My daddy picked me up in an old, faded red pickup truck that was filled with trash and tools and cleaning supplies. He was playing local janitor at a couple of resort hotels on top of the mountain. Despite multiple warnings from his doctor, he was still smoking his cigarettes. He lit one and looked over at me riding shotgun, to see if I was judging him. “I’ve been smoking since I was 13. I’ve given up the booze. I’ve even stopped taking that damn Methadone, hardest fucker in the world to quit, but these guys here,” he said, holding up his Marlboro Reds, “these mother fuckers, I can’t and I ain’t quittin. I wish people would get off me about it.” I didn’t respond except to ask for a cigarette, needing one to calm my nerves after the flight. “Darlin, be careful smokin, this altitude is serious business.” He replied without any irony as he handed me a couple of his beloveds. “I’m serious,” he laughed.
We sat eating terrible quesadillas and fajitas at a restaurant on top of the mountain. “Oh, Lord, sweetheart. Lord, don’t get me started on your mother." I didn't mean to get him started. I had just mentioned that my mother dropped me off at the airport in Texas. "That woman. Man. She would walk into a room and not a single head in there didn’t turn. She was like that.” Steve was telling me, once again, what my mother was like. The sun was falling in through the windows, reflecting off the white snow, illuminating my daddy's face, lighting him from the inside out, highlighting his grey hair, deepening wrinkles and red lines of broken capillaries. “I’ll tell you about the first time I saw her.” I already knew about the first time he saw her. “I was running Cutter Bills. Making a thousand dollars a day, darlin, and that was in the late 70s. Your mother walked in the door and now, I gotta tell ya, she wasn’t dressed her best. She had on her sweats and that hair of hers was all over the place.”
I knew the story well. She walked in his high end Western wear boutique looking like she didn’t have a dollar to her name, looking like she couldn't afford what they were selling. No one would help her. My daddy was busy charming the ladies and the gentlemen at the bar in the store. “Honey, we would give, you know for free, our customers top of the line alcohol and let ‘em shop or let ‘em get drunk or let ‘em do both. I don’t understand people these days. I don’t understand what the hell happened to customer service. It's really a shame.”
Now, my mother was looking around his store and not being helped and my daddy noticed. He noticed her and then he recognized her. She was the wife of a well-known musician, the drummer from that goddamn band. Before he was able to go help her, she had already left.
“Your mother was out the door before I got to her. And I’ll be damned, right on to hell, if I didn’t call a meeting after that and ream the shit out my employees about judging customers. Goddamn idiots. You never know who someone is, oh Lord, especially these days. These kids buying garments that are already ripped? Damnnation, I don’t know what that’s about. What's that about?" I stayed quiet because I didn't know what that was about. "But you know, your mother, she came back." He coughed deeply. "Everyone came back to my store. A free bar brought everyone back.”
Steve's eyes kept drifting, looking past me and then at me and then past me again. They say your eyeballs stay the same size throughout your life. I kept imagining his light blue eyes sitting in the face of a younger man, a different man. A man that didn’t cough so hard all the time. A man that didn’t clean rich people’s shit out of toilets. He looked around at no one and nothing in particular, “I’m telling you, people don’t do it right these days. Where’s our water? Where’s our waiter? Damn turd.”
My mother did come back to my daddy’s store and he didn’t miss a step in his cowboy boots this time. Offered her a whiskey and she took it and they laughed and laughed as my daddy charmed her wedding ring right off her dainty, lonely finger.
My dad kept telling me his story, their story. This old man, I had never thought of my daddy as so old before, but in this unforgiving light, there was no denying it, reliving his past. I sat, fixated on the tiny red tributaries sprinkled on his face, breaking off in every which way, connecting ears and chin, eyes and lips.
He suddenly looked at me, real serious, coughed again and very softly said, “You know, I haven’t seen you in some years now. Too many years. And it’s crazy, you look like just like your mother in this light. I mean, just like her, darlin.”
And we sat for a while in the sunlight, not saying anything. My daddy looking old and me looking like my mother when my daddy knew her best.
3 weeks ago