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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sweater Weather

Gene Dall eased himself down the front steps.  He shuffled across the courtyard in front of the apartments where he and Mom lived.  He carried an empty pizza box under his arm, whistling through his teeth - Camptown Races.  He enjoyed bringing the trash out to the dumpsters.  It was kind of like his job.  Sidetracked by something on the sidewalk, he bent over and picked it up.  Probably a coin or a button.  He put it in his pocket.

My mother and I sat on the porch together, watching my children fool around in the grass.

"There's still a bag of crap inside, you know.  I just changed their diapers."

"Let him make two trips," she said.  "It'll give him something to do."

My father continued down the path and disappeared behind the building.

"He's never gonna fit into that suit he has.  I guess I can always put him in a sport coat and a pair of slacks."

"Where are you guys going?"  An innocent enough question.

"I'm not going anywhere," she scoffed, her voice dripping with disdain.

Big Mare planned my father's funeral regularly, especially when she had a crank on.  Seems a shame she didn't outlive him.  She had everyone's clothes picked out.

"Why don't you just let him wear what he wants?" I asked.

"Please, Mary.  He couldn't dress himself if his life depended on it."

Gene Dall turned the corner, holding a filthy stuffed animal he must have found in the garbage.  He tried handing it to Desmond, who shook his head with a look of concern.

"Let's just ask him.  Hey, Dad.  What do you wanna wear in your coffin someday?"

"This is fine," he replied.

*******

Mom stood in the Women's Department at Kohl's, draping an unimaginative black turtleneck in front of her chest.  She rattled on about my father and how he went out of his way to make her life miserable.  How he anticipated her every action and planned his antagonistic rejoinder with laser precision.  It seemed as impossible then as it does now.  The man barely moves and only if there's a sandwich or something covered in whipped cream involved.

"Whaddya think of this?" she asked.

"It's nice.  How about a different color, though?  Everything you own is black."

"I know.  But this is for the wake."

"Don't you have one just like that at the house?"

"Yes, but it's too small.  And I can't seem to get rid of this gut."

She grabbed cruelly at her stomach, pinching the dense inner tube that encircled her waist.  My mother couldn't understand why her pants were so snug.  Her diet consisted mainly of coffee, tea and cake.

"You never know, Mom.  Grief is a powerful incentive.  You may find yourself without an appetite during whatever illness eventually kills him.  You could shed the weight, and everything in your closet will fit again.  What are even we doing here?"

''Don't joke like that, Mary Jane.  It's not funny."

She hung the shirt back on the rack and pushed past me into the aisle.

''C'mon.  Your father needs a sweater."

*******

I put Gene Dall in some new shoes yesterday when I picked him up for a visit.  I had gotten him two pairs in the summer, the same style in black and also, brown.  He only has use for one set at a time, and he wore the black ones until they were beat to shit.

"Let's throw these away," I kicked at my dad's foot while he stood at the bathroom sink, shaving and whistling through his teeth - Yankee Doodle.

"No.  They're still good," he said.

I held up the brown loafers so he could see them in the mirror.

"C'mon.  You have to change your pants anyway if you're coming to my house.  You can't wear those.  They have stains all over them."

"Where?"  He looked down.

"It doesn't matter.  Take them off."

He sat on the edge of the bed and did as he was asked.  He is slow about everything he does, but cooperative and pleasant.  I am lucky.  So I helped him with his trousers, socks and new shoes.

"Ready to go?" I patted his big leg and gathered his dirty laundry.

"I'm ready."

"Get your jacket, then."

Dad went to the closet and reached for the blue cardigan my mother bought him, the winter before she got sick.  It's an old man's sweater, but a nice one.  He's an old man, and a nice one.  Just so long as it's clean, he can wear what he wants.

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