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ST. PATRICKíS BED
Terence M. Green
It is important to have a secret, a premonition
of things unknownÖ A man who has never experienced that has missed something
important. He must sense that he lives in a world which in some respects
is mysterious; that things happen and can be experienced which remain inexplicable;
that not everything which happens can be anticipated. The unexpected and
the incredible belong in this world. Only then is life whole.
- CARL JUNG
Memories, Dreams, Reflections
People keep dying. Youíd think Iíd be a pessimist, or depressed, or
something, but Iím not. I love life. I love being alive. It keeps getting
better all the time.
Even though people keep dying.
My father died on April 15, 1995. He was ninety years old. It was
his second bout with pneumonia in six months, and this one did him in.
Up until October of í94 heíd done okay. Almost ninety and never had
surgery. Two strokes though. The first was back in 1969, just before his
sixty-fifth birthday Ė just shy of retirement. My mother had said that he
worried and fretted about money and retirement so much that heíd given
himself a stroke, but he recovered pretty nicely. The second was in 1992,
age eighty-seven, which took a lot of the remaining wind out of his
Someone dies at age ninety, after a pretty good life. You donít know
whether to cry or say Thank God. I did both.
He was in Toronto General. The hospital phoned me about eleven
oíclock at night, then I phoned my brother and sisters, but because I
live closest, I was the first one there.
"Donít take anything out of the room," the nurse said. "Everything
has to be accounted for."
I looked at her. "He hasnít got anything."
She put her hands in her pockets, glanced down, left.
But I did slip the red garnet off his finger and put it on my own
right hand. Itís 10-carat gold, soft and beaten, not worth anything. The
stone is squashed down in the setting, lopsided at one end. Later, when
he got there, I told my brother, Dennis, what Iíd done, wanting his
permission, and he understood.
When the nurse came back into the room, she opened the drawer in the
bedside table. Inside were his glasses, dentures and electric razor. That
goddammed razor. He loved it. Those last years when he lived with us, he
seemed to spend half the time with it spread out in pieces on his night
table, screwdriver in hand, glasses pushed up on his forehead, servicing
its idiosyncrasies. Then heíd run it around his face and neck long after
there was any chance of a whisker hanging on, caressing himself.
His mouth was open, eyes shut. "Iíd like the dentures put back in,"
And there he was. There it was. The end. Just like that. I couldnít
believe it. The rocks and sands of my life had shifted beneath my feet.
I looked down at him. Where are you? I thought. I donít understand.
I put his glasses and razor in my pocket. I never knew what to do
with them, so I still have them.
We put nearly all his clothes in green garbage bags and gave them to
Goodwill. Kept his neckties, though. They were kind of interesting. He
had a penchant for wine-colored and navy-blue, with white polka dots. One
said "Pure Silk, Foulard, Imported by Forsyth" on the label. They were a
little wider than the ones that I wore. But you never know. I might wear
them. I might.
I still have his tacklebox too. I donít know what to do with it
either. Itís steel gray, covered with rust spots. Thereís a yellow
sticker on the front, just above the latch, that says "Truline Ė Seamless
-- Eatonís of Canada." When you lift the lid it unfolds into three trays,
and an odor steals out that takes me back to childhood in a wooden
rowboat, then disappears.
Inside is my father.
The hula popper, with the rubber grass skirt rotted away. Then the
rest of the names crystallize: flatfish, crazy crawler, jitterbug, Mepps
spinners. Thereís a trailer chain for keeping fish in the water after a
catch, boxes of hooks, razor blades, a hundred yards of 8 lb. test line,
leaders, sinkers, a pair of pliers, a Langley Fishermanís De-Liar scale.
And then thereís the wooden, hand-made hand-painted lure, about four
inches long, that we never saw him use. Weíd ask him about it, my brother
and I. Heíd only smile and tell us that it was for muskie. He never
fished for muskie.
This is my legacy.
Life keeps surprising me.
I didnít see it coming. I hardly see anything coming. That night of
my fatherís funeral, when Adam asked about his own father, I was floored.
A bolt out of the blue. Heíd never asked before. Never mentioned him.
In hindsight, I donít know why I was so surprised. Now that I think
of it, if he was ever going to ask about his father, that would have been
the logical time. But I didnít think of it
Hindsight. Like they say. Twenty-twenty.
He asked it simply. "Is
my father alive?"
Jeanne and I both stopped
Adam waited. Heís twenty-one now, majoring in English at the
University of Toronto, going into third year. He is my stepson. He was
ten years old when I met him that summer in Ashland, Kentucky, fourteen
when Jeanne and I finally married and settled here in Toronto, and Iíd
always thought that I was the only father in
Like I said, it blindsided
And Jeanne. His mother was so taken aback she was speechless for a
good thirty seconds.
I watched her, then Adam,
Finally, she nodded. "I think he is. I donít know for sure, but I
think he is." Her eyes darted to me, then settled on Adam. They stared at
each other in silence.
Then Adam began eating again, patient, calm. We followed his lead.
After a minute or so, though, he asked his next question: "Where is he?"
I looked again at Jeanne, then Adam. When she
caught my eye I said,
"Why donít I get us all some coffee?"
Adam is a big, good-looking kid. I still thought of him as a kid,
even though I was staring at his dark five oíclock shadow and his hands
on the table in front of him were bigger than mine. But twenty-one. When
youíre fifty-one like I am, twenty-one is hardly on the map.
Looking at him, though, digesting his question, unsettled by my own
new loss, a collage of myself at his age drifted back: the 1960 Chev
Impala with 111,000 miles on it, my job as a truck driverís helper,
delivering office furniture around the city, the summer of í64, the
Beatles. Girls. Drinking. Living in my parentsí
Adam was a quiet kid. You start being quiet around your parents at
puberty. Too much stuff going on inside. But sliding free from my flash
of nostalgia, watching his patience after dropping his bombshell, I
realized that he was definitely on the map, and had been for a long time.
Adam never called me Dad. It was always Leo. When he was twelve,
shortly after weíd moved here, he asked me why there were cracks in the
wall and ceiling of his room.
"I havenít painted them
yet," I said.
"I donít mean that. I mean how do the cracks get there in the first
place. If a house is built properly, shouldnít there be no cracks at
I shrugged. "The house is
He was quiet, considering
"Must be sixty years old," I continued. "Houses settle. Cold and
heat, expansion, contraction. It just happens."
He was sitting in his bed. I remember that it was winter, that it
was cool, that his room needed better storm
He waited for more. But I didnít tell him anything more. I didnít
tell him that everything settled, everything cracked, that the rocks and
sands shifted beneath your feet. I knew that he would find out for
himself soon enough.
My father always made instant coffee, but weíve got a new Philips
Café Classic. I paid about sixty bucks for it at Zellerís, and within a
month, somewhere in its innards a hose clamp came loose, flooding the
kitchen counter with hot water. I ignored the warning on the bottom cover
("do not remove -- repair should be done by authorized service personnel
only"), unscrewed it, and fixed it with needle-nosed pliers. Its parts
spread open, exposed, it was, I realized at the time, a lot like an
That night, I poured three cups from it, black, set them on the
"How come you never asked before?" Jeanne sipped the coffee,
watching her son.
Adam hesitated, seemed to think about it. But I guessed that heíd
already thought about it a lot. "Didnít seem
to be important."
"Why is it important now?"
"Is it because of Gramp?"
Gramp was my father. Tommy
"Itís only natural."
"Were you ever going to
tell me?" he asked, suddenly.
I sat still, watching them, seeing new things, things I hadnít seen
"I told myself Iíd tell you whatever you wanted to know if you ever
asked. Well," she tucked the loose strand of hair behind her ear, like
she always did, "youíve asked."
I cradled my cup in both hands, feeling its warmth. Waited.
"He was in Dayton, last I heard. Dayton, Ohio. But that was a long
time ago. Maybe heís not there anymore. I donít know." Jeanne paused, did
some more thinking. "Youíre twenty-one, Adam. He left before you were
born. Thatís a long time. I havenít seen him since." She fixed her eyes
on him. "Iíve always believed that it wouldnít serve you well to speak
ill of him, so I never spoke of him at all." She sighed. "The long and
the short of it is that he knew I was pregnant and he left. He didnít
want to get married. Your Aunt Amanda met him on the street in
Cincinnati, mustíve been fifteen years ago. It was him spoke to her. She
told me how she couldnít believe his nerve,
coming up to her like that."
I listened to the Kentucky drawl that she had never lost, that I
would never want her to lose. "He told her he was working in a factory in
Dayton. Thatís how I know what I know."
"Did Aunt Amanda tell him
"She told me she said to him that he had a son, and that he should
go see him, do something about it, do what was right. But I never heard
from him. He never called, nothing. This was about five years before Leo
and I met. Leoís your Daddy, honey. Heís the one helped me raise you.
Heís the one helped put food on the table, pays for your schooling. You
"I know it." He looked at me. "Youíve been great, Leo. You know I
know that." He shook his head, "But this isnít anything against Leo. And
itís not meant to upset you, Mom." He folded his left hand into a fist
and held it against his chin, under his lower lip. "I donít know," he
said. "I donít know."
None of us knew. This was
a new place. We hadnít been here before.
That night was the night
of the first dream.
I dreamed I heard footsteps coming up the stairs, thought it must be
Adam. When I saw him, though, it was my father, wrapped in old, frayed
towels mottled with bloodstains. I remember remarking that it was a
disgrace the way those with whom he was staying
were taking care of him.
When I woke up, it took me a long time to get back to sleep.
In the morning, dressing, I reached for my watch and rings -- part
of the daily ritual. I keep them on the bookshelf by my bed in a four-by-
six ashtray that Jeanne bought me for $1.29 in Las Vegas. And I donít
even smoke. Nobody in our house smokes. Itís adorned with a back-shot of
three girls in thong bikinis, legs dangling in a pool. Adam tells me
those bikinis are called butt-floss. You can always learn stuff from
My watch, my wedding ring,
and my fatherís ring.
Only the red garnet Ė my
fatherís ring -- wasnít there.
Puzzled, I looked on the floor, on the shelf behind the tray, even
on my finger. I saw it in the center of the
I had no memory of leaving it there. In fact, I had a distinct
memory of studying it, then placing it in the ashtray, a new nightly
I rubbed my forehead.
When I opened the drawer with my socks and underwear, his glasses
and razor were sitting there staring at me. I was sure that I had left
them on the night table in his old room down
Sliding the garnet on the ring finger of my right hand and the
wedding band on the same finger of my left, I strapped on the watch, took
out clean socks and underwear, and closed the
I turned and watched Jeanne sleeping, auburn hair tousled, to me,
beautiful. I thought of Adam, equally beautiful, sleeping in his own room
its walls lined with new cracks, fissures that would keep opening no
matter how many coats of paint were rolled over them -- thought how lucky
I was to have my whole family with me even
while I slept.
And I looked at my hand.
Looked at the ring.
Saw him on the stairs, in the night, coming up to get me.
Later that day, I put his tackle box in the basement,
behind the furnace.
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