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Your Father’s Chair

You open your eyes to the tang of blood and an eerie quiet. Awareness cracks through your whiskey-induced calm. Your body aches and your ears ring. You study your hands slowly and wiggle each of your limbs. There’s an electrical wire dangling into your living room through a gaping hole where your roof used to be. The room looks as if it’s survived a bombing, yet you remain unscathed save for a cut that draws a wet line across your forehead.

You fell asleep in your father’s musty, old recliner, breathing in what was left of his scent. You saw it coming; heard the roar of twisting wind growing louder. Minutes before it tore apart your house, you woke in a blurry haze and scanned the room for things worth saving. Instead of running for the storm cellar, you thought of your father’s chair. The one he stayed in long after he’d lost the strength to stand. The one he died in after cancer coated his airways. You thought of him passing peacefully in the arms of that brown recliner and wondered if it was good enough for you too. You considered the fear you should’ve felt and the tipped over bottle beside your foot. In your father’s arms, you closed your eyes and asked it to take you.

Now, the sun blares into your living room. Sparrows resume their calm chirping, calling to one another to see who survived the destruction. In the corner of the room, the walnut hutch that stored loose photos and your childhood blanket lays on its side. Its contents spilling across the floor. You push yourself out of your chair, groaning at the effort. As the hardwood floor shifts like waves beneath you, you pause a moment to steady yourself. You set your eyes on the hutch and drag your feet towards it. Though it’s only a few steps, it feels like crossing an ocean in a rowboat. You reach the hutch and lower yourself to your knees to sift through the memories that have tumbled out. There are photos of birthdays, weddings, you in your baseball uniform.

Despite the splintered wood and broken glass, you gather them up as best you can. You clear away a cabinet door that was forced off its hinges in the fall. Beneath it, your father beams up at you. He holds a newborn, stained the color of bruises, in his arms. He’s young, no more than twenty-two. His face holds none of the deep lines and wrinkles you remember. You set it down and pick up the next one. You are twenty-two in a cap and gown, your arms around your parents. They’re tan from an anniversary cruise they took while you were hours away at school. They beam at the photographer with pride.

You wince as you pick up the next photo. Your father sits in the recliner, his body propped up by the mechanics of the chair. You two fussed and fought over the settings until he sat upright, facing the camera, so he could look somewhat like he once did. He grips your hand tightly with his left hand, your mother’s with his right. He grips you both like he’s fighting to prevent you from leaving. You want to tell him that she wouldn’t leave. That she’d follow him wherever he went, even into death. In the next photo, he lays back in the recliner. You are beside him attempting a smile. In his final hours, though he was too weak to lift his head or mumble more than a few words, he asked for a photo of you both. “Something to remember me by,” he said.

You shook your head, fighting back tears. “I’m not sure I want to remember this moment, Dad.” You replied.

He just sighed. “One day.”

His eyes are closed. The hands that hold yours atop the covers are frail and bruised with the puncture marks of an IV needle.

You’ve been trying to erase this day since he released his last breath. Even after nights spent stumbling around bars, it always crawled back to you; a lasting ache more painful than the headaches the next morning brought. You feel your father’s hand in yours like it was yesterday. Sidestepping the electrical wire, you stumble back to the recliner with the photo in your hand, craving the smell of Marlboros and Irish Spring soap. But as you sink into the cushions, the sour smell of cigarettes barely reaches your nostrils. You pause at it, remembering the hours of your mother and father’s arguments dedicated to arguing about that smell. How your mother would never get it out. How it’d seep into the walls and cling to everything including their child. Your mother hated going to work reeking of cigarette smoke, yet your father only listened to her silently and continued finishing off his cigarette. Eventually, she’d give up and leave for work anyway.

You stare down at the photograph in your hands. Their bickering sticks in your mind and you laugh at it. Back then, you’d rush out of the house to get to school or a friend’s house to avoid the fighting. Now there’s only silence and the plush of the chair. You press the button to release the footrest and reach into the armchair caddy that holds the TV remote. You stuff your hand into the bottom of the deep pocket and pull out the familiar box and lighter. He called it his Emergency Pack for days your mother hounded him especially badly. Smirking at the red and white packaging, you slide out a cigarette from the container. You close your lips around it. At the click of the lighter and the first inhale, you think it smells like home.

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