Dust of Souls
“I do not want to wear that f--king hearing aid.”
F--k is not a word my father often says. But on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday, I suppose he feels free to use any expletive that shoots out of his mouth.
“Dad,” I attempt to reason, “how will you hear anything?”
He doesn’t answer, probably doesn’t hear me.
“We have to insist he wears it,” my stepmother says, arching an eyebrow.
We’re walking along the town dock; no sailboats dot the water at this time of year. Pulling up my collar against January’s chill, I glance at the Long Island Sound, skyscraper-gray in dark contrast to the sky. Two swans glide toward the shore. They say swans mate for life, but these days it’s hard for me to think of anything as permanent. That concept died with 9/11.
I search the horizon. From here, even in October, you could see the smoke, and a breeze came off the water carrying the dust of souls.
“I look forward to this party being over,” my father says. “It’s all coming out of your inheritance.”
“How much did you spend on flowers?”
“We’re saving on tax and delivery by paying cash.”
“I wouldn’t mind if it was for a worthy cause—”
“But, Dad, that’s how much the flowers cost.”
He looks at me like I’m a traitor. “Cut flowers. They won’t even last.”
“The caterer recommended the florist,” my stepmother ventures.
My father snorts. “They saw the two of you coming.”
The water is behind us now, and we’re trudging up Main Street past bait shops and pricey boutiques. My dad puffs his cheeks, sucking in each breath of air. Capillaries, delicate as spider webs, crisscross his face. I take his arm in mine.
“Nice day, Dad.”
“Hurry up,” my stepmother calls over her shoulder. “The caterer arrives at 1:00.” Ignoring the Don’t Walk sign, she steps into the street.
My father follows her into oncoming traffic, narrowly avoiding a semi-truck.
I hurry after them.
Later, when we’re getting dressed, my father grits his teeth. “I hate that necklace,” he says.
My stepmother looks hurt. “What’s wrong with it?”
“It looks cheap.”
“It wasn’t. I got it at Nordstrom’s.”
“Where are your pearls?”
“In the safe deposit box.”
“If you don’t want them give them back.”
“The pearls wouldn’t work with this.”
I slink into the bathroom, close the door and stare into the mirror. In my face I see my Dad, I see my dead Mom. I see the person I’ve become.
I’m seriously considering laser to erase these wrinkles.
Last night I watched that Spielberg movie, Munich. And today everything seems futile. One act of retribution leads to another. Misunderstandings escalate into hostilities. Someone must be sacrificed.
“Are you in there?”
“I’ll be out in a minute, Dad.”
I slide open the medicine cabinet and peruse the contents— Lexapro—I took that after my divorce to deaden my emotions, allow me to desire nothing. If I felt nothing, I could sail through life unwrinkled. No evidence would mark my face.
Lexapro didn’t do the trick. I see lines.
My father’s pounding on the door. “The guests will be arriving soon.”
Elegant Affairs has transformed the room into a wonderland of sapphire blue linen, sparkling crystal, twinkling candles.
The dim light flatters everyone’s complexion. I glance into a mirror and don’t see any wrinkles.
“The flowers are beautiful,” my father says and hugs me.
“Glad you like them.”
The piano player bangs out the notes and my dad and I sing Edelweiss together.
“I’m a survivor,” he speaks into the microphone. “Escaped the Nazis and came to America.”
I kiss his cheek.
The party is in full swing. Cousins and their children, aunts and uncles, my father’s friends, have come from as far away as England. So many stories. This one’s studying at Harvard, that one’s struggling to raise two children on her own, another got a big promotion in the city. Those riding high drink cocktails, laugh, talk about the latest deal. Meanwhile, the old folks spend their moments reminiscing.
I bite into a crusty piece of bread topped with mushrooms baked in wine. Help myself to hors d’oeuvres as they pass: Crispy Tomato Cups filled with Roasted Shallot Chevre (cream cheese) and topped with balsamic glazed fig; Herbs de Provence Baby Lamb Chops with Roasted Garlic and Chive Aioli (however you pronounce that word).
“Duck Confit.” My stepmother nimbly bites into pastry, dabs at the crumbs before they have a chance to cling.
“With Ligonberry Essence in a Toasted Filo Cup, dusted with powdered sugar.” I savor the rich concoction as it fills my mouth. My chest looks like a snowstorm hit.
My sister’s downing her third Cosmopolitan. “I’m taking ballet,” she says. “Makes me feel good. I’ve given up on men.”
I wander to the window. The bay glimmers in the distance.
I think of my mother. I think of the twin towers.
And I breathe in the dust of souls.