Walter

I pull in the driveway and find Walter’s Buick exactly where it was this morning. No surprise there, I have his key. But the door’s wide open, along with every window. It’s ninety degrees out.

Deep breaths. It’s fine, I tell myself.

“Walter?”

Exactly one step inside. Where I find his cane stuck in the ceiling. Plunged right through like a sword, a dusting of plaster at my feet. A large, towering man in his prime, I’m as impressed as I am pissed. It’s certainly a new twist. I head for the kitchen.

“Walter?”

The pictures on the fridge are curled at the edges. In the cabinet I find Walter’s pills and take a peek. A bunch of blue pellets, I can’t tell if he’s still on pill strike. Then again, a cane in the ceiling answers that question. I clutch the bottle in my hand and wonder how much harm there is in this experiement.

Out the back door, to the patio, where Jack and I used to have a glass of wine, unwinde, discuss the day or otherwise watch the birds. Now I find my father-in-law out in the yard, on his knees in the thick grass, digging with a garden shovel. His back is drenched with sweat, he’s humming a tune and has lost a shoe. I turn back for the kitchen.

Upstairs I get changed. I’m beat from work and make a point to avoid all mirrors. I tug on an old tee and yank on some shorts. Gardening clothes. Let’s go have some fun.

On the way down Walter’s paintings surround me, reminding me of what his brain and hands are capable of producing. Then I see the cane and laugh. At what his brain and hands are capable of producing.

I join him in the backyard, watching those hands, stained with red clay in their feverish scooping. I offer him a glass of water and he gulps it down. He’s sunburned and sweaty, smacking his lips into what I choose to believe is gratitude. Walter looks around at the dirt and roots and clumps of grass, as though he’s seeing it for the first time.

“Lisa,” he says. “Look. this is it. Seven steps from the oak, right? My Mickey Mantle rookie card is in our time capsule, you remember? I never wanted to put that in there.”

That Oak is four hundred miles and sixty years away. And poor Aunt Lisa has been dead for twenty. So I nod. What else is there? Give him the pills? Watch his eyes go hollow on the couch, mindless television blaring just loud enough so that he won’t hear his own brain rotting in his skull? I could hand him over to CrestHaven, let them deal with it, but that seems so final.

Over his shoulder I see our neighbor, watching us but not watching us. I toss him a wave then turn to the man whose son I loved so hard it still gives me chills. Evan as it’s ninety degrees out.

“Okay Walt. Hand me that shovel.”

A line of drool from his bottom lip. His eyes are on the dirt and just as I think that he has no idea I’m there, he looks to me and smiles. I smile back and fix my gloves.

Screw it, let’s dig.

I can’t do much, but it’s therapeutic for both of us, digging in the dusk. Digging through time, through his mind. That’s what I tell myself. Because my husband is dead and his father is all I have.

 

 

–Pete Fanning/2016

 

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