Last I Heard From My Father

When I was in high school, my family broke up and I moved to Greece with my father. He scored us this fabulous apartment: spacious, airy, tile floors, balconies off every room. He found me this crazy antique desk. We set it up in the living room and I did all my school work there, usually late into the night. After ten each night, I’d hear my dad’s slippered feet shoofing down the tile hallway. He’d appear in the doorway, circle his hand in the air once, window-wash fashion, and say, “Well, I’m going to bed.” I’d bid him good night and listen to his shoofing footsteps recede down the hall, ending with the sound of his bedroom door closing.

When I finished high school, I returned from Greece to go to college. A few years later, when my dad had his stroke, he returned from Greece to recuperate. Then he lost his job. In January 1987, he disappeared from his apartment in Racine, Wisconsin. Four months later his remains were found in the countryside. He had arranged to put an end to himself.

Late that spring, a few weeks after the memorial service, I was in my apartment in Elgin, Illinois, preparing for bed. It was a rickety old apartment building, three stories up, one down; creaky stairwell out my front door, creaky porch out my back door, creaky drafty windows all about. I was on the second floor, and the place was tiny. The bedroom was barely bigger than my waterbed. The kitchen was hardly bigger than the stove.

On that night, as I headed to bed, the whole neighborhood seemed tense. The trees outside my front windows seemed restless, though there was no breeze. Traffic hummed all around, but I saw no cars. The building creaked as with footfalls, but I saw no one.

I lay in bed, all the windows and doors open for a draft. I could see down the short hallay into the little kitchen. I could see the stove and one cabinet. I could not see the screened back door; it was just out of sight to the left. The front door was just out of sight to the right, but no more than eight feet from where I lay. In the kitchen I could see pale light and dappled shadow. In the stairwell I heard footsteps creaking up to the neighbors upstairs. Then the steps returned downstairs. Now there were more steps, as of several persons, moving aimlessly up and down the stairs past my front door. Occasionally someone or something bumped against the walls, and once there was a single sharp rap on my door.

I sat upright in bed, bobbing on the water mattress: “Who’s there?!”

The creaky steps continued. I sat motionless. Then came a loud, distinct but random rattling on my door. ‘Who’s there?!” I clambered out of bed sprang to the door. I saw nothing through the spy-hole but heard the steps receding downstairs. I threw the door open and stepped out onto the landing. The noise was one landing below, just out of sight. I held by breath as I listened to the steps descend. I waited for the familiar sound of the heavy wood-and-glass vestibule door, but the stairwell fell silent. I knew there was no one at the bottom of the stairs.

I jumped back into bed and hid. Then I heard the back screen door swing open, though I new it was latched. I looked down the hall. I heard the door bang shut though I saw no change in the pale light, no shifting of the dappled shadow. I saw nothing. But I heard my father’s slippered feet shoofing down a tile hallway. I heard him puttering around in the tiny kitchen for a moment. Then I heard him say, “Well, I’m going to bed.” I heard his steps shoof out the back door. I heard the door bang shut, and instantly the neighborhood went still. The trees that were not moving became still. The traffic that wasn’t there dissipated. The footfalls of no one in the stairwell ceased. And my mind cleared, and my heart felt at peace, and I slept well. That’s the last I ever heard from my father.Last I Heard

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