The Last Memory I Have of My Father


Donald Breckenridge

Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 110 in 2005.

The wooden blinds drawn before the amber streetlight just outside her bedroom window, "The last memory..." projected a thin row of horizontal shadows across the bed, "of seeing my father alive," onto the wall behind them, "was when I was sitting on the edge of his bed watching Nadia Comaneci..." and a portion of the ceiling, "on the parallel bars during the summer Olympics." They were lying naked beneath a thick down comforter with their arms and legs entwined. Earlier she had been able to appease him with earnest reassurances that his insecurities about any potential infidelities were unfounded and finally convince him that she had no interest in renewing her relationship with Cindy by describing how rapidly that affair had disintegrated. He cleared his throat before asking, "What summer was this?" The resolve in her tone while relating this memory, "The summer... of," counters her mounting suspicions, "July of Seventy-Six," that the litany of decisive events she has been prompted to relate may be coolly deconstructed and fictionalized in his yet to be written first novel. Is he aware of his contrived earnestness, "Four years before I was born," and how has she confused this pale role with the limitations of youth and inexperience? The warmth in her tone, "Yeah well," and the bottle of champagne they had shared while sitting on the couch, "I was seventeen that summer," fused with the clarity drawn from their intimacy in the immediacy of this enclosed space, "and this city was another world then," led to his repeated proclamations of love and she really wanted to believe that everything he was saying was true. A pair of headlights slowly crossed the ceiling while he waited for her to continue speaking. Looking out the window as the cab she was sitting in sped across the Brooklyn Bridge, "I knew that..." while beginning again in a dry whisper, "...that something was wrong," and the skyscrapers in mid-town were a brown silhouette in the smog filled distance. Caressing the nape of her neck, "How so?" The humid air blowing through the wide-open rear windows smelled of tar and diesel fumes, "He was really out of it after the last operation," quietly clearing her throat, "and was having trouble walking... and I’d been really reluctant," while recalling the emptiness that had filled her chest, "I was really dreading going back there," as the cab gradually descended the ramp leading to the north-bound lanes of the FDR drive. Cupping his palms over her breasts, "Where was it?" A car horn on the corner muffled by the closed windows and the silence in the bedroom that ensued after she placed her chin on his shoulder, "In Turtle Bay," and closed her eyes. "Where is that?" A tug pushing a gray barge filled with garbage down the East River moved slowly against the incoming tide as a large flock of seagulls trailed above it. "It’s the neighborhood by the U. N.," The sun broke through a gap in the clouds as a passenger helicopter took off from the roof of the Pan-Am building, "that’s where I grew up." The cab driver asked if she’d been following the news about that busload of children that had been kidnapped in Northern California. "Why is it called that?" Shaking her head before saying that she had only read the headlines, "There was once a creek there that led to the harbor and the Dutch had a turtle farm," and that it sounded really terrible, "you know I think they make silly pets." The driver nodded before activating the blinker and merging into the exit lane. "Why is that?" She removed the cigarettes from her purse and tapped one out of the pack while claiming that she had enough to worry about, "You can’t cuddle with a turtle," then placed it between her lips with trembling fingers. Watching her closely in the rearview mirror, "No not like cats at least," finally lighting the cigarette with a small green disposable lighter before asking if she was okay, "where do you think she is anyway?" Exhaling a thin cloud of smoke, "Probably sleeping on the couch," and then saying that she wasn’t sure while looking away from the reflection of his watery blue eyes, "I think she’s had a hectic day," and out the window as the cab slowly pulled through the intersection.

The Saturday afternoon traffic was sparse, "I’ve never eaten turtle before," and they arrived in front of the apartment building before she smoked half of the cigarette. Paying the driver, "I hear they taste just like chicken," and thanking him for his concern while getting out of the cab. Standing on the sidewalk and finishing her cigarette. "Why were you reluctant?" The marble lobby, "I had a premonition," was as cold as a walk-in refrigerator. "I really can’t imagine what New York was like then. "Chewing on her lower lip while waiting for the elevator, "It was a good time to be young," as the gooseflesh rose on her forearms. The doorman behind the desk, "Do you ever feel guilty about that," glanced up from his comic book and nodded a hello, "about being reluctant?" When the elevator finally arrived, "At times," she stepped into it, "although we were never really close," and pressed ten before taking the black elastic band out of the front pocket of her blue jeans. The ceiling fan circulated stale air in the narrow mirrored mahogany space. "Why is that?" She ran her fingers through her long brown hair, "He’d always been very remote," pulled it back into a pony tail, "even when I was very young," then tied it back with the elastic band, "do you want to fuck again," and when the elevator stopped on ten she considered taking it back to the lobby as the doors slowly opened, "or do you want to talk?" Her silent footfalls, "Do you not want to do this anymore," moving down the carpeted hallway, "are you okay?" Removing the keys from her purse, "I never talk," and unlocking the door, "about this anymore." Turning the knob, "So he was alone after the surgery?" She entered the apartment, "He had fired his nurse," and soon discovered the wide blood stain, "the day before he did it," on the damp beige carpet, "and that was the day before I found him," in front of the bathroom door, "when the neighbors downstairs called me at my aunt’s in Brooklyn Heights." She pushed open the bathroom door, "You know we don’t have to talk about this," and stood there, "if you don’t want too." Renewing the memories that followed, "He’d been in a lot of pain," and arranging them in sequence, "and had been very depressed over their separation," like a familiar hand of worn cards. Walking to the phone in the living room and calling the police. "Where was your mother?" The conversation she had with the female dispatcher, "In Rome with her boyfriend," who kept her on the line until the two officers arrived, "the way people couldn’t look at me then ..." and they just stood there with their backs to the bookshelves asking a lot of aggressive questions, "like when his partners talked about how honest he was at the wake," while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. "Had they heard anything?" The coroner arrived an hour later. "Who is they?" They removed her father from the tub and placed him in a black body bag. "The neighbors." And when they finally wheeled it out of the bathroom on a stretcher, "He slit his wrists in the bathtub," she fainted, "there wasn’t anything to hear." "What did you do?" Waking up on the couch, "I called the police," to discover her aunt standing above her sobbing uncontrollably, "and then I really don’t remember what happened next." Wind pressing on the bedroom windows as it pushed through the trees. She opened her eyes, "I think I’ve blocked it out," removed her head from his shoulder, "well," and quietly sighed, "now you know." Looking closely at her face, "You said that the neighbors called you," in the faint amber light, "that’s why I asked if they had heard something." She blinked twice, "They we’re very close to my parents." "Oh," With a nod, "that’s why." Turning over on her back, "They used to play bridge together every Wednesday night," before resting her head on a pillow, "and when he didn’t answer the door they got concerned." "Did your mother remarry?" With a nod, "Twice," and a smile in her voice.