Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2017  Vol. 16 No. 2
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After the party on Thursday you go home with Alex, even though you swore to yourself last week you would break it off—whatever there is to break. In his room he cuts five lines of coke on his desk. He pinches the top corners of a dollar bill, snapping it once in your face to make you jump—he finds this funny, your jumpiness. He’s always finding ways to test just how frayed your nerves are. He rolls the bill, hunches, snorts. You’ve never done coke before. He shows you how to press a few grains of the powder to your fingertip and rub it along your top gum.

“Wait for it,” he says.


He smiles. A little bit of spit gleams off of his sharp incisors. You don’t want to know what it means that you always go for this kind of man—one with wolfish teeth. The psych students, you think, would have a field day with you. You should offer yourself up for experiments. You picture yourself with leads and electrodes all over your arms and face.

“The tingle,” he says. “Feel it?”

You do. There is something—a buzz, a vibration under your lip. It reminds you of a sensation you already know, but it takes a moment for you to place it. Then: Pop Rocks. You used to buy them at the gas station with the change you found in the pay phones near school. If you collected enough change it didn’t matter that your father was working a swing shift and wouldn’t be home for dinner and that you weren’t sure which bar your mother had disappeared into. By the time you ate the entire packet of candy your mouth was too electric to even think of trying to swallow solid food. Even then you knew the best way to survive was to convince yourself the things you hated might be fun.

Two lines remain on the desk. Alex offers you the rolled up bill. You hesitate and his smile widens, which makes you take the dollar from his hand. You hold your hair back. When you lift the bill to your nose you wonder if he would notice if you slid it into the pocket of your jeans when you are done. Your work-study job at the library only covers the basics: books, lab fees, gas for your car. But you wouldn’t want to give him the thrill of thinking he had something you wanted. He sees it anyway though. The hunger is stamped all over you. On any given day you fall somewhere on the spectrum between earnest and feral. Your desire to be someone else is like a skin you can’t shed.

The sensation of doing coke is different than you think it will be—a cleaner feeling, somehow.

“Is it supposed to be like this?” you ask.

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. So . . . easy.”

He laughs. “Don’t be such a townie, Callahan. Come here.” He only calls you by your last name. Sarah, you want to say to him. It’s Sarah. As if he’s only forgotten.

“I’m not a townie,” you say. You don’t tell him that being a townie from Greenview, where your professors live in restored colonials, would be an improvement from where—and the way—you grew up. The old hunting cabin set back on the road, something to be kept out of sight and hidden behind trees. The chipped stoneware mugs in the cabinet, the scratched Melmac dishes that you smuggled home from the cafeteria at your elementary school after your mother broke all the glass plates. The cabin was never winterized, but your father thought he was getting a good deal. For most of the year, the lack of insulation meant that you had to sleep in your coat, hat, and gloves. In the mornings you could write your name in the frost that had formed on the face of the toaster. Your mother’s clothes were often streaked with vomit when she came home from the bars, and more than once she came home with bruises or a black eye just as your father was coming off of his shift. No, you think. He has no sense of the depth of the ways in which you could be embarrassed, could be made to feel bad about where you came from. That, you think, could be the definition of intimacy: understanding the exact texture of someone else’s shame.

Alex grabs a handful of your hair close to the scalp and pulls you toward him. You pretend to like it, even though it hurts. You unbutton your jeans and he rolls them to your ankles and lifts you to the top of his dresser. Your heart feels as if it’s being pulled out of your chest on a string. Alex runs a fingertip along your jaw, then bites your lip so hard that you are already picturing the marble of swelling you’ll have underneath the skin.

What you haven’t figured out yet is while he seems to be interested in pain, he never mentions or touches the scars on your leg. Maybe it’s narcissistic, you think. The scars do not have anything to do with him. Your flesh there has a topography, valleys and peaks, covering the outside of your right thigh from your knee to your hip. He skips over them ever since the first time he undressed you—the tough ridges of tissue, the divots from the dog’s teeth. Every so often he will come close to touching them again, and he will pull his hand from the top of your knee before moving it up to your waist, as though the scars are something he needs to protect himself from. You hate yourself for wanting it—not from everyone, but from him. Admiration for your suffering. Accolades for your pain.

You stay awake to see the sun come up, your pulse loud in your ears. It’s better than sleeping, you think. You are prone to nightmares. Three weeks ago you woke in this bed with Alex’s hand covering your mouth. Shhh, he was saying. Shhh. At first you mistook it for comfort, until he told you he was worried that you’d wake his roommates up.

The next morning Alex doesn’t offer to give you a ride back to your dorm. He has a little Porsche coupe, silver, dual exhaust, and though you can’t help it, you want to know what it is like to see the world through the window of such a beautiful car, and for people to see you in it. You’ve heard that Alex’s father has more money than God, family money dating back to the railroads they built during the Industrial Revolution. It didn’t take long for you to realize that Alex also has an online gambling habit—poker, specifically. More than once he’s left his browser window open and you could see how long he’d been playing: sessions that last for three, four, and once, six hours. He logs into the site while you stand behind him, clear your throat, and tell him you think you’ll get going. He joins a game—six avatars seated around a green table. There is the sound of an electronic shuffle, more like a zipper than any noise made by playing cards.

“OK,” he says. “See you.”

You glance behind you and see the rolled up bill is on the desk.

“It was a dog. That’s what happened to my leg.” Someone folds and Alex doubles his bet.

“Huh?” he says, not turning around.

“Nothing.” You cross the room and take the bill, slipping it into the pocket of your jeans.

As you walk home, you unfold the bill. A twenty. Your toes are already cold inside your unlined boots. It’s spring and in upstate New York that means rain, mud, worms dying in the streets. Rain will rinse all the winter’s salt away and there will be a constant gurgle of runoff in the drainpipes and the gutters. In a few hours everyone on campus will be out flinging Frisbees around, having unearthed their shorts from the bottom of their drawers if it’s warm. But you know that it also might snow in April, in May, and there will be frost on the flowers. The pear trees have already bloomed too early and will end up battered by the wind.

You pull your hands into the sleeves of your sweatshirt to warm them, your fingertips numb as you make your way up the hill to your dorm. As you pass the gray, stone chapel, you hear the organ booming. You hear the choir sing. You wonder about the men who founded this college, the Baptists who hauled the gray stone down from the mountains to erect the first buildings. You try to imagine that kind of devotion. You think of their cold toes in their boots, their fingertips going numb. What did they think it was for? You wonder if they would have done it if they knew it would come to this: a campus full of kids like Alex driving down from Darien in their sports cars to do drugs in their rooms.

You are one of ten full-scholarship kids in your class. You pass the others on campus from time to time. You nod at each other, but for the most part you don’t speak. It was different, growing up. You weren’t the only poor kid in your high school. It was nothing to come to class in the same clothes day after day, no big deal to get in line for the free lunch. Your best friend from middle school, Amanda, is living with her mother, pregnant with her second child and doing her best to buy enough formula with the checks that come once a month from the state. She drank during her pregnancy and the baby was born with a cleft lip. When you saw the baby for the first time you were speechless.

“She’s ugly,” Amanda said. “I know.”

You held the little girl while Amanda got a bottle ready. You ran your finger over the tissue that ran, ugly and ridged like your scars, from her top lip to her nose. For the first time since you learned about your scholarship you felt lucky. On the drive back to school you touched your fingers, again and again, to your face.


Back in your room you turn up the thermostat as high as it will go then turn to the mirror to remove the traces the night has left on your face. You wipe the mascara circles from under your eyes, brush your hair, change your clothes, dab a bit of Carmex over your cracked, swollen lips, and head over to the lab.

In the lobby of the science building you are greeted by a boy sitting at a folding table. He has a dozen plastic bags full of water in front of him, and when you get closer you see there are goldfish inside each one—three to a bag.

“Would you like some? I’ve just finished my senior thesis and I used them for research. Now I’d like to find good homes for them.”

“Is there anything wrong with them?” you ask.

“Well, they might glow in the dark. They are slightly radioactive.” You must have looked startled.

“Just kidding. They’ve been exposed to phosphorescent proteins. It doesn’t hurt them at all.” He nudges one of the bags. You pick it up.

“Thanks,” you say. The fish seem to look for somewhere else to go when they see your hand closing around the bag.

You carry your fish with you to a little table in the back of the first floor and instead of working on your report for O-chem you watch these three pale orange fish zig and zag through the water. Your head hurts and you can’t focus on your notes. You decide it might be easier to do the experiment from yesterday over again, to distract you from your headache, so you close your notebook, balance the bag of fish on top, and make your way to the elevator.

In the lab you are lighting a burner when you hear someone coming down the hall, whistling. Charlotte also prefers to work on weekends or late at night, when everything is quiet and you can have the place to yourself. Once, during your freshman year, Charlotte surprised you at two a.m. on a Tuesday. You jumped when she came into the room, spilling your entire beaker of a dichromate solution on the floor. Since then you agree on a policy—both of you must whistle as you come down the corridor. Charlotte is a good whistler, and she always picks a different song. Today it is “Zombie” by The Cranberries. She’s been on a ’90s kick and the songs tend to stay in your head for days.

“Hey,” you say, over your shoulder. “I’ve never heard that one whistled before.”

“It is difficult,” she says. She is pulling her hair into a ponytail, then adjusts her glasses from under her lab goggles. “But not unwhistleable.”

Your father would whistle, too, as he got ready to go to work at the brewery. He chose the kinds of songs you learned in school. Songs about the state’s industry, songs that praised the Erie Canal. You try to remember the tune and hum a few bars into the room. Something about barges bringing flour from east to west.

“What song is that?” Charlotte asks.

“Nothing. Like my pets?” You point to the plastic bag.

“Oh, Jesus. You got suckered into Brian’s glow fish? You’re such a bleeding heart.” Lately the two of you have been watching old movies together. You watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s two weeks ago, and she teased you for covering your eyes when Audrey Hepburn shoved Cat out of the cab and told him to get lost.

“I know. I have to find them some food.”

She sets her books on your table and stares at you. “You look like shit, you know.”

“Hand me that beaker over there? I need 500 mL of ammonia.”

“You still hooking up with Alex?”

“The flask? Before this gets too hot?”

Charlotte sighs and clunks the flask onto the counter. “You’re brilliant, Sarah. I hope you know that. But sometimes you act so fucking dumb.” Charlotte knows Alex. She went to middle school with him before he left for Deerfield and she went to Saint Paul’s. She disliked him before, but you appreciate the way she now hates him on your behalf.

It doesn’t take long for you to duplicate the experiment from yesterday. The numbers you wrote down begin to make sense. They have context again, and your new set of data reinforces the numbers you came up with yesterday, strengthens them, all of it weaving together to form some kind of proof. You first became interested in chemistry in high school because you liked the order. You liked the rules of lab class. You liked that there was an eyewash station at the front of the room and an emergency shower, where you could simply pull a handle and step underneath the water if something went wrong.

Charlotte spent last summer interning at a lab where she helped work on creating synthesized milk by adding a replicated DNA compound to yeast and protein. For her senior thesis she wants to create compounds that could eventually be distributed so people could create food from a kit right in their homes. She’s working with her advisers on a solution for something she says should taste like apple, but she hasn’t been able to make it crystallize correctly. This is the fourth time she’s tried it and the process is painstaking, each step depending on and layered over the next. The right formula, she says, will be something that builds. Every part leads to the next. Like a great movie, or a song.

After two hours you are finished, but before you leave the lab you look for something to use as a fishbowl. You pull an Erlenmeyer flask from the shelf and pour your fish into it, careful not to splash any of them onto the floor. Outside you stare for a minute at the low ridge of mountains that separate this valley from the one where you grew up. People are always saying that the land here is beautiful. Sometimes you believe that.

You drive the three miles to the grocery store in town with your fish in the passenger seat. Your car is an old, maroon Cutlass that belonged to your grandfather before he died. It still reeks of his tobacco, and somehow you still can’t get the last flakes of snuff up from between the seats, off the mats on the floor.

In town you use Alex’s twenty to buy a plastic cylinder of fish food, a brownish powder that the label claims is krill. Back in your room you sprinkle the powder into the flask but none of them rise to the surface to eat. Through the open window you hear the drunken hoots of freshman boys making their way across the quad. You can hear the dull thump of the bass coming from their dorms.

“Fine,” you say to your fish. “Have it your way.”

Charlotte comes over and the two of you watch The Philadelphia Story. Your phone lights up in the middle of the movie, a text from Alex asking where you are. Your turn the phone over on your nightstand so you can’t see the screen.

But afterward you can’t help but think of the way Alex had pressed his hand to your throat the night before. After the first moment of shock, the reduction of your world to a single thought—air—felt like a relief.

Later, when you wake up at two in the morning, you look to where you’ve set the fish on your dresser and you watch the three of them turning and turning around in their flask. You feel silly when you realize it, but it’s a comfort to have something living, some kind of company, in the middle of the night when you are alone in the dark.

The next morning you eat breakfast in the dining hall as usual and then drive forty-five minutes east, to the cabin where you grew up. Your father is dying of lung cancer. The doctors say it will only be a few months now. Maybe even weeks. During the winter he told you he had pneumonia. He said he hadn’t wanted to distract you from your studies. You haven’t seen him in two weeks. Even though midterms ended a month ago, you told him you were still studying. He said he understood, but you know that it was the only thing he could say.

You still take the long way home. It’s a superstition, but every time you drive back you make sure to pass the house where the skinny, brown mutt used to be tied up on the lawn. You don’t always recognize the tension in your shoulders and hands until you drive by and see that the lawn is empty. Your father always blamed your mother for what happened. He’s never said it, but you think that’s why she left, and why you haven’t heard from her other than a birthday card that comes every year, postmarked in Corpus Christi. You had walked to the grocery store and slipped a package of ground beef under your coat so that you could make her something for dinner. That’s what you were doing—just walking home from the store. The dog had always barked at you as you passed, but you never worried. Its chain was staked to the middle of the yard and even when it strained against its collar, you simply stared at it and walked on. It had rained a lot that year, too. Maybe it was the sogginess of the soil that caused the stake to finally slide out of the ground, as easily as a knife sliding out of a freshly baked cake. The owner promised to shoot him, but your father insisted on doing the job with the M1 Garand he kept under his bed. Despite his mistakes—leaving you home alone with your mother, moving you into that cold little cabin, his own beery nights down at the VFW—you have always measured his character by this measure of justice he carried out in your name.

The siding of your house has faded more and more each year. When you were younger it used to be a deep brown; now it’s paled into a gray color you’d see in a bucket in which you’ve rung out a mop. The windows are dirty and the gutters are choked with rotting leaves which have been there since fall. It is harder and harder each week for you to walk inside, for you to believe that this is where you are from.

You try to clean whenever you come over but the house smells like dust as soon as you open the door and the hospice nurse who helps your father during the week looks surprised to see you. His veteran benefits cover the care, and you know you should be grateful. But still, you can’t help but resent these women, as if they are hastening him toward the end. It’s the tall one today, the one who leaves you pamphlets on the counter, instructions on how to handle saying goodbye, how to deal with your grief.

You brace yourself to see how much weight he has lost. The night after your first surgery he got drunk and smashed his truck into a tree. His mouth hit the steering wheel. Afterward he came to the hospital with a row of perfect white teeth bonded on to the broken shards. Now that’s the most prominent thing left of him—the twin sickles of his cheekbones, the dark, sunken eyes, and the horrible grimace of those strange and beautiful teeth. You remember feeling shy around him after you saw this new smile, as though another man had come back wearing your father’s skin.

“Hi, Dad. How are you feeling?”

He is sitting up in the bed but he doesn’t look at you. He stares at the place where a beam of light has refracted through his water glass and lights up the wall.

He wheezes out a “fine,” and reaches for the remote. His lips are cracked. You think it must hurt for him to speak.

“I brought some visitors.” You set the flask of fish on the nightstand next to his bed. In the dull light of the cabin the fish radiate a soft, yellow light that reminds you of the night-light you kept on in your room until you were twelve. “They were a science experiment. That’s why they glow.”

You scrape a chair along the floor and watch TV with him. One of the nurses records soap operas during the week and you watch six episodes of Our Passionate Hearts in a row. You ask questions you know he can’t answer.

“Who is that? Why did Louisa just slap him across the face? Where did Lorenzo’s son hide the money? I thought things were over between Jennifer and Steven?”

The tall nurse comes in to help with the bedpan and refill the cartridge on his oxygen machine. You watch her slip the clear plastic tubes behind his ears with a tenderness that makes you want to look away. What would he have been like if he had married another woman? If your mother hadn’t been such a wreck? You try to remember his old smile: crooked, stained, chipped, but charming in its own way. You might be remembering that last part wrong, but at least that smile was his.

The nurse touches your shoulder and smiles at you before she leaves the house. You stay long enough to watch the light drain out of the sky. You forgot how dark it was on this side of the mountain. Through the window you watch the sky deepen from cobalt to navy to black. It makes you angry that they still haven’t put any lights on this road, with the shoulder so narrow and the oblivious deer that come down from the hills.

Twenty minutes after the first nurse leaves a pair of headlights swings up into the drive. It’s the night nurse, the heavy one who does word search puzzles at the kitchen table. She comes from Fayetteville, which is a long trip, but still no excuse for the fact that she’s always late.

“Dad, I should get going.”

He dips his head in what you assume is a nod and he watches you pick up the flask of fish from the nightstand. You lean over and kiss him on the forehead, as you might kiss a child. His skin feels damp and warm on your mouth. During the drive home you feel like you can taste it when you lick your lips: the sickness on his skin.

You are happy to see the lights of the campus. As you approach the main road, you pick up your phone from the cup holder, brush off the brown flakes of snuff (it’s a form of haunting, that the bits of tobacco seem to multiply as time goes on), and text Alex. Come over, you write, even though he’s never stayed at your place.

It’s early, he replies. Meet me at Sigma Chi.

You carry your fish back to your room but you don’t bother with makeup, washing your hair, changing your clothes. The night is a foregone conclusion. You’ll get very drunk. You’ll follow Alex wherever he leads you. You’ll wake up and regret it all. You’ll go to the lab. Charlotte will scold you. But tonight you’ll do anything to forget the feeling of your father’s scalp on your mouth.

The Sigmas have an open party every Saturday night. As you approach the house, you can make out shadowed figures on the porch: a cluster of boys drinking beer, a boy and a girl kissing. As you cut through the kitchen the music from the basement thumps underneath your feet, and you make your way down the concrete steps toward the source of the sound.

Sigma is known for a punch they call Apple Pie, which is rumored to be a mixture of grain alcohol, ground codeine, hard apple cider, cinnamon, and ginger ale, which they make in quantities so large that it is served from a metal garbage can set next to the bar. You drink so quickly that a dribble of punch runs down your chin, onto your shirt. The taste of the cider makes you think of Charlotte, but you push the thought away. You gulp down two more cups before you look for Alex. Most of the basement, except for the bar, is set up with strobe lights. It makes everyone’s dancing look strange and abrupt.

You spot Alex at the edge of the dance floor, talking with a girl you’ve seen around campus before. You see him reach for her hand. The strobe light glances off of the Cartier Tank watch on her wrist. You’ve now learned the names of these things—watches and shoes and bags—and how having money means finding all the right ways to be the same. You take in the girl’s small breasts, the slim, bare arms slightly muscled, you imagine, from summers spent sailing or riding a horse. You stare at the watch gleaming in the low light of the party. It is so irritatingly elegant, so infuriatingly trivial, that you have to clasp your own hands behind your back to prevent yourself from reaching out and slapping the girl’s arm. But you still think of it with satisfaction—what it would be like to see your handprint mottle her pale skin and to see the pretty face lit up with shock.

“Hey.” You grab Alex’s shoulder. “Let’s get out of here.”

The girl looks down at your shoes, then at your jeans, at your bag, at your coat, then finally your face.

“A minute,” he says. “I’ll meet you out front.” You weave your way to the basement stairs but before you go up, you turn around and watch him lean into the blonde, whisper something in her ear. The music is too loud to hear but you watch her laugh a controlled little giggle, raising her fingers to cover her mouth.

You stomp upstairs and thwack, the screened porch door closes behind you. A few of the brothers are outside lighting cigarettes and blowing smoke at the stars. You them ask for one and a floppy-haired boy shakes a cigarette out of his pack and turns back to his friends. You don’t know why you want one, but you feel the need to find something to do with your hands, which are shaking. You’ve never smoked a cigarette before. You always hated going to elementary school with your hair and clothes smelling of the smoke from your father’s Marlboro Reds. You lean against a porch column with flaking paint and smoke the cigarette like a joint, down to the filter, until it burns your finger and thumb. The line of the mountains is hardly visible in the darkness, but you feel them looming. Your anger is so total, so huge, you feel like that low ridge of mountains is something you could reach over and tear apart with your hands.

During your second smoke, Alex staggers out onto the porch. You scream at him for talking to the girl. He screams back, and after a while neither of you remember what you are yelling about. Your throat feels raw and your voice is hoarse. When you see his hand on the door handle, you picture him going inside, back to the blonde. You close your eyes, take a deep breath.

“I didn’t mean it. I’ll make it up to you. Come on.” You grab his wrist and he follows you back to your room. You were right about the weather getting cold again. You can see your breath in the air and when you and Alex walk down Main Street all of the white blooms are hanging limp and tattered from the branches of the trees.

This time Alex does it for you: lifts your lip, runs his finger along your gum. This isn’t intimacy, but telling someone would be. This thing with Alex—the sex, the cocaine. It’s not closeness, you see that now. It goes in the same column as your mother, your father’s teeth, your scars. It’s nothing but another form of shame.

Later, you are in the bathroom brushing your teeth when you hear him laugh a laugh you’ve never heard from him before. He sounds as giddy as a child. You ask him what’s so funny but he won’t tell you what he finds so funny.

The next morning when you wake up you see your fish floating near the mouth of the flask, dead. You feel as if a switch has been flipped off. They have already lost their glow.

You shake Alex awake. “This? Was this what you were laughing about?”

He rolls over and chuckles. “I thought they could use a little bump too.”

“What’s wrong with you? Get the hell out of here.” Your words come through gritted teeth. You find his clothes on the floor and throw them at the bed.

“Jesus,” he says, rubbing his eyes. “They’re just fish.”

“Easy for you to say. They’re not yours. Go home and play seven-card stud against some other sick, sociopathic fucks.” You pull the sheet out from under him. You shove his shoulder as hard as you can. “Just get away.”

“That reminds me,” he says. “I think you owe me twenty bucks.”

You don’t have any money left. You spent it on the fish food, and after that the loaves of white bread that they seemed to like.

“Get out. Didn’t you hear me?”

He smirks. “That’s what I thought.”

You lock the door behind him and then you cry. You know it’s not the only thing you’re crying over, but you can’t help picturing the fish raising their trusting, puckering mouths to the surface. You think of their shapes in the dark and how your father watched them from his bed. If you had only left them with him for the night, they would have been safe. Cared for. You cry for nearly an hour, until your eyes are nothing but slits. You splash your face with cold water. There is always the lab, its cool stainless steel surfaces, the reassuring clink of glass stirrers in beakers, the chance to do things over and over until you get them exactly right.

When you step off the elevator you whistle something you can’t remember the name of. Some Johnny Cash tune your father always listened to when you were growing up.

When you open the door Charlotte has a test tube in her mouth and does her best imitation of Humphrey Bogart biting down on a cigar. “Of all the gin joints . . .” she says. The two of you watched Casablanca together last week. She stops midline when she sees your face.

“Seriously,” she says, staring into your red, puffy eyes. “I’m worried.” She frowns, lifts your hair, and fingers a bruise on your neck.

“Stop.” You step back. “I’m fine.” But your voice wavers.

“I don’t think you are, Sarah.”

You watch her solution bubbling in its flask on the burner. “Charlotte, you should turn that down.”

She shocks you by wrapping you in a hug. “Let’s go for a walk,” she says. Over her shoulder you watch the solution boil over the lip of the glass and drip down the sides before you reach to turn the burner off.

You take the muddy trail behind the science building, the one that leads through the woods to the quarry above campus. You sit with your backs against the cool face of the stone. You tell her about what Alex did to your fish, your mother’s drinking, how you got the scars on your leg, about your father dying. You cry so hard you get the hiccups, which then makes both of you laugh.

“I don’t know, but it sounds like you should go be with him, Sarah.”

“I can’t help him. There’s nothing I can do.”

“Then don’t do anything. Just go.”

So you do. She hugs you again and you trudge back through the mud, across campus, to your car. You guide the Cutlass back through the mountains, squinting through the rain-streaked windshield at the wet roads. When you arrive you wait a long time to walk up the drive, and at the door you spend a few extra minutes scraping your muddy shoes across the mat before you can put your hand to the knob.

In the kitchen the tall nurse looks surprised to see you again so soon.

“He’s sleeping. He had a bad night last night. I’ve increased his morphine. It’s a lot of medication for the body to process. He may be less aware, from here on out.”

You pull a chair next to the bed. You notice the red patches behind his ears where the tubes from the oxygen mask have irritated his skin.

“Hi, Dad,” you say, laying your hand on top of his. “It’s Sarah. I’m here.”

You watch him sleep. You hope he might acknowledge you. You can almost hear a song, or a note at least, in the way each breath going in and out whistles through his teeth.  

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