Just A Few, Dead Now

What are hours to a dying man? The sun half buried over the turnpike and her headlights arrive into Henry’s driveway. Who is she talking to, sitting for so long? The wheels on Henry’s tank, thin and plastic, let out a squeal. It runs over the linoleum floor like a child’s toy—her toy. A fire truck, china dolls, tinkers, blocks without the Y, a tricycle: Henry remembered them. “Remember them?” he asked her.

The cheque Henry wrote and laid out on the marble plant stand is for fifteen thousand dollars. Will she sit for a while and talk with him instead of staring at it with her mother’s eyes?

“You can’t just take it and leave,” he tells her. “We have plans tomorrow.”

“Are you hungry, I am?” Henry asks. Sit down for Christ. He puts their bowls of curried soup on top of the Living pages.

She can barely sip the soup from the spoon although her eyes are all that it sees. “Remember New Mexico?” She does. They got stuck behind a cow truck for hours and she sang the poop song—poop poop poop poop—and she woke up with the sun, on the side of the road, thirsty. That was Black Mountain and she had to pee and Henry was asleep. She smiles while Henry changes his tank.

“You remember that boy you played with all week while I was in meetings?”

They watch television after dinner. She goes into the bathroom and comes out again with her mother’s eyes. Her hazel eyes find tone in her green tank top and Henry notices she no longer wears just T-shirts to bed. Her thin wrists are still very thin. She stares at the cheque while coming out of the bathroom, and Henry remembers her mother doing the same. They were once like their daughter is now: a little something all the time. “Give me one of those pills. Do I take it with gin?”

They sip from the same bottle.  She says, “You were sooo Baptist.”

Henry coughs and laughs and splinters. “I know, I know,” he says. “I can’t believe you…” She says she doesn’t remember it all. Henry wonders if she can remember the turtle she found. He says, “Do you remember the time you called me a cocksucker?”

When she was twelve? She doesn’t answer but, god, all that blood and mucus piled in the laundry room and her mother screaming, “How many times…don’t wear white,” while the poodle nested and shit all over that floor and Henry’s office shirts. Henry threw a plant into their old television. Black soil and potassium pellets and the terracotta warrior his lover had made spread against the wall, but did not stick. Henry screamed at her and his wife, “You see how angry you make me.”

That house, the mansion, the lie: to his lover, “chateau le désespoir,” everything marble and crystalline and perfumed and powdered. Henry broke all the doors and woke up bathroom-floored with peeling fists. He pulled her off the front stoop when she was stoned and laughing and waving and past curfew. Henry screamed, “Look what you’ve done to us.” Look at me; look at me suffering because of you. Another broken door, hers. “How many men have you let fuck you?” and he fisted her ripped blouse overhead. One tiny breast squished out from her pell-melled black bra he grabbed as she fled up the staircase. He shattered everything he’d ever bought her. Porcelain dolls: gypsies, indians. Victorian. “Bisque,” she says. They were very valuable: music boxes, mahogany horses.

They fell asleep on the couch. Henry woke up coughing, the tubing from the tank wrapped around her toes. He traced circles around the white clod of her ankle, the cold bulb of her baby’s foot, small teenage bumps, and hairy ankles. He kissed her on the forehead and draped a blanket over her.

The next morning Henry brushed his teeth and she’d been in his pills. He made a frittata for them to share, onions he cut so small she couldn’t pick them out. Onions are good for you. “So what kind of pills do you have?” he asked.

He watches her criss-crossing the rooms of his home. Her eyes defy restraint and can’t keep from the cheque. She picks it up and holds it in her hand. “Just take it when you leave,” he says.  “So you don’t lose it.” He asks if she has a separate account, if she’ll take his name again, or her mother’s? Henry remembers John’s black tails whipping in the air and his corsage askew, pushing Henry through the red cathedral doors and down the steps even as the march began. “She doesn’t want you here,” John said. Henry tells her, “He was too goodie-goodie.”

Henry asks her to drive his car, but she is already too high. They go through the clover field and out of town. Henry said, “You’re never thankful when it’s July, you know.” The short, dying breath pumped through Henry’s chest chasing its own lull. She had asked about his lovers and friends. He still kept their good times in frames throughout the house. Here in a hot tub, golden beach, here in hot embrace. They’re all, just a few, dead now. One is in Utah and they laughed about the word: U-tah.  She stays awake and never asks how much farther. He enjoys the appliance hum of the road and his escaping breath.

High now, father and daughter meander along the bramble fence. Their own steps and shadows make them giggle. Henry carries his tank on his back and stops at the beginning of the fence. He says, “You used to love horses. Can you still name them?” Morgan, Palomino, the brown sable, Hanoverian—the rarest: Henry names horses that aren’t there. He studied them before she came. They wave to the lesbian cowgirls. After a while, she looks tired and cranky. She lashes out at him. Henry stops at a bar where they order Reubens and Boulevard beers.

His ex-wife was old-fashioned in her memberships and hosting. She let him name his daughter. It’s the kind of story she likes to tell waitresses. He named her after a small town he’d stayed in for a weekend. He named her Olathe because, you see, Olathe means beautiful. He once told his daughter never to go there. The town burned to its easements the afternoon she was born.

They made it home and the next morning Henry hasn’t the energy to make breakfast. She’s already awake, her little bag packed by the door and the cheque tucked somewhere safe. They sit in the kitchen where the coffee percolates. Henry doesn’t believe she will start anew or that life can be reset at all. He says something about the cheque and she asks if he remembers the messages he left. “Sure,” he says. He doesn’t remember all of them, only that she stopped answering her phone. She’s leaving without breakfast.

He asks about the cheque and she rolls down her window. She says if this is going to work, “We’ll need to forget such things.”

Scott Asa Miller is in the English writing program at The University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. He was born in Lawrence, Kansas.