He was sitting in the recliner near the fireplace, gazing out the window like always, when I walked in. I sat my laptop bag on the kitchen table in its usual place. I, lacking the extra cash for Internet, came to my parents' house every other day to work. Their wifi, and their food, was free. Also, I had the opportunity to see them in person. They didn't use the telephone or the Internet and I just felt like I needed to be with them considering how old they were getting. Tomorrow isn't promised.
I greeted my father in a jovial tone,"Nice weather we're having."
I always said this despite the weather. If it was good, I was observant; if it was bad, I was ironic.
He responded in the raspy timbre I'd known since I was a kid," Is it?"
You'd think staring out the window all day made a person somewhat aware of their surroundings, but not in his case. The window was just there because it seemed more natural than looking at a wall. I went to the kitchen and turned on the faucet, running the water until it was clear. I then filled a kettle and put it on the stovetop before starting on my work. The quiet ticking of my fingers on the computer keys filled the empty space along with his wheezing. It went on like that for a while, me typing. I think I should mention that my mother was out of town on another one of her trips. She refused to stay in the house and would rather break a hip skiing in the Rockies than walking down the stairs. She also refused to take my father with her.
The kettle screamed and I went to move it to another eye. I returned to the living room with two steaming cups in my hand, both chamomile with a little lemon, two teaspoons of honey, and no sugar, a taste I'd developed from my father. I was halfway across the room, but stopped short, the contents of the cups nearly sloshing over the rims. He was crying. It would have been unnoticeable to a stranger, but I'd seen him four times a week for the last five years and I knew his breathing. I continued the rest of the way and gingerly sat the cup in his hands. He looked down at it and then back to the window without wiping the tears away. He wouldn't do that, not in front of me. That would mean admitting that he was crying and my father didn't cry, at least when he didn't think anyone was watching.
I took my cup back to the table and busied myself with the computer. I began talking to the air. What was the point of speaking to him when he wouldn't look at me.
"You know, you still have us."
I waited for a response even though I knew one wouldn't come.
"There's still mom and me. I know it's not the same. It will probably never be like it used to, but we're still here."
"I don't see your mother."
I couldn't fight him on that one. I wanted to say that he didn't see me either, he hadn't seen me since the police officer showed up on our doorstep at two o'clock in the morning with his hat in his hands. He didn't see anyone because all he ever did nowadays was look at the damn window that might well be a wall.
His voice was quiet, almost a whisper," Things will never be the same, Avery. He's gone. Sometimes, I think I can see him coming up the driveway, but then I blink and he's just gone. It's like that in my dreams too, you know, he's lying there calling for me and there's nothing I can do. Then he just kind of fades away. I don't want him to fade away."
His speech turned into quiet sobs and he sat the cup on the table beside him. I left the computer and went to kneel in front of him so that he could see me. I wanted to look into his eyes, know that he'd acknowledged me, but they wouldn't meet. I tried to be gentle. We'd had this conversation a billion times and it nearly always turned into a shouting match.
"Dad, he won't fade away. You have pictures and memories. You still have his skateboard and bike in the garage and the trophies from his room. In a way, you still have him."
His sobs turned into heavy wheezing as he tried to catch his breath and I thought he'd rise from his chair, "But what if those things get sold or thrown out? What if my memory fails me?"
"Then you still have me and I can tell you all about him."
"You don't understand! I loved him, Avery. He was my son!"
I swallowed hard," Well, I'm your son too. Do you love me?"
For the first time in months, he did look into my eyes, and just as quickly looked away.