Don called and said I needed to come down and identify the body. I was quiet for a moment and let the disposal and water run for a moment longer before I said: Everyone in this town knows everyone and you don’t need me to tell you that is my dad under your sheet. Don said, Bran, but I do. I’ll be down, I said. I didn’t drop the phone and I didn’t hang up either. I just stood there, looking down into the sink; the smell of wet onion peel and garlic was steaming up through the drain and the aroma and the thought of my dad dead under Don’s sheet made me puke into the sudsy water where dishes were soaking. I wiped my mouth and thought: fuck all.
I’d driven to see Don in the middle of the night before to get dad out of county lock-up for drunken disorderly. Don’s the sheriff and the coroner and some say a damn fine mortician on the weekends where he makes extra money embalming folk and painting their face one last time, sewing mouths shut and putting the final stitch on the insides of eyelids. Dad used to joke with Don about his makeup kit and Don would say that makeup kit was going to de-weather dad when the time came. Looks like it just might.
The county seat and the morgue are downtown, where the courthouse, mayor’s office and the sheriff’s office are located. Coming from out of town the two-lane highway is streaked on either side with the power and telephone lines that my dad repaired working for the utility company. There are a series of run-down trailer parks dotting the last mile leading into town. After that it is The Lanes, where dad and I bowled almost every day, next to The Silk Stocking, a topless bar that we called The Dirty Sock where we drank even more after league play and stuffed dollar bills into panty-bands.
My dad Frank used to say, Bran, you’re gonna be the fucking tits you keep bowling strikes, napalming the lanes like that. He said: you bowl a 300 or even a 270 while you’re in high school and: Hello Panty Raid! He’d raise his right hand or place it over his heart or ask me to envision the biggest imaginary Bible I could and then pledge to me that I’d be up to my elbows in girly ass. Never happened, though, because girls think bowling is lame-o central. In high school I maybe got to third base with Regina Howell that one time she’d gone to the keg over and over at David Peter’s party until she had a little spittle on her chin and asked if I knew what heat was. I was a senior then. The thing with Regina was over almost before it started, because: please I hope she can’t feel the boner in my jeans just yet, before the mood has been set. Dad said I never disappointed him, though, not even the thing with Regina could give him cause. He told me every man lacks, and it was just that I was going through a patch where I was lacking in girly ass. He’d punch me in the shoulder and say even Jesus was celibate and then howl like a man possessed.
Right on through high school and then technical college dad and me bowled almost every day, lived on nachos and light beer and the sound of pins exploding. I overheard my dad say a million times the reason there are mirrors on the bowling alley ceiling is because we’re making love to the pins, rolling strikes and hitting g-spots. We bowled league and when we won the trophy four years running my dad could slap any girl on the ass that worked at The Lanes; all he had to do was wink and declare them goddesses on roller skates or flash a bit of the plastic gold trophy laying oblong out of his duffel bag. He said he was addicted to the way their asses rippled in those jean shorts, how they’d look back at him and smirk as they rolled on to the next lane over, the crimp in their bangs rigid with hair spray. This is what I remember as I take in his face, his body laid out before me. It looks like he is sleeping, and under the harsh lights of the morgue dad looks like a man who has been dead or dying for years.
Looking at him I see myself, my future. I decided early on I’d work for the power company and follow in his footsteps. Dad wasn’t a regular employee though. He was too drunk to work most days or he was at The Lanes murdering pins. We weren’t listed in the phonebook and eventually even his creditors knew where to find him and the phone at The Lanes would ring and dad would tell Roger, the owner, to take a message. Dad never lost his job because when severe weather threatened he was the most dependable man on the payroll. If weather knocked down the lines on Christmas morning or during the Super Bowl the one man dispatch would page first was Frank Malloy. He’d sober in sixty seconds and be sliding across the hood of his utility truck like he was a Duke of Hazard, ready to clear branches and restore power. He’d look to the sky and ask God to bring hell and see if Frank Malloy didn’t have a tool to parry with.
I apprenticed under dad at the power company and he never let me man the bucket. I’d have to stand by the orange cones and direct cars around our rig while he maneuvered around trees and felled limbs high above, working the arm and the bucket with a skill and precision that was innate to him. Thanksgiving 2009 was the closest dad came to having to file for disability. We had just microwaved a couple of turkey TV dinners when dad got the page. He looked at me, said fucking-a! and we were off to the south side of town.
The wind was blowing and even rocking as if God himself was determined to down every line in the county, and Dad said bring it on. We rolled into the parking lot of the hospital and stationed our truck near the downed lines behind the building. The small river that ran though town was also immediately behind the hospital and it was a rushing torrent. It took us the better part of the day to get the hospital up and running again, and it wasn’t until I was lowering the bucket that dad was struck by lightning. He survived because it wasn’t a direct strike. It hit the bucket and gave dad a jolt that sent him into the hospital whose lights we’d just put back on. If he didn’t think he had nine lives before the strike, he certainly did afterward, when his eyebrows grew back and the purple pouches under his eyes returned to the normal jaundiced yellow that marked his face. That day behind the hospital was the closest dad came to dying, unless of course you count the alcohol that slowly killed him and put him under Don’s white sheet. He had been at The Silk Stocking in the middle of the day when his heart attacked him, and the only reason I wasn’t there with him is because I was recovering from the flu.
Before leaving I unclipped dad’s beeper from his belt and clipped it to mine. Dad would want me in the bucket, answering pages on Christmas morning, his legacy. I signed Don’s paperwork and he patted me on the back and called me son as he led me out of the morgue. Real sorry about this, Don said. I drove to The Lanes and told Roger and the rest of the guys that dad had passed. They bought rounds all night, toasted to dad, and told me I was a chip off the ‘ole block. And I knew they were telling the truth.
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