He’s forgotten something again—an umbrella, or his hat and gloves, his lunchbox—and comes charging through the front door and into our kitchen, muttering, mad at himself. It’s all deeply unsettling to my wife and young son, who never knew him when he was alive. “He’s probably forgotten he’s dead,” I joke after the fifth or sixth time it happens. “He was always absent-minded, you know.”
He never stays long, and never talks to any of us. He spends a few minutes looking for whatever he’s looking for and decides he doesn’t need it after all, shrugs, and dashes out as quickly as he’s dashed in.
The first time was a Saturday in the spring. Front door flies open and there he is—my father, young again, in a long gray raincoat and a fedora, wondering where the hell he put his car keys. My wife doesn’t notice because she’s at the sink washing a coffee mug and the faucet’s running full blast. Our son, who’s five—a grizzly bear could stroll in and he’d only smile. But when I look up from my cereal bowl and see my dead father, I think I must be dreaming. He opens and closes drawers, looking high and low for his keys. His face is thinner than I remember, sunken-cheeked, skeletal, his skin pale. The terror and love I feel is what a heart attack must feel like.
“Dad? Is that you?”
Then my wife turns and sees him and lets out a scream. Down goes the mug she’s been washing, shattering on the floor. Down she goes, fainting. By the time I’ve tended to her and calmed our son, my father is gone, the door swinging shut behind him.
My wife hasn’t fainted since that first time but like I said, it’s unsettling for her and our son. Yet, he isn’t hurting anyone. There’s no haunting going on, and it doesn’t seem like he’s got some kind of unfinished suffering to work out. He’s just forgotten his keys. He’s worried about getting to work on time, making his paycheck, and providing for his family. So what if he never talks to us? He didn’t talk much before. I used to think it was me, that for some reason he couldn’t stand to be around me. I used to hate him for his silences. Now, I don’t know. It’s hard having a family—people you love with all your guts and sacrifice so much for. Love is a mess. So I’m inclined to cut him some slack. And I have to tell you, I’ve been smiling more since he started showing up. Things feel lighter somehow. It really is funny to think that maybe he’s forgotten he’s dead. How I’d love to see the look on his face when he finally figures it out.