Angles of Dad
by Julie Turley
I wasn’t sure what I had to offer anymore now that Ted was getting to know so much about San Francisco, like that bums were called hippies, heroin addicts, sleepers, pan flute players, and bad asses.
We stood at the mouth of Golden Gate Park, where so much of the city seemed to collect.
“Look here and here and here,” I said.
Ted put his hands on my shoulders.
“What has begun to collect,” he said, “is a lot of gray. In my hair.”
“Sorry to mislead you,” Ted said.
In his online profile photo, Ted’s hair had been brown. Now the gray was gushing in.
“Look,” he said, as if the city took shape in him. His Adam’s apple geared up to pulse.
“Jim Morrison guy,” Dad said of Ted from his hospital bed. He gazed at the flickering laptop screen, Dad’s first brush with Ted.
“Jim with a pulse,” I said.
I should not have minded Ted’s new gray. It made us equals: there was my short waist and thick feet to consider, my hair that could not organize itself around a head toss. Soon Ted would know enough not to be fine with these things. Once he’d been here long enough, he’d notice my chin that jutted like a bay window, my face like a Victorian townhouse–a lot going on and not one thing that was interesting.
So I tried to keep Ted fogged in. I opened up my apartment to him, offered plush Pendleton blankets and organic green tea, new things to Ted.
And I reminded him that it wasn’t always so easy to meet people in San Francisco, as San Francisco liked to brag.
Our first date had been in a gazebo that had been tossed up in the center of a Victorian-themed café.
“I found it easily,” he said, bewildered. “You said it might be tricky.”
“Snow cones,” we told the waiter together. In case we had nothing to talk about, we could crunch through these things and leave.
But Ted and I moved through the cones slowly. We also wore our shirts out over our stomachs like late period Morrison. We hit the streets in the same unisex boots.
Things like thick waists and gray hair could happen as early as 25.
That’s how old we both were now a month after we met.
At the special occasion restaurant, we both looked at our synchronized watches . . . Now.
But Ted let his arm drop to his side and the second hand trucked past his birth moment, clueless.
The waitress brought us our menus. “No pressure,” she said, and Ted jerked his head as if things were starting to come to him.
Earlier that day, on my futon at home, Ted made it clear he was not fine with his birthday, or anything I had attached to it, all the non-essential architecture.
“Finding a restaurant, getting there, keeping track of my birth time, getting as old as you…” He strode to the mirror to examine his hair. “Okay, let’s go,” he said, tossing it back like he always did, and like so many of our city’s addicts had been training themselves to do lately, as if they’d all been studying Ted.
Ted was starting to have an impact.
“Where’s Ted?” Dad said, next time I visited the hospital. “He’s not here? That’s so Morrison.” Dad reminisced, jerking his chin around as if to secure the memory there.
“Let’s listen for him.” I took my Dad’s hand.
“Jim?” Dad said.
“No. Ted,” I whispered, hoping he’d show, unlike Morrison, who was never coming back. “Ssshhh,” I said.
We waited for Ted’s footsteps, and we did hear footsteps, not Ted’s. “Probably for the best.” Dad and I let go of each other’s hands to play cards, which I did not do well. I had hoped Dad would enjoy going through the trouble of teaching me, but he was “pushing away,” which is what San Francisco called dying.
“He is not coming,” Dad said, letting his cards tumble, just like mine had done throughout our game. “Morrison used to throw his mic like that,” Dad said. From his room, we could see Coit Tower, lit and jutting in a way that no one seemed tired of yet.
“Tomorrow.” I gathered the cards.
But by the time I returned to the hospital the next day, this time with Ted, Dad had died.
In my hand, I held cards fanned to show Dad how much better I’d become in just one night.
“You can’t go in there,” Mom said, blocking, not joking.
“Dad meet Ted!” I called out.
“Too late,” Mom said.
Mom didn’t like Dad or me. It was not her fault. She was not from San Francisco. She was not afraid to say what needed to be said.
“Now I really am divorced,” she said.
“You’re not a lawyer are you?” she asked Ted.
“No,” Ted said, striding in as the death certificate was being handed to Mom. We watched it skate across the floor.
But Ted could move like a lawyer. He could lunge forward and pluck up an important document and hand it to whoever was in charge. He could cast a calm, sympathetic eye on a dead parent–someone like Dad, now under a sheet.
And Ted could glance at a watch face and let his arm drop and tell you the time.
At the special occasion restaurant, Ted had said, “Well, I got myself born.” Then we both scooted into our booth seats.
“How was your birth?” I asked, taking up my menu.
““Ssshhh,” Ted said. “The waitress is telling us the specials.”
The waitress placed her weight on her knuckles as if preparing to break some hard news.
In fact, she had some. There were several things that would not be available tonight.
Ted hung his head jokingly, just like Mom had done seriously after she determined there was nothing in Dad’s death for her, that she might be forced to sue me for my inheritance.
Ted placed his hands on either side of his plate as if he wanted them touched.
In the hospital, Ted tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Your dead dad is a lot cooler than your live mom.”
I’ll tell you what was cool. Ted’s gray hair tumbling down. I plunged my hands in past my watch line and let them, a couple of bums, hang out there, in grand San Francisco style. Our city–wasn’t it built just for this? But, was Ted? I heard it in his breathing. He was on the verge of breaking, which was something San Francisco had done itself. I did not tell Ted what I now had–the angles of Dad, who now gushed forth, long and gray.
“Hurry,” Ted said.
Julie Turley is a fiction writer and librarian in New York City. She has published fiction in the North American Review, Phantom Drift, and the Western Humanities Review, where she won the inaugural Utah Arts Council fiction contest, judged by William Kittredge. While she writes fiction in cramped spaces on the lower east side of Manhattan, her main inspiration continues to be the American West.
Stories @ Digging Through the Fat: Volume 2, Issue 11
April 29, 2015
Photography by: Gessy Alvarez