Dad’s room was simple and clean with an old hardwood floor that dated back to the original construction of the house in 1884. A dark oak dresser with five drawers on one side with three, large vertical windows looking out over the backyard kitty-corner to it, the room was the largest in the house but also relatively small for a master bedroom. His king-sized bed sat against the far wall and took up most of the space. That was where he lay when I found him, naked as day, no blankets or sheets covering him.
One thing to know about my father is that he’s a thin man. Always has been. As far as I knew, he never worked out a day in his life. He just ate in small portions and never took things too far. Years before he became a well-respected scholar, he worked with his hands on farms, railroads, and construction sites. That physical activity probably helped keep his thin frame, but I racked it up to good genes. I never got so lucky, constantly fighting to keep my weight off and struggling to not eat more than I should.
But, that day, when I found my father on his bed naked as day, he was morbidly obese. His flesh was pale-blue with black and purple veins stretching up and down his legs and belly like a river valley. Every part of his body looked doughy and plump and porcelain, glistening from the light above.
“Dad…” I said, shock cutting into my voice. “What…what happened to you?” I found his comforter on the floor and picked it up and draped it over his naked body. “I just saw you last night. You…you know…you didn’t look…like this.”
“I…” he started, seemingly delirious. His voice a raspy hole of cobwebs and spiders. “I don’t know.”
“When did it happen?”
“I don’t know. It’s just a dream. You’re a dream. It’s all a bad dream.”
Seeing the hollow and wild desperation in his brown eyes, I shook my head and frowned. “No, Dad, it’s not a dream. You’ve been here all day.”
“I know. I was hoping…I was hoping…” He looked like he might actually cry, something I never imagined I’d get to see.
“Listen,” I said, standing. “I’m calling the hospital.”
“No!” he bellowed. “No, please. You can’t call them.”
“Why the hell not?”
“Because I’ll be a lab rat! They’ll coin new terms for my disease. I’ll be all over the news and become the laughing stock of the world. I won’t be subjected to such treatment. I’m staying here.”
I didn’t know what to do. Nothing, to my knowledge, could explain what happened to him. No one just put on hundreds of pounds in one night. It just wasn’t possible. Yet, there he was, a rotund man unable to get out of his own bed. I didn’t know if doctors or nurses or modern medicine or cutting edge science could help him. He was probably right. They’d probably throw him in some lab and never let him see the light of day again. After all, what if his disease was infectious? What if everyone became this way? Then a truly horrible thought hit me–what if it gets worse?
I released a sigh, holding my phone in my hands, deciding what to do. “If you don’t want medical help, what do you want to do?” I asked, solemnly.
“Nothing. We wait this out. Maybe tomorrow it’ll go away. Maybe I’m just having an allergic reaction to something. Who knows? But, I’m not going to the hospital.”
“And what if it doesn’t go away, Dad? You want to be bed ridden the rest of your life?”
He gasped for air, his mouth open like a fish, and let out a breath. “My life is close to the end, anyway. What does it matter? If I’m to die, let me die at home.”
Against my better judgement, I put my phone back in my pocket. “I guess I’m going to need to buy a bedpan,” I said.
When I left Dad’s room, my hands felt numb. They trembled and shook. I went to the bathroom and turned on the light. My face was white as a sheet and my lips purple. I struggled to breathe. It didn’t feel right leaving him in there all alone, helpless, and scared. But, beyond that, the whole thing burrowed into my stomach and ground out my insides into mush. I couldn’t shake the sight of it, the startling and unexpected sight. Something was wrong with Dad. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t do anything about it.
I was alone in my thoughts. Despite sitting at a small black table at a coffee shop off of Xanthus and Vagabond Lane, sipping from a mug while Derek, Nathaniel, and Melissa talked about how they were going to shoot a scene in my latest script, I was alone. The scene was going to be technically challenging, something we’d never done before, and something that would hopefully land us into the Sundance Film Festival, our goal.
Melissa wanted to use a dolly and switch to a steady cam while Derek and Nathaniel argued for a steady cam the entire shot, pulling off a oner. Both their arguments were sound. Melissa wanted to follow the character from the side, believing the pan would make the audience equal to the character, almost friends. The others wanted to follow from behind and gradually work their way up to the side before swirling around to the front.
“What do you think, Howard?” Melissa asked. She sipped her coffee, wrapping her full lips around the rim.
My focus on the conversation oscillated and waned, thinking too much about Dad, about how Melissa’s lips felt the other night, about how the entire movie project was doomed to fail and that it was pointless to even care about the technical aspects so closely when the average audience member wouldn’t read heavily into it. In all honesty, I liked the guys’ idea, but Melissa and I just started dating, so I agreed with her.
“I think Melissa’s right,” I said.
“Oh, come on, man,” Derek said. “You always agree with Melissa.”
“What? I like the dolly idea.”
“You can’t be serious,” Nathaniel said.
“Hey,” Melissa snapped at Nathaniel.
“Look, I know you two just started dating,” Derek said, pointing at Melissa and I. “But you need to think about how this is going to affect the project.”
Melissa scoffed. “Screw you.”
“It’s my decision, Derek,” I said finally.
“Does he know about the call?” Nathaniel asked Derek.
“The call?” I asked.
“He doesn’t know,” Nathaniel said.
“What call?” I asked.
“I got a call from A24 about our last film. One of their reps got in touch with me about it, said they loved it, and wanted to set up a meeting soon.”
“They called you? Why didn’t they call me?” I asked, sounding a little too jealous.
Nathaniel shrugged. “I am your DP.”
My eyes narrowed. “You sure you weren’t getting scammed or something? I find it a little hard to believe they’d just up and call you. Probably Paul being a jackass again.”
“It was real, man. I swear. If we can make this next film a hit, we might be able to move out to Hollywood like we talked about.”
“Right,” I said, not sounding convinced. I didn’t want to talk about that. It felt too good to be true, a distant dream that I never believed I’d actually catch.
“We shoot on Saturday, right?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Yeah. This is our last scene and then we wrap for post,” Melissa said.
I nodded. “Good. Let’s make it our best.”