by Joshua Green
Mary slipped off her shoes and opened the sliding glass door before stepping into her father’s living room. She held a bag of The Good Stuff in her hands. It was the only tobacco her father smoked when he was lucid.
Mary heard him in the bathroom, and she hoped her father would remember her. Last week he hardly understood her face. The days never changed in this house, and the shadow that rested on her father’s mind rarely ever lifted. In this house, the moon never rose, and night never came. There was only ever sun. Unending and bewildering sun.
Today would be different.
The faucet whined as the water stopped, and George stepped out with a hunched back. He wore a weary smile, and his hand rested firmly on the doorframe as he slowly made his way over to the table in the dining room. “You’re not my nurse. You’re an old woman.”
“It’s a building day, Dad,” Mary said, and she moved to sit down next to him. “I’ll be helping you. Xavier has the day off.” It hurt enough that he didn’t always remember her, even on days when he seemed better. But she always did her best to keep quiet. Mary didn’t want to hurt him, too. So she smiled and said, “But it’s also a remembering day. ”
“I don’t think I can remember anymore,” George said. He held up his coffee mug and tilted it so she could see. “Never flavored,—”
“—never light,” Mary finished. “I know how you like your coffee.”
She turned around and grabbed the cheap Top Tobacco Machine resting on the kitchen countertop. There was residue next to it, as well as crushed and empty cigarette tubes. “You’ve been trying?” Mary asked. When she turned around, his face was flushed with red.
“I suppose I have,” George replied.
Mary delicately plucked an empty tube from the box and set it on the table. She pinched a good chunk of tobacco from the bag and placed it in the Top Machine before sliding the empty tube carefully onto the end. A moment later the machine was packed, closed, and cocked, the empty tube filled with tobacco.
“Look at you go,” George said. He coughed into his hand a few times. She was enabling his addiction, but her father had been smoking since he was fifteen. He wouldn’t ever give it up. It’s the one thing he never failed to remember.
“Where’s your brother and sister?” asked George. His eyes lingered on the screen door in front of them. A doe was wandering outside on the lawn. George fed her every now and then, as did the old ladies that lived across the yard from him.
“They’re not coming today,” Mary said. “Paul had an important meeting. Heather’s on vacation.”
Of everything her father remembered, he couldn’t recall what happened to Heather. As a young father he carried that pain everywhere with him, as though he had made a solemn promise to always remember her face, her brown curls, her smile. Mary loaded up another cigarette before nodding towards the screen door. “Are you ready for today?”
“Ready to build my cigarettes?” George asked. “Of course.”
“To be free, Dad. To remember. Just for a moment.”
George laughed. “I’m not really one for that.”
Mary grabbed the lighter in front of her father, as well as a freshly made cigarette.
“What are you doing?” George asked. “I didn’t know you smoked.”
“Only on days like today. I bring you these days, you know. To help you slip away from yourself.”
“Ah, I understand,” George said, and Mary knew he was lying.
Mary inhaled deeply, letting the smoke fill her lungs. She kept her eyes fixed on the screen door, on the reflection in the glass. “Our memories are with us, Dad,” Mary said. She hit the ashtray with burnt remains of the cigarette. It reminded her of her father, of his wasting and fragmented mind. “Even when we forget.”
“Is that so?” George said. He lit a cigarette of his own and followed her gaze to the screen door. The day was changing, darkening, and the doe was gone. The grass had succumbed to complete shadow, as did the sloped roofs of the townhomes across from them. “Are you sure you don’t want to leave?” George asked. “It’s getting late.”
Mary smiled, but not at her father’s comment. There was something in the glass, something forming and taking shape out on the grass beyond it, a colorful wisp in the short night, a little girl with brown curls and a face full of life as she sat and played beneath the darkling sky. “Do you see her, Dad?” Mary asked.
George didn’t respond, and it took a moment for Mary to see that tears were falling freely onto his lap, a safe place once reserved for Mary, Paul, and especially Heather. She let the minutes pass, let her father remember and feel, as the unending brightness of the day came to an end, only for only a moment. The shadow that had once eclipsed his memories passed over the bewildering sun, through the dirty pane of glass that separated him from his youngest daughter. Mary could see, too. She could see her little sister’s smile as she ran circles under the sky.
“I know you still miss Heather,” Mary said. “I miss her, too.” She took one more drag from the cigarette. There wasn’t much left. It wouldn’t be long before her father forgot again. But it was a remembering day. Her father was free, if only for a moment.
“Oh I miss her dearly, Mary,” George said, and he inhaled as well, as the moon’s shadow shifted ever away, and as a shadow came back to obscure his mind. “She was my little girl. My whole life. I think about her all the time.”
“I know you do,” Mary said. And she knew it was true, even when he forgot. Even when the days never changed.
When George wiped the tears from his eyes, the sky had returned to a brilliant blue, and a lone doe stood grazing calmly in the grass beyond the screen door. “Why am I crying?” George asked. He reached for a tissue and blew his nose.
Mary smiled and held his hand in hers. “I love you, Dad. Let me go get the cards.”
Mary rose and made her way to one of the cupboards, and she held back tears of her own as the smoke of their dying cigarettes rose to the ceiling.
Image by Andres Simon via Unsplash