The Last Time I Saw My Father

by Molly McGravey

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Through a dirty window down by the docks I thought I saw my father seated at the bar. I hadn’t seen him in a while. His countenance had changed. The skin below his eyes now formed two swollen half moons. His nose had grown bulbous, his skin the texture of tree bark. He held a whiskey and water in one hand and a smoldering cigarette in the other. His clothes were wrinkled, but clean: a button-up shirt a quarter of the way undone, and blue jeans. His feet were perched on the metal bar of the woman’s stool who sat next to him. They were talking, laughing.
      The woman looked nothing like my mother. She wore her red hair down in loose curls, her lips were thickly lined. I followed the black seam of her pantyhose as it ran up the back of her leg, and eventually disappeared beneath a short black skirt.
      The woman brushed her hair back with a fair-skinned hand. I thought I saw my father steal a look at her bare neck. I couldn’t be sure. The air was thick with cigarette smoke.
      She uncrossed and crossed her legs again. My father handed her a cigarette. She placed it between her lips. My father hunted around in the pocket of his blue jeans until he produced a lighter. I gave him that lighter when I was ten, a silver Zippo and a “J” for John. He reached over and lit her cigarette. She French inhaled, and then drew the cigarette away from her mouth with two slender fingers. She placed a hand on my father’s knee. He smiled at her, ashed his cigarette in a cheap plastic tray, then signaled the bartender for another drink.
      What I’ve never understood was why my father chose this bar in particular to haunt. I always expected that my father would haunt people rather than places. He has much more apologizing than drinking to do. My
father would say that an apology without feelings of remorse would be a second act of deceit. What he never saw was that this second act was made unavoidableby the first. This moral code kept my father from giving . I was more like my mother, I gave too many.
      I watched as my father and the woman slapped the bar with open palms and tossed their heads back. His cheeks and nose were flushed. He had become increasingly brave with each drink; at the moment he was exploring the woman’s stockinged thigh with a hand so cunning it betrayed him.
      I could tell the woman was losing control by the way she had slung a heavy arm around my father’s shoulders and caressed his back. She leaned over; her hair fell forward. Once again my father’s hand flew into the air. Another drink for the woman who was not my mother. He was getting drunk. He was probably already there. I couldn’t tell anymore, it was always difficult, an art.
      A couple minutes passed, and then both my father and the woman clumsily began to put on their coats. She opened her purse, took out a bold shade of red lipstick which she applied while my father paid the tab. They rose from their stools. He escorted her through the bar, steering her wobblingframe by the small of her back.
      I went over to my father’s vacant stool and sat on it. I swiveled around to the counter and tried to make eye contact with the bartender.Someone took the seat next to me. An older man came over wiping his hands on a damp rag. The bar was loud. I had to yell.
      “Whiskey and water.”
      “That’s what your dad used to drink.”
      “Like father, like son.”
      The bartender cleared a couple of dirtied glasses. “That’s what they say. Is Jamison alright?”
      “That’s fine.”
      The bartender abandoned the rag on the counter and turned to a wall of bottles, grabbing the Jamison, he began to pour.
      I looked down at the ashtray beside me. It was filled with cigarette stubs. Every one branded with a pink ring of lipstick.  The bartender slid the glass of Jamison across the counter, he braced himself with a hand and stood back a moment, “How’s your mother?”
      “She’s doing alright. Complains about the cold and her arthritis. I don’t think she’ll stay around here much longer.”
      “I think I’ll end up in Florida someday. What about you?”
      “No, I think I’ll stay here for as long as I can.”
      The bartender nodded, “Well it was nice talking to you, tell your mother I said hello.”
      “You, too. Yeah, I will.”
      I’ve never tried to talk to my father. I am afraid of what he might say. I don’t know if he would recognize me. I would like to have one last drink with him. Maybe, take a drag off of his cigarette. We would laugh over
some lewd comment he would make and I would place my hand on his shoulder, just to see what ghosts are made of.

Molly McGravey is a first year teacher of English in Springfield, MA, USA. She is originally from New Hampshire but after attending college in Western MA, fell in love with the place and the people, may never leave. There is something eerie and beautiful about the place. It is desolate, its inhabitants desperate, raw and without pretences, harshly candid in their comments and conversation. Something distinct has been preserved in its remoteness, and McGravey’s desire to capture and name this something is part of what compels her to write.

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