirts. Maybe get some beer koozies and bumper stickers up in there. You’ll never have to sell furniture or whatever bullshit again.”
“Exactly,” dad thrusts his fist in the air.
“No, I mean Jesus as in you’ve got to be kidding me. Jesus, as in you’ll get hurt and leave another hole in my life.”
Dad cocks his head and looks at me with confusion, disappointment —it’s hard to tell what’s scribbled on his tiny face. “Why aren’t you seeing this for what it is? This is an opportunity, son. When opportunity knocks you don’t go hiding under your bed. You invite it in, ask it to stay.” He pulls his hair back so it falls evenly over his collar. “I’m doing this. Whether you tape it or not, that’s up to you. But one way or another, I’m running from that goddamn cat. Now get some scissors so we can take care of this.”
I rifle through the junk drawer until I find scissors. I cut a few inches from the sleeves and bottom. Still, it’s big in the chest. I cinch the robe at the waist with the cloth belt. We build the obstacle course with shoe and cereal boxes, orange juice cartons, and other miscellanea we find around the apartment and community dumpster at the end of our street. We duct tape a red string to the ceiling at the midway point of the course that will allow dad to swing to an elevated cereal box.
The next day we buy a hot glue gun and Popsicle sticks at the craft store and construct hurdles, adding them to the final stretch. We use another shoebox for the finish line, cutting a slot into the side that’ll allow dad to dive through safely. We wedge the box into the bottom shelf of the entertainment unit. At the opposite end of the course is Pusser’s travel carrier set six feet behind the strip of tape stuck to the carpet marking dad’s starting line. I argue with dad about having a bigger head start, but he’s having none of it.
“The race needs to stay competitive to capture the audience.” He adjusts his robe.
“You going to be able to run in that thing?”
“Like the wind.”
“They think I’m a phony,” he mumbles.
I grab my phone and shoot a video trailer of the course, zooming in on the red string, the cereal boxes, the miniature hurdles. Lastly, I zoom in on dad leaning against the steel gate of Pusser’s carrier. The robe, the hair, the beard— I have to admit, he makes a good Jesus. Pusser rams her head against the gate, jostling dad. Dad turns and wags his finger at Pusser for comedic effect.
“Tune in Monday for our inaugural Cat vs Lil’ Jesus.” I end the video and post it on YouTube.
“What are we waiting for?” he asks. Let’s film the race.”
“You can’t post on the weekend. People are out doing shit. You post it on Monday when people are stuck in their cubicles.”
Dad watches me push buttons on my phone. I create a Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. I submit our teaser video to Reddit. “We’ve got to use a bunch of platforms to create traction. Hopefully, we’ll have a substantial following come race day.”
Dad looks exhausted. He dumped all his adrenaline into this idea of his, and now he’s suffering. I pick him up and carry him to his bed of tissues. “I still don’t get why Jesus. Just be yourself.”
“People are lazy. They can’t see a miracle without the packaging.” Dad yawns. “You coming to bed?”
“In a minute. I’ve got to let Pusser out of the carrier.”
I do that. Then I head to the kitchen and make another whiskey and cola. Dad just needs a hobby, something to distract him. I wish he was bigger. Or his tools were smaller. It wouldn’t be hard finding a car in this neighborhood to fix. Maybe I can get him one of those nicer Matchbox cars, the bigger ones that glide real smooth with the hoods that pop and the detailed plastic engine beneath.
The bulb burns out in the brass chandelier. It’s down to a single candle built like a flame. I must be getting drunk. Of all the stupid ideas. What would dad even say? How the fuck am I going to turn a wrench on this?
By race day we have 200,000 hits from our video trailer. I carbed dad up the night before with homemade Thai—drained ramen noodles with scrambled eggs and hot sauce. I grab my phone and shoot dad doing hurdler stretches, then catch some footage of Pusser butting her head against the gate.
“Looks like we’re ready folks.” But dad motions one more second. He kneels and clasps his hands. “Right, let’s pay our respects to the big man first.” I watch dad move his lips silently. Is this part of the act? What if it isn’t? And why didn’t he tell me about this?
Dad stands and hops around. “Lil’ Jesus getting the blood flowing, getting ready to cut loose.” He plants his foot on the grey tape and assumes a crouched position.
“On your mark, get set,” and on go I release the gate. Dad jumps onto a ream of copy paper, bolts along the surface, and jumps down. Pusser sniffs the ream, then detours the obstacle. Dad scales the shoebox, deftly maneuvering between hand and footholds I had notched in it with a steak knife. He reaches the top, grabs the red string, and swings. We screwed up calculating the trajectory, and instead of landing cleanly, he slams into the General Mills logo. The box tips and dad topples with it, landing on his shoulder and rolling to his feet. Pusser feels a renewed commitment and closes the distance. As dad clears the final hurdle, Pusser swats, pawing nothing but air. Dad dives through the slot in the box, punctuating the race.
“Talk about a close one! Lil’ Jesus tearing ass through the course, leaving Pusser with a mouthful of dust bunnies. Lil’ Jesus one, Pusser nothin’. Be sure to subscribe to our channel to catch all our videos. You can also watch us on Facebook Live.” I hit the red square to stop recording. I rush to where dad is bunkered and slide the box from the shelf. I pop the lid. “You alright?”
“That was some workout.” He takes a minute to catch his breath, then pushes himself to his feet. He swings his arm in tight circles. “That box got me.”
“Want me to get an ice cube for your shoulder?”
“Nah, I’ll be alright.”
“That was amazing.” I lift dad out of the box.
“How much money do you think we’ll make?”
“A lot,” I tell him. “A lot.”
The following Monday we had gone viral with twenty million views. A Texas real estate investor advertised a house flipping course on our video. I was in talks with several apparel manufacturers, putting together a line of tee-shirts, hats, and hoodies. We had already generated enough ad revenue to build our online store.
Within a month our store is cranking out thousands of dollars in merch. A fulfillment center ships it directly from a warehouse to our client for a small cut. We get the cable reconnected just in time to catch football playoffs. A blonde analyst is on the field, the Green Bay weather whipping her scarf and reddening her cheeks. Dad is on the sofa, eating a microwaved taquito and reading viewer comments from our YouTube channel.
“Listen to this one. If you believe that fake-ass Jesus you must’ve been born again yesterday. Just some UCLA grad CGI-ing the shit out of this video.” Dad shoves a hunk of taquito into his mouth. “They think I’m a phony,” he mumbles.
“The comment section is a wasteland. Don’t bother with them trolls.” But he doesn’t listen.
“He is my father, who am I to disobey him?”
“Here’s a good one. Dear Americans: Jesus was born in Bethlehem, modern-day Israel for you dumb shits that have never spun a globe. How can he possibly be your shade of vanilla? Enjoy your ignorance while you can, because there will be no Walmart in the afterlife.” Dad puts his taquito down. “These people are worked up.”
“C’mon dad, that’s enough.” I turn the phone over so it’s face down. “All you think about is work these days. Kickoff is about to start. Let’s watch the game like old times.”
Dad glances at the players running through the tunnel. “I’m thinking on the next shoot we use empty toilet paper rolls instead of hurdles. We’ll place them in a T-formation, so I’ll jump over one and crawl through the next. They’re light enough, maybe I can ping one-off Pusser when she gets on my heels.”
I polish off my whiskey & cola and set the stubby glass on the end table. “I don’t know, dad. I’m thinking maybe we should stop shooting.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We’ve been cutting it close. Pusser almost got you last time.”
“It was just my foot,” Dad says. “The rest of my body was already in the box.”
“Still,” I say, “the first time she ever touched you. She’s getting leaner, faster, smarter. It’s only a matter of time. We’re playing Russian Roulette.” Pusser won’t stop rattling the bedroom door. “I better let her out before she shits on the floor again. You should get back in.”
Dad crosses the threshold and I shut the cage.
“I’m getting tired of this fucking cage,” he yells as I walk to the spare bedroom. When I turn the knob I see I’m too late. There is a turd on top of dad’s red Snap-On toolbox. She had to hop five feet to lay that one down. Pusser gives me this cocky look I don’t appreciate, then prances into the kitchen. I follow her. Dry cat chow clinks against the metal bowl as I make another drink.
I’m awakened by my moans, the sugar and alcohol having rung my brain like a dish sponge. My sinuses are clogged; my eyes glued shut with mucus. I had fallen asleep on the sofa, a bad habit perpetuated by my growing arsenal of whiskey cocktails.
“Your immune system is shit.” Dad watches me work the sleep from my eyes. I blink until his image sharpens. Dawn snakes through the missing slat in the blinds, illuminating a whorl of dust motes above his head.
“Good morning to you, too.” My throat is parched and it’s hard pushing the words out. “I need some water.” It takes three attempts to get my footing under me. I come back with a glass filled with tap and two Advil. Dad starts lecturing.
“Don’t act as I did.”
“I’m not.” I gulp the medicine back. “You drank with friends.” “They weren’t my friends.”
I look at the whiskey glass and empty beer bottles littering the coffee table. What am I doing? When will I say enough’s enough? I’m too embarrassed to look at my father. “I can’t lose you again. You’re everything.” I rub my eyes.
Dad reaches through the bars and opens the latch. He climbs down the sofa, using the rivets along the edge as footholds. He zips across the carpet and jumps on my foot. He bunches the leg of my pajamas in each hand and begins to climb. At my thigh, he pauses to catch his breath, then continues up and up, his face a red dot from the strain. When he reaches my waist, I offer my hand.
“Put it away,” he barks. He regroups and doubles his effort. He clasps my tee shirt and inches up my torso. Panting and trembling, he leans his ear against my chest. “Can’t you hear that, son? It’s bigger than anything you can imagine. As long as it’s pumping, it’s all you need.”
He continues to ascend, hand over hand. He pulls himself onto my shoulder. He rests.
“I just climbed a mountain. No gear. No safety net. All heart. It’s time you put the bottle down. You’re bigger than your excuses.”
I try to hide my trepidation about the shoot. Pusser has changed. She no longer rubs against my leg. When I go to pet her under her chin she bites my fingers. She never finishes her two scoops of dry mix anymore, and her belly sag has noticeably shrunk. She has awoken me on several occasions during the predawn hours galloping through the house and climbing doorjambs like she used to.
“What time’s this shoot?” Dad rolls his neck from side to side. “Whenever you want. We can always push it off.”
“Shit no we ain’t pushing it off. We sold over a thousand tee shirts last week. I want that doubled by month’s end. I’m ready.”
“You sure you’re good for this? You exerted a lot of yourself yesterday with the climb. Maybe you need another day to recover.”
“What do I look like? Some kind of Sally? Hit the button.” Dad puts his foot on the line.
“Don’t you want to stretch? Do your hurdlers or something?” “I’m stretched.”
I open my mouth, but there’s no point in speaking. His mind is set. He is my father, who am I to disobey him?
“On your mark. Get set. Go.” I release the gate.
Like so many great sprinters, dad never looks back, his eyes glued to the obstacles. The ream of paper has been replaced with two shoes. He jumps and rolls off them, smooth like butter. In his best start ever, he scales the shoebox without a hitch. But Pusser is dialed in. She doesn’t pause, she doesn’t sniff. She is a sniper. As dad swings from the red string, his hair flowing back, Pusser takes a great leap. She hooks her claws into dad’s back, yanking him to the floor.
I drop my phone. I wrench Pusser off dad and chuck her across the room. But I’m too late. Dad’s eye dangles from its socket. His neck and body are carved up and bleeding.
I wrap him loosely in a Lil’ Jesus tee shirt and lay him in the shoebox we used for the finish line. For two weeks I hold vigil over his body, calling his name, praying for a second resurrection. But who exactly am I praying to? All I can think of is my ol’ man. How he taught me where to put my fingers on the laces. How he taught me to use a full bladder to spell my name in the snow.
He’s not coming back this time. I move his box into the spare bedroom with his other belongings. I set him on the side shelf of his Snap-On toolbox. Most of the tools in there I’ll never use, but just being near them fills me with a sense of purpose. Second acts come in life, sometimes even thirds. But you’ve got to put in the work. I start by unscrewing the cap on the Old Crow and finding the nearest sink.
Don Foster grew up in a Maryland farm town and now lives in Delaware with his wife and kids. In 2019 he won an artist fellowship from the Delaware Division of the Arts, and his stories have been published in various places online and in print. When he’s not writing, he’s masquerading as a flooring salesman. You can find his work on his website here.