The amber glow of the instrument cluster in my dad’s 1984 Camaro cast enough light that my tired eyes could see his face. Calm and relaxed, it reassured me whenever a bump or rattle would disturb my sleep. To me, he was the canon of fatherhood; the person against whom all other parents would, and should, be measured. We were inseparable.
The cool October air seemed to amplify the squeaks and knocks of that old car. Sixteen years ago it was a delicious, shiny, red-apple taste of the American dream but it had become a dull orange symbol for the American day. It had nearly a quarter of a million miles on it and it smelled of burning antifreeze and, on this particular occasion, pepperoni, mushroom, and onion pizza. The father son evening that we were completing had taken me from exhilarated to exhausted. Skating, the movie and dinner had held my attention without exception but the 45 minute drive home had left my dad, for all intents and purposes, on his own.
“How am I supposed to find my way home when my navigator’s sleepin’ on the job?” he blurted while jerking the steering wheel sharply to wake me.
The smirk that he wore was as important a part of the uniform that made my father as are boots and the rifle of a soldier in a foxhole. It was the first thing that I saw when I opened my eyes. “I’m not sleeping. I’m watching the future so that I can let you know before we have an accident.”
His smirk had grown into a smile. “Please, dear oracle, for our safety, continue. And, if you can see far enough into the future can you tell me what this Wednesday’s lotto numbers are?” I smiled and resumed my research of the future.
Dad woke me up at 10:12 as we were pulling into the drive at home. The garage door moaned its welcome and again as it closed and hugged us with safety. “Go tell your mother how much fun you had today. Don’t forget to tell her what a great skater I am.” With a smile. “I’ve got to take the garbage to the curb and then I’ll be in.”
I rushed inside with all the excitement of an eleven year old boy to find my mother and tell her about the great time that I had had and how Dad had fallen down somewhere near 100 times at the skating rink. “Mom, we’re home!” The house was quiet and the dimmers that Dad was so proud of having installed were set nearly at their lowest setting. The air smelled like rust. I saw a reflection in an unfamiliar spot on the floor and reached for the light switch. I wished that I had been looking into the future earlier in the night. I wished that I hadn’t turned up the lights.
My mother was a beautiful woman. Her flowing red hair shone as though it were its own light source gently illuminating the pale canvas that was her skin. But that’s not the same red that I saw there in the floor. It was like a pool of spilled red enamel paint redecorating the living room and, lying face down near the middle, was my beautiful mother.
I clenched my eyes tight as I knelt down at her side not yet able to comprehend the situation. The mind is a wonderful thing and can help you to process things at whatever rate it feels is necessary for maximum comfort and comprehension. When presented with the sight of my mother’s cooling body in the floor my mind felt it was best to completely remove me from the situation.
“Rise and shine, sunshine.” It was my birthday and as I lay in bed my mother came in to my room to bring pecan waffles, orange juice and milk. The warm sweet scent brought a smile to my face and dampness to my mouth. My mother could create things in the kitchen that would rival any restaurant but the simple stuff was always my favorite. Saturday’s sunshine lit the day and the sounds of suburbia were its soundtrack. She sat at my side, beaming, as I enjoyed the representation of her love that was breakfast in bed.
I don’t know how long it was before my father came in and got me. He took me to my bedroom where we called the police. The house was filled with dancing red and blue lights and the smell of rust. The policeman said that they had already caught the man responsible. He had been breaking into homes in the area. Apparently Mom had startled him and a kitchen knife seemed like the best thing to calm his nerves.