Ma has been gone for two years and twenty-eight days when Dad knocks on the bedroom door as if it’s still a question.
“Ready for Johnny Cash?” he says. He’s there in my doorway, raw, tired, sad again. Belly wobbling like loose chicken skin, he flutters over, hot kisses branding my neck. Then he’s chirping like a secret bird who tells me to take my stringy shirt right off. “It’s not even made of fabric,” he says. “It looks like it’s made of dental floss.”
I do just what he says, always.
He slides on top, sweaty belly flip-flopping like a flightless animal.
Afterwards, he lays there quietly, tucking my head underneath his wing. Daddy bird, baby bird. “Everything’s going to be okay,” he says.
The pills I’ve been taking keep me awake and I’ve promised myself to never sleep again but sometimes I drift off anyway. Sometimes, underneath him, I can imagine becoming a grown up me. Can see myself, as if from a great distance. I touch his sharp shadow.
“You see, June-bug? What comes from lack of talent?” he says, showing me the round-lipped scars on his flank. Explains to me again how his own daddy branded him with rings of fire.
“I’m no one, either, I can’t even sing,” I say, try to use my singing-voice, but it has gone somewhere else. He smiles and stretches, praises me for being so smart.
“Sharp cookie,” he says, tip-toeing out of the bedroom.
“‘Nite, Johnny,” I say, trying to remember the way Ma sounded.
In the morning, storms are coming. This means only one thing. He’ll take us to the grocery store for apple-pie and double-cream so we can stay inside.
“Did you calculate how far you ran this morning?” his anthem, sloshing the hot water bottle, fishing for his slippers.
“Nah. I just run.”
The way I see it, no matter how long I run, I’ll always waddle.
“I know two people who deserve a treat,” he says.
Intertwining fingers, locking me to him, he never leaves me alone.
This cold, useless day, nobody else is on the road. Icicles hug the trees. Dad sings “Walk the Line” and I join in. We are singers and music makers, both together and apart.
“Pie will do it,” he says, shaking his head.
And so it is that we are there on the highway when the truck in front of us spills their load, small fish sprinkling our windshield like buckshot. Dad opens the window, shouting into the wind about the danger of idiot-truckers. The truck is long gone, probably has no idea that anything was wrong. Dad hops out onto the frozen highway to collect them.
“You are free to help me, Darlin’!” he yells into the car from the great outdoors. I sidle over to his door while the wind is trying to keep it closed. From the warm passenger seat, I look at him bending to collect dead baby fish in the white-out. He is not my father from here, not with the windows tight and the door locked. And so I sit there facing Johnny Cash, who stares at me with no comprehension. His lips seem to speak, but only his mouth is flapping.
From here the world becomes an easier idea. As I drive away, leaving him for wolves to understand, I see fish families falling.