Just Breathe

“Hold on a minute, let me just look for my glasses. You know I just put them down on the counter right here and now of course they’re gone again, would you believe that…”

He went on. Alex ignored him. His father could talk like nobody he’d ever met. His voice was a constant low rumble, mumble of words that dripped out of him like a faucet nobody could fix. He just seeped words, wasting breath, until everybody near him was half crazy and looking for a wrench. Or something else heavy. Alex heaved in a breath and held it in his lungs, summoning patience. His father was sick and needed patience, not a surly son. The old man was still shuffling around the kitchen, leaning over the counter like he was falling in slow motion to peer at the smooth stone. “I can’t find them anywhere,” he said. “My goodness look at that they just disappear, don’t they?”

“Let’s go,” said Alex.

“All right,” his father said, dubious. “If you insist then we’ll go but you’re going to have to read labels for me, you know, I won’t be able to see a blessed thing.” The prattle didn’t cease as they got out onto the street. “It’s really a good thing that we live so near a grocery store–” Alex’s mother had died three years ago. His father hadn’t yet adjusted to speaking in the singular. “It’s really so convenient and it’s a good one too, shame about that other one that closed, what was it called? Oh look, there’s a Chevy, you know that was my first car, or was it a Dodge? Can you remember? Of course you can’t, you probably weren’t even born yet, were you? Did you know that Jonathan is coming over tonight? We’re going to heat up some dinner for him. You know I think most of the time he doesn’t eat much of anything. We’ll give him a good meal, you know I’ve got plenty in the freezer.”

Most of the time Alex could tune his father out until the words all blurred into pleasant static. He’d only been staying with his father for a week and already he felt like his teenage self, rolling his eyes when nobody would see and counting the days until he could leave the house. They walked down the same familiar street he’d known as a kid, except the barber had gone out of business and a cute stationery store had taken its place. The grocery store was almost the same. Some of the canned food was probably the same too.

His father wanted to share with everybody. It made Alex’s skin itch. They got through three aisles before his father said, “Well then I’ve had enough, we’d better go home now.” Of course, then they got to the cashier and he started up again. “Hello there, how are you, too bad about this weather isn’t it, I lost my glasses somewhere in the house and it’s very silly but I just couldn’t find them anywhere, this is my son Alex staying with me because I’ve had a touch of pneumonia but not to worry nothing serious I’ve got some medicine and it’s really very nice of him to come visit. What’s that? Oh, yes, here’s my card, sorry about that, you can tell I’m having a busy day, forget my own head if it wasn’t screwed on.”

Alex shouldered the bag and they started back again. He said, “Dad, I’m pretty sure there’s milk already in the fridge.”

His father said, “No, of course there isn’t, I used it all up this morning, don’t worry.” He kept talking all the way back home and into the kitchen, where he said, “Oh, goodness, look at that, there’s half a quart of milk still in the fridge, you ought to have reminded me it was there, now there’s too much and it’s sure to spoil, isn’t that too bad.”

Alex drew in a deep breath and held it.

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