I am cleaning out my father’s office. A room frozen in time since his accident. His cell phone still on the charger, papers still in the fax machine where he left them. Reading glasses, distance glasses, music glasses, distance sunglasses. A tangle of ties. New York Yacht Club pins.
It is a grey day and the fog creeps over the mountains like cotton stuffing spilling from a couch a bad animal has scratched. I go outside and stand on the deck, notice how the lemons have grown, how the weeds are sprouting up in my mother’s garden. I pick lavender and rosemary. A bee hovers near the lavender bush and I imagine it stinging me, the fresh sharp shock of pain.
I shave my armpits in the tub. I stare out the window at the satellite dish on the roof. I count how many people have called me young today. The clerk at the grocery store when I bought wine. You have a baby face. The ultrasound technician at the Saint John’s Hospital breast center. Denser tissue is normal for someone as young as you, as she pressed down hard on my breast with the plastic wand. My breast like a bruise that the doctors kept pressing on.
I do not feel young.
My mother talks to our cat as if he’s a human. I hear her from time to time carrying on her strange conversations, as if he could reply.
The cat is a black cat. A vicious one. He bites and scratches, darts outside whenever he has the chance. Brings lizards into the house, their tiny feet squirming from his jaw. His yellow eyes round and innocent. He was given to us as a kitten, towards the end of my father’s illness. The last thing we needed, my mother said. A bad cat. When my father was lying in bed, hallucinations of magic boots that could help him walk again drifting through his mind like smoke. You could see the thoughts pass through his eyes. You could hear them drift from his mouth, unsure tales.
You were just dreaming, my mother or the caregiver would assure him.
Just—dreaming? And my father would look at me with pained confusion, and the pained confusion, too, would drift and pass like smoke from a dying fire, like fog over the mountain, and the bad cat would pounce on my father’s withered legs under layers of blankets in his hospital bed, and he would cry out, and my mother would complain about the cat, and the dream would disappear—just like that.