Here’s what my dad saw before he died: a lawn mower, an engine hoist with an empty chain that dangled like some sort of antique gallows, a rusted out motor home, and the house I grew up in. He’d been living in the motor home.
Dad died spraying weeds. My wife found him five days after he died, his body curled up into a ball behind the mower, near the spot where the wildflowers show up every year. His fingers were wrapped around the nozzle of the sprayer he’d filled with old engine oil to kill some brush near the fence line. A clump of choke weed grabbed at his legs, as if the earth were trying to absorb him. He would have laughed at this detail. He would have quoted the Bible, would have said, “That’s some Ecclesiastes shit right there.”
Here’s what he would not have liked: the notion that some critters had picked at him before Holly found him. He would have hated the thought that parts of his face had been eaten and shit out by opossums or raccoons or field rats or especially birds. Of all the types of shit, he hated bird shit the most. Here’s another thing he wouldn’t have liked: that I’ve slept the last two nights on the back porch. He would have been furious with me for the reason Holly kicked me out of our home. He would have said, “What the hell’s the matter with you? Didn’t I tell you not to fuck up your life?” He would have said this like it was that easy, like he hadn’t paid me this advice as we sat drinking on that porch when I was thirteen. A year older than he was when he started, so maybe he figured it was progress.
Holly’s feet crunch over the dirt and gravel as she walks around to the back porch to find me where she knew she’d find me. I fake like I’m asleep and I hear her stop, can feel her sizing me up, can feel her holding her breath, trying to figure out what she’s seeing, if I’m still me or if I’ve become a thing, like Dad. “Don’t do that to me,” she says, seeing right through me, like she always has. I sit up.
“Will you go in there with me?” I say.
She looks at me like she wants to leave, like she’s seen all she needs to see and doesn’t need anything more. I’m surprised when she says, “Okay.”
This is what we see inside the motor home: a tin pot full of red beans and rice on the stove; an old pair of jeans laid out over the arm of the sofa; yellowed white bath towels on the floor that still smell of vomit; work boots by the door; a thrift store paperback face down beside a paper plate with crumbs scattered like bird shot; a styrofoam cup with a few ounces of gin at the bottom; pill bottles; his wallet.
I open the cabinets and they are bare except for a few canned goods and mouse droppings. Of all the kinds of shit, I have always hate rodent pellets the most. Holly stands near the door as I grab a can of Vienna sausages. In all the years we’ve been together, with all our history behind us, those decades, it has come down to this: this is what I have to offer her amongst the dirt and dust and dried vomit and crumbs and old booze. I say, “Are you hungry? I could heat these up for us?” She laughs even though I’m not trying to be funny.
“I’d rather starve,” she says.
I take his wallet and we walk back outside.
Here is what he did: he made a sandwich and poured himself a drink and ate his lunch and then took enough oxy to kill two or three men. Then he went outside to spray the weeds.
Here’s what I do: I walk with my wife while she’s still my wife. I focus on every step as if I’m learning to walk drunk again for the first time, even though it’s been weeks since I’ve had anything. She walks me to the spot where she found him. Oil rests atop the mud puddles. If I ever tell this story to someone who doesn’t know better I’ll make this part into a happy ending. I’ll tell how she took me back. I’ll make a joke about it, say she gave me three second chances and thank God because it finally stuck. I’ll talk about how the wildflowers keep growing out there despite the oil Dad sowed into the ground. I’ll say that he left a note in his wallet, one that explained everything and said goodbye. I won’t say that what I really found was a grocery list. I won’t tell what really happened. I hate that ending.
Mike Wilson has had work appear in The Adirondack Review, The Allegheny Review, American Literary Review, Barrelhouse, Cleveland Review, Litro, Midwestern Gothic, Potomac Review, Roanoke Review, The Rumpus, Tweed’s, and on NPR.