People Climbing Out of the Dresserby Cezarija Abartis
Toward the end of his life, John's father saw people climbing out of the dresser. John turned on the dresser lamp though it was afternoon and summer light was streaming in through the open window. His father told him he had seen young Shorty, waving to him and inviting him to a softball game. John reminded him that Shorty had stepped on a mine in Korea.
"That was once," his father replied.
There was also Andy, who punched him because he walked beside the girl that Andy thought he owned. "What happened?" John asked.
"I punched him back. He left me alone. He went into bankruptcy."
There was also Helen, a girl who got pregnant in high school, but here she was not pregnant. She went to medical school and became a surgeon. John's father had not approved of John's wanting to be a musician. His father had been right. John became a doctor in their small town and played jazz piano at home. "Where is she now?" John asked. He reached to turn on the standing lamp but the bulb sputtered and flashed and burned out. He left the room and found a new bulb. How many doctors does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
His father's white hair shimmered on the white pillow. His eyes were half closed. He seemed to be looking inside his own head at his memories and had a soft smile on his lips. His father talked in a new way. As a man who had owned a hardware store, he knew about nails and glue and paint; he did not talk about people."Where is she now?" John asked again.
"An unlucky girl. She died when she tried to abort her baby. Just unlucky." Outside the window, squirrels skittered on the branches of the oak tree. His father's hands lay unmoving on the sheet. "Her boyfriend, Joey, was unlucky too."
"What happened to him?"
"Helen walked in with her best friend, Verna. They looked happy." His father opened his mouth wide to take in a raspy breath. "A long time ago, I dated Verna. That was before I met your mother."
"What happened to Verna?"
"I have a photograph of Verna and me going to the junior prom." He looked around the vivid yellow walls. John and Rachel wanted a happy color for his dad's room. "Verna was a live wire. Your mother met her once. She thought Verna was loud."
"Mom was shy around strangers." John could hear water dripping from the faucet in the bathroom. Plip...plip...plip. That, too, needed repair.
"I haven't seen your mother lately." He shifted in the bed.
"Mom died." John looked at the framed photograph on the fake mahogany bureau. John had disliked the dark veneer furniture, which his parents bought when the hardware store was doing well, before the chain stores moved in. The framed photograph showed Mom and Dad at their sixtieth wedding anniversary. The celebration had taken place in Evergreen Park, and most of the family came together, even Brian and Barry, who never talked to each other.
"Is she mad at me about dating Verna?"
"Mom always loved you. She made me promise to take care of you." His father had asked Rachel to cook sauerkraut and Polish sausage, but he spit up after a few bites. John wiped his chin.
"There was my boss. What a jerk."
"You haven't had a boss in forty years."
"Don was a bully. He died in a car accident."
"You've known a lot of people, Dad."
"There was Petunia, she never caught a mouse. I loved her." His eyes shone wet.
"I loved my dog too."
"Bingo was a good dog." His father wiped at his eyes. "He still tried to be a protector when he was old. He just couldn't get around, couldn't climb up the stairs, was going blind."
John took his father's hand. "We all loved Bingo."
"Shorty was a good friend. He wanted to play softball. He started a garage band and played bass. I played guitar. At one of our gigs, I met your mother. She was a beauty. I was a lucky man." He pointed at the photograph. "That was me."