I really ought to be able to explain this better. I used to be an engineer for chrissakes. But that was a long time ago. Since then, I migrated to computer programming. Now I’m no longer in the technology field at all. I’m a massage therapist.
I can’t believe he’s here. He died in 92. He is either a ghost or reanimated. I want to touch him, feel that he is real, but I fear either outcome of such an undertaking equally. Have I lost my mind? I suppose I have been headed this way for years, but still, I don’t feel “crazy.” At least not any crazier than yesterday.
When he sat down opposite me at a booth at Chili’s, I nearly had a heart attack. I had been reading NIGHTMARE ALLEY on my Kindle, when my dead father, slid into the facing bench.
He put his half-full mug on the table and slides it sideways before doing the same with himself on the bench. The glass of beer leaves a long trail of condensation that glistens on the tabletop.
In front of me are my vodka martini and my smartphone. I shut and put my e-reader on the table.
Oddly the first thing I want to ask him about isn’t, “How did you get here?” or even “Hey, what the fuck, how did you get here?” No, my first impulse is to want to ask if he should be drinking beer. A lifelong alcoholic, he died of liver cancer after all. Surely, he shouldn’t be drinking, right? I spot the irony. He’s dead. He died in 1992; he will always and forever be only dead. Drink away, dear dead dad. What’s the worst that could happen now? What is one Budweiser going to do to my dad who died thirty years ago?
“Oh, hey, dad. What’s going on?”
Lamest opener ever.The impossibility of this situation deserved more, some histrionics, emotion, or recognition of the miraculousness of this meeting. There was nothing commonplace about this.
“Son,” he says, raising his beer to his lips.
This is unreal. I’m not here. I’m dreaming this, must be a dream. I decided to see where the dream leads since I seem reluctant to wake myself.
“Isn’t that something?” Dad says. But it’s not a question. He says it as a confession of amazement. These were always his go-to expressions whenever he heard something incredible. That and the slightly more potent: “The hell you say!”
My phone had beeped several times. Several FACEBOOK notifications, a text message, and a notification from my health insurance portal. My bloodwork results were back. My anxiety started to swell; I pushed it down with several slow breaths.
If there were cellphones around when dad was, they were much different from this. Believe it or not, it was this, this new technology that derailed our entire conversation. Not “are you married?” or “Do you have any kids?” No on both but still he might ask the damn questions.
No, his attention was immediately captivated by my cell phone.
We moved pretty quickly from “yeah this is my phone.., they’re mobile now. So I can receive calls anywhere” to me trying to explain the internet, electronic banking, and social media.
I want to ask him why he’s here. I should want to ask him that. Right? But the only thing we’ve talked about for forty-five minutes is my phone and technology.
“But how does it send them pictures and words through the air?”
He’s like a child. A man who had secretly hoped to someday be a chemist, is reborn as a curious young boy, firing questions at me faster than I can respond.
“Well, they’re all digital or digitized..” Damn. Too much, I can see the question land in his head.
Shouldn’t he be decayed to a skeleton by now? He’s been dead thirty years.
I tell him it’s like AM and FM radio signals. I feel this is true enough, even if it’s not literally true.
“And you pay your rent through that thing? What about checks? Do people still use money?”
I see him pat his pockets. I guess I’m paying for his beers. He’s on his fourth now, but he seems the same as when he sat down an hour ago.
“The hell you say!”
Well, he said it. It lands with a bittersweet splat of import. I feel it is the period on our talk.
He’s been here two hours. I’ve told him to the best of my abilities how my phone works.
His four-word statement left me anxious. He’ll be leaving soon. I had two hours with my dad, who I have missed. I used to long for such an opportunity. And now it’s closing; I know it is. And how did I uses these hours? To discuss extemporaneously on something I don’t understand all that well. At least not enough to explain to a ghost.
“Your check, sir,” the server says.
I glance over at him. His name tag says he is Chad.
“I got his beers as well,” I say, pointing to the opposite bench, to my father.
Chad looks to his right. Confusion or sympathy rises in his face.
“I beg your pardon, sir,” he says.
“His beers…” I say, turning to my father.
But he is gone. My dad, who once laughed for ten minutes at a throwaway line in The PINK PANTHER, a man who was buried thirty years ago this month, is gone.
His mugs are gone too.
All that remains of our visit is a trail of condensation that extends from the edge of the table to the center. I reach across and touch the center of the trail. Pulling my finger towards my face I see a drop of moisture on my upturned finger. It looks like a tear.
I sense Chad getting restless.
I look again for the trail of condensation. But it is gone too.