He lives out there on someone else’s farm, with someone else’s dogs. Every moment, every time he turns on the news, or picks up A Brief History of Time, or Cosmos, or plugs in his headphones, he becomes more used to being alone. I know so. I’ve seen him. Even when I am there visiting, I see him take out an album as if I weren’t there, place it in the case as if there were no one there to hear the click of the CD hit the disc holder. We’re listening to Joni Mitchell, singing along to her old music, before she got all bad jazz and new age.
“It’s just bad jazz,” he says as we walk down the hall to that same old picture of his mother we always stop to look at.
“Isn’t she a looker?” he says.
He says it because it’s true. She’s the most beautiful woman of all time, with her finger wave and those dark eyes and that perfect old black-and-white skin. She wears a flapper dress. I imagine that she even wore it in the shower.
I know we’re both wondering what she’s going to do next. She’s winked at us before. Once, we saw her adjusting her dress, hiking it down a little as my dad and I watched. And this time she’s tapping her feet, and then here she comes, steps out of the frame, jewelry jangling, eyelashes batting and everything. She steps down off the shelf, small and colorless; full-sized when she hits the floor; technicolor when she gets on her tippy-toes to kiss my father on the forehead.
She looks at his face long, shakes her head like mothers do. “Everything is going to be just fine,” she says.
And then my father shrinks, right in front of my eyes, to about the size of a five-year-old boy. With his bald melanoma-pocked head, big glasses, his pokey elbows. His old T-shirt covers both of his sleeping diabetic legs.
As she lifts him into her arms, my dad wraps his small wrinkled hands around her neck. He lays his head on her shoulder, closes his eyes. To me, they look like a painting, like Mary and Jesus in The Pieta.
His mother starts to pass me by, heads straight for the door, but I stop her.
“You look different in color,” I say.
“Never knew I lacked any,” she says.
She gives me a goodbye wink, and carries my dad right out the door. They go down the dirt driveway past the van that has “Nuke ‘em!” spray painted on the side. They continue past the white picket fence, her tassels swaying, past the nurseries. Beyond the stables where I used to ride horses, she carries my dad past the stop sign he never knew I backed over, past all of my friends’ houses he never went into, all the way down, a right at the light, down to the church row where the marquee out front read, “GOD WORKS IN UN-MYSTERIOUS WAYS TOO.”
They go even further. They take the long way, past my junior high school, and all the way down Acacia Lane to our old sold house. All the while, I creep behind them in my rental car.
My dad is asleep when we get there. My grandma strokes his face and wakes him up. The pool is clean. The garden is perfect and watered. My forts are a mess. The white Oldsmobile’s blue interior has just been vacuumed. My mom is in the house somewhere, doing something.
My father’s sit-down lawn mower is already running and ready by the shed. My grandma sets him right down on that chair. Like a king you see in the movies, his bare feet never touch the ground. She hands him a cold Coors and off he goes.
“Best day of my life,” my dad says.
His body begins to stretch back to normal. I go inside our house, and I can see him over hedges outside the living room window. I can hear him humming as he mows. He mows all the way down to the bottom of the acre where he finally reaches his normal sixty-five-year-old height. Jack, our old dead red dog resurrected, runs after my dad with his tennis ball in mouth.
“How joyous!” My father reaches down, mower still mowing, and takes the ball from Jack. “What a ball!”
And just as he is going to run over my He-Man figurines, before he mows them to plastic smithereens like he did that one summer day, with the Coors in one hand and Jack’s ball in the other, he swerves to the left. Yeah, that’s my dad, I think, that a boy. Battle Cat, Man-At-Arms, Mekaneck, Skeletor, and Man-E-Faces—all saved.
“Talk about turning back time.” My dad says to Jack. “Wowee, what a trip. That sure was a close one.”
I come out of the house cheering, waving my hands, wearing my “Where’s the Beef” nightgown. My dad pops open two more beers—one for me, of course. When I get there he props me on his lap. My mom and grandmother wave from the living room window. They give a couple of thumbs up, while Carl Sagan and Stephen W. Hawking float in inner-tubes in the pool, blended margaritas in their hands.
“Best day of my life,” Carl says to Stephen as he licks the salt from his glass, saving it from dripping down into the clean chlorinated water. “Best goddamned day of my life.”