San Pel­le­grino

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - By Carmine Starnino

I sit here fac­ing a glass of water. I have a fam­ily: a son, baby daugh­ter.

Life’s harder. Harder, and sad­der. My fa­ther has Stage IV lung can­cer. He’s dy­ing, only faster. Fall, and he might meet his maker by win­ter. O let this cup pass, my Fa­ther.

I sit here fac­ing a glass of water do­ing its level best to con­jure

his low, un­happy laugh­ter.

A fash­ion sense that hated any­thing “fancy schmancy” — anti-dap­per.

And such theatre! Talk back, and he’d hike his eye­brows in anger. Three-pack-a-day-smoker with a bad ticker. Loved trippa , tongue, and trot­ter. Epic snorer, in­vet­er­ate jay­walker, and, when he lost his tem­per, a spanker. Rarely spoke about the weather, shaved with a dis­pos­able ra­zor, us­ing a badger brush and bowl to work up a lather.

Pre­ferred his espresso with a cuc­chi­aino of su­gar, grilled his steaks

to the finest shoe leather. Let his pen hover above a cheque, a sec­onds-long ges­ture, be­fore touch­ing down and set­ting free the dra­matic gar­lands of his sig­na­ture. At the beach each sum­mer, I’d stop at the edge of the bone-cold water. He’d stride past, bi­sected by blue, grow­ing smaller,

and smaller, then dive un­der, and dis­ap­pear. I sit here fac­ing a glass of water and imag­ine my fa­ther be­neath the dome light of his blue Chrysler: whistler, one-handed steerer, moon-gazer.

Af­ter an all-nighter, he’d stag­ger out to the kitchen counter, full of odour, hav­ing slept in his clothes for good mea­sure.

Younger, he was on fire: high-flyer, lady-killer, fast-talker in black leather. He once ran a red and tried to bribe the of­fi­cer. “Id­iot licked his thumb and peeled off a ten­ner,” said his older brother, Dante, who posted his bail. Only a mat­ter

of time be­fore he fell for his own bull­shit

hook, line, and sinker. Turned to poker: small-timer, un­con­tender, hope­less hus­tler. So deep in hock, twice nicked my pa­per-route money to pay back a wa­ger. The guy could be a night­mare.

But he never lost his pos­ture, sal­vaged a cer­tain swag­ger from ev­ery blun­der. Fail­ure, for my fa­ther, was a tri­umph of style. He was

a beau­ti­ful loser. Didn’t own a sin­gle tool: screw­driver, pli­ers, ham­mer, what­ever. When it came to the odd chore, he was a ditherer, a born quit­ter.

It raised my mother’s ire.

Once, on the re­ceiv­ing end of a blis­ter­ing lec­ture, he handed her the shit-smirched plunger, said: Fine, call the fuck­ing plumber.

Rent past due, he’d send her to dicker with the land­lord.

He put her through the wringer; she al­ways threat­ened to leave him for an­other.

I was the artsy brooder who thought him too dumb for cul­ture.

I al­ways cor­rected his grammar.

But Satur­day nights, if my plans came a crop­per,

I’d rent a thriller — some kung-fu-mas­ter-with-a-mis­sile-launcher blockbuster —

and we’d watch it to­gether, faces blued by the screen’s flicker.

He lived for the plot twist, the sur­prise cap­per. His favourite movie? Goldfin­ger . The show­stop­per? Bond strapped to a ta­ble,

about to be scis­sored by a laser.

(“Do you ex­pect me to talk?” “No, Mr. Bond,” — sez Goldfin­ger —

“I ex­pect you to die!”) He laughed and laughed on his lounge-re­cliner.

This glass of water is hold­ing out for me as I stare into it and re­mem­ber how, Sun­days, he’d run a comb un­der the tap,

part my hair, hoist me to the mir­ror.

He’d read by glid­ing his fin­ger across text, stop on a word, linger.

Made it seem like all I did was pester. “Not now,” he’d say, “later.”

Once he ex­ploded at my mother, and I stopped him be­fore he could hit her. And how, hold­ing up our new­born brother, his voice had a qua­ver.

Not that af­fec­tion was out of char­ac­ter. He was just hard to de­ci­pher.

We hugged once and, for a ten­der se­cond, I thought he’d say some­thing fur­ther. He didn’t, afraid per­haps it would seal the mat­ter.

Beau­ti­ful, how water glows in glass as dark draws closer. One way or an­other, we all fail each other. But I let that al­most-mo­ment be a marker that there was a there, there.

Tonight it’s just me and this water.

I know the pic­ture. I learned it from my fa­ther.

A glass, half full, and a man look­ing in, hop­ing ev­ery­thing blows over. Cab driver and gam­bler on a gur­ney, who thinks him­self a fail­ure.

Who doesn’t dream of a do-over, life re­booted and in work­ing or­der? Who doesn’t want the power to see ex­actly

where one should have turned the cor­ner?

Soon I’ll put a straw in water to slake his mor­phine thirst — a last plea­sure. Soon nights will turn bleaker, his wife and kids cry­ing never ever af­ter in the small hours. But to say noth­ing lasts for­ever is not an an­swer.

I need some­thing bet­ter,

and will sit here, star­ing deeper and far­ther into this glass of water un­til that point ev­ery­thing be­comes clearer.

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