A Compression

My father: a runny nose, snot dripping all down his fingers. He can’t find any tissues, he’s trying to wipe it off his nose. Meanwhile he balances the newspaper on his lap and here comes a breeze. He’s on the screened-in porch, here comes a wind, and the paper goes flying—all the sections coming apart, whipping up in the air and floating down and folding and turning so he tries to grab it all which of course means his nose starts dripping all over and his snot-hands are getting all over the paper and he’s saying, Goddamn fucking shit-fucking wind. Me, I’m watching him from the kitchen window. From inside I hear him and the wind chimes.

Or, my father: sweating through his shirt in the driver’s seat, periodically leaning forward to get his back unstuck. The air conditioning is spitting out heat so we’ve got that turned off and all the windows down. The air rushing in is so loud I can’t hear him the first time he asks so he says again, Open

up that cooler in the back seat. I reach in over my duffle bag and his suitcase and inside are eight or ten grapefruits on a bunch of ice. When I hand him one he bites into the rind and starts to peel it, steering with his wrists. He eats it segment by segment like an orange.

I dreamed of him last night, for the first time since he died. I wrap myself in a quilt, but I’m still cold. I make it down the hallway and John’s already in the kitchen, eating something. It’s an avocado. My skull wants to crack, let my brain out. John slides a little one-hitter and a lighter across the table. I inhale and he looks at me; I exhale and he scoops some avocado out with a knife.

“Don’t ash on my lesson plans,” he says, so I move his bunch of papers to the side. “You’re awake,” he says.

“You’re eating an avocado.”

“Your kitchen’s empty.”

I sit down and he throws the pit at me. As I turn it over in my hand I try to press it in, but it’s as compact as it will ever be, dense and perfected.

“Having fun with that?”

“God, it’s so bright in here.”

“Yeah, isn’t it awful to have the sun shine into our kitchen in the morning?”

“I was pretty drunk last night.”

“You were talking about children.”

“Excuse me?”

“You were talking about having children. Some day.”

“Oh, God.”

“Hey. Deer.”

“Where?”

“Right by the trash thing. Next to the driveway.”

The doe has her head near to the ground and when I move to the window she jerks it up and stares

in my direction. She tenses when I tap the window and then runs off. I rest my forehead against the window.

“Water?”

“Yes, please,” I say into the glass.

It’s a humid Sunday and there’s nothing to do, so I suggest we go for a drive. There are old women, men in suits, sweating children pulling up to the church down the road and it’s so humid out the dew doesn’t leave the grass so I suggest John and I sit in front of our respective air conditioning vents in my black sedan and drive somewhere. I burn my hand on the seat belt buckle. We pass a cemetery, an elementary school, and a 7-11, at which point I turn left and head for one of the new developments.

“Where are you taking me?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Yeah, that came off creepy.”

“I want to show you something. It’s crazy.” “What?”

“I don’t want to ruin it, okay? It’s just, it’s kind of crazy.” “Alright.”

“Trust me, it’s worth it.”

“No, yeah, I hear it’s crazy.”

His hair is all blown to the side by the air conditioning. I’ve never noticed how small his ears are. A commercial for laser hair removal comes to a close on the radio. We drive by a woman on a tractor and even though the window is up I can smell the cut grass and gasoline. I slow the car down.

“Are we here?”

“Close.”

By this point I’m well aware that I’ve forgotten where the house is. I wanted to show John a house

that’s half-burned down. I saw the story on the local news and on Friday, while John was working, I drove through the neighborhood. From the ground up, most of the house is intact. But two thirds of the way up, the house walls just stop. Brick and wood crumble to an end; black as the smoke they’ve given up into the sky in some parts, gray with ash in others. This is the thing I want John to see because this is the sort of thing that John will understand from me.

***

On a weeknight, John and I go to eat at a ’50s diner chain. The kind that makes their waitresses wear the sad ’50s outfits. I like the place out of nostalgia for going there as a kid. John hates it but will not argue against an over-sized plate of blueberry pancakes for dinner.

A broad-shouldered woman with a nametag that says “Rosa” shows us to our table. It has booths on both sides of it and we slide into our seats.

“A whole booth to myself?”

“Only the best for you,” I say and slide him the plastic-covered menu.

He orders his pancakes and I tell the waitress I’d like a BLT with the bread toasted. Her voice is

lower than mine and she has to take a big breath to get through asking if that’ll be all.

When she comes back with the food, the bread for my sandwich ends up burnt. The crust crumbles

between my thumb and forefinger. The waitress leaves, we start to eat, and a huge woman walks over with a friend. The same Rosa is showing them to their table and I am trying not to stare but it seems pretty obvious that she is larger than the space between table and red, vinyl booth. John catches me staring and turns his head to look real quick. He gives me a look and I can’t decide whether it means stop staring or look at her. The big woman—the obese woman—is shaped like a top, biggest at the middle. I’m thinking about the amount of fabric needed for her shirt and feeling sorry for her but then I worry that my sympathy is patronizing. I take a bite of my sandwich and she goes in, the morbidly obese woman. She gets stuck, forces it a little, and somehow plops herself into the booth, back to me, so I all I can see of her is all of her neck. I turn my attention to my own booth and sigh at John.

“So.”

The waitress checks to see how we’re doing, something John hates, when it starts: I feel very full. The waist of my pants is fitting very tight. I swallow a piece of bread but it won’t go down my throat.

It sits there like a cough before you cough. I breathe quickly through my nose and am suddenly conscious of my inability to focus my eyesight on a single object without looking at something else or everything else. I can smell the salt from the bacon on my sandwich. I go for a sip of water. The straw is very narrow. The fat woman has turned around to look at me and my loud nose-breathing. I sway to my left and John is saying something I imagine is concerned but is probably more along the lines of Hello? I swallow again and the bread goes down. The walls are very bright. The vinyl seat is warm, but the tile floor against my cheek is cool and very cold.

***

We didn’t realize it until a month after we started seeing each other, but John and I had actually met when we were something like thirteen. Played on the same youth football team, neither of us very good, both of us apparently destined to stay within a ten-mile radius of where we grew up. The coach, tall with a beer gut, made us all run sprints until we wanted to die. John was the one who threw up a few times, then quit a couple weeks into the season.

When I got the news of my father’s death, John and I were in the aisle of Costco with the paper products. I was loading a huge package of toilet paper into our cart when I checked my phone. John received my blubbering face into his shoulder, tears and saliva and snot, into the warm fleece he was wearing. He stood there and looked around at the other shoppers.

I told him I was really sick and not feeling good, which was a little true, when he wanted me to come with him to visit his grandmother. I stayed in the apartment and watched Saturday daytime television and I cooked an omelet. His 90-year-old grandmother, well into Alzheimer’s, recognized John that day, asked him if there were any special girls in his life.

The last time I saw John was outside of the elementary school where he taught fifth grade. Oak Ridge or Oak Valley, or some other natural feature you can’t find here anymore. I was picking him up, since his car was getting fixed, and the first thing he said in the car was that he didn’t think this was an equal relationship, meaning I think that he wasn’t getting anything out of it or that I was getting too much. We sat in the parking lot and eventually he just got out and walked off to stay with a friend of his I had never met. He came and got all his stuff while I was away one weekend. I came back, his key was on the kitchen table, and his things were removed. I remember sitting on the couch, eating an orange, and turning on the television loud.