“You’re stressed,” Melissa said.
We were eating dinner at Olive Garden. Not my favorite, but she loved it for some reason. She had a way of reading me, picking up on my hidden cues. Out of nowhere, she’d pinpoint exactly what I was feeling even when I couldn’t express it myself. A part of me didn’t like it. I didn’t like being defined so easily, so quickly. But, I knew she was just looking out for me. She wanted to help.
I nodded, picking at my spaghetti.
“Was it something I did?” she asked, playing detective, trying to whittle down the issue.
“No, no, it’s just my dad. Things have been off lately.”
“You and your dad have a strange relationship.”
“I mean, I’ve never seen the man hug you or say one nice thing about you.”
“That’s just not how he operates.”
She was right, of course. When I invited her over for dinner at our place to meet him, he had plenty of nice things to say about her and none for me. Usually, he’d gush over her achievements and turn to me and say something like, “You don’t deserve this girl. You’re going to just screw it up. Just like all the others.”
For the record, all the others were two other girlfriends. He did the same thing to them as he did to Melissa, flattering them with compliments, and then giving me the stink eye. I never knew where the distrust came from. He just thought I was a screw-up. I never knew how to change his mind. So, I stopped trying. I molded to his vision. I believed I was a screw-up. I rarely tasted success and beat myself up when I failed. My film would change things. It would make him see my success.
“He’s not fair to you,” she said, reaching over and holding my hand. The kindness in her eyes softened my heart, then. It made me feel better almost instantly. How can she do that?
I nodded. “I know. But, he’s my dad.”
“Right.” She took a bite out of her ravioli and an aggressive swallow of red wine to break the conversation. It was a soft break, the kind that happens right before a change in tempo. “Hey, did you agree with my idea about the dolly shot because we’re together?” she asked.
“No!” I sounded defensive.
“Howard, you can tell me the truth.”
“Because I don’t want you to treat me any differently.”
“Are you sure?”
She cocked her head to the side. “What do you mean?”
“I mean did you want us to use your idea or not?”
“I want you to want to use my idea.”
I swirled a half-eaten breadstick in spaghetti sauce. “What difference does it make?” I asked. “You got what you wanted.”
“It makes all the difference, Howard. I can’t believe you’re even arguing this right now.”
I bit into my breadstick and chuckled, covering my mouth. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I take it all back. Seriously though, I liked your idea,” I lied.
I removed the bedpan from underneath my dad. It took considerable effort to push him over just to reach under, feel the warm flaps of flesh, and pull the smelly container out. A combination of rotten eggs, rotting carcass, and grease, it reeked like nothing I’ve ever smelt before. I took it to the bathroom and dumped it into the toilet, rinsed it out in the sink and brought it back into his room.
In a flash, with the blink of an eye, he grew even larger. I couldn’t believe it. I dropped the bedpan. Its stainless steel frame resounded on the hardwood floor, wobbling with the small traces of water still inside.
“Dear God…” I said, feeling a nausea swirl inside my gut.
His body wobbled and jiggled as it increased its mass. Large blue veins the size of tentacles bulged underneath his flesh, looking like they might come out altogether. The flaps of fat and tissue draped over the bed until it slightly touched the hardwood floor. His body also rose upward, getting ever closer to the ceiling. The blanket looked like a dinner napkin trying to cover an entire entree. When it finally stopped growing, I noticed I had stopped breathing. I took one big gasp of air and held my hand to my chest, my mouth noticeably agape.
“Dad!” I exclaimed. “Are you there?”
He didn’t respond.
Fearful, I stayed close to the wall as I moved closer to his body. I didn’t know exactly why it frightened me other than its grotesqueness and oddity. However, the moment I took a step towards it, the flesh moved like a living, breathing organism all of its own. It vibrated and rose, reacting to my movements. I almost wretched on the floor but held the bile down and stepped back.
“What in the living hell?”
“Son,” my dad said, his voice soft. It sounded like he was gasping for air.
“Dad!” I yelled. “I’m calling the hospital.”
“NO!” he yelled. The sound of his voice changed. It was ethereal, visceral, and other-worldly, like something else had taken hold and was speaking through him. “You can’t call for help. I’m okay. I’m fine.”
I moved closer to the bedside table, trying to get a look at his head, hoping he hadn’t been totally consumed by flesh. As I peered, I breathed a sigh of relief, seeing his head peeking out. His eyes were swollen and his mouth was wider than before, but it looked like him. Yet, it wasn’t him at all.
“This isn’t you, Dad. This isn’t you! You need to get help. It’s not getting better. It’s only getting worse. I can’t help you. Do you understand? But, but maybe a doctor can?”
“I told you, boy. I don’t need a doctor. I need time and sleep and rest and darkness. Yes, more darkness. Can you cover the windows for me, boy? The light is too great. It blinds and burns me. If you cover up the cracks, perhaps I’ll get better? Perhaps I’ll go back to what I once was?”
I shook my head, feeling wretched and squeamish and stressed, not sure how to reply or answer his request. I didn’t want to do it. I wanted to be rid of all of it. But how could I deny my dad?
“You’ll do it for me, son. Won’t you? You’ll do it for daddy. I don’t want to die.”
“Yes,” I said finally, taking a breath and swallowing the lump in my throat. “Of course.”
I went to the linen closet and found the darkest sheet I could find. I took tacks and pinned the sheet above the window. It darkened the room well, but not well enough.
“More,” my dad begged with a deep bass.
I went back to the closet and found a couple more sheets. They were different colors, one red and one blue, but I thought they’d still work. I draped them over the black sheet and pinned them to the wall. The totality of darkness was complete. I couldn’t see anything save for the light shining through the door.
“Yes,” Dad said in a pleasurable whisper. “Yes, that’s it. That feels better.”
“Do you want me to stay with you, daddy?” I asked. Using the word daddy slipped out of my mouth and felt alien, like biting into a turkey sandwich but tasting particle board instead. I wanted him to say yes. Somehow I thought being closer to him, being near, would bring us more together. We could talk, even if it was in darkness. We could talk.
“No, why would I ever want you to be around? You’ll only dilute the darkness. I want to be alone. That’s what I want. I just want to be alone,” he said. “Leave and close the door behind you.”
I stood under the door frame with my hand on the doorknob. The light’s gleam revealed only a partial slice of his bulbous frame, but it was enough. I shut the door and walked away.