I was stoned the night he arrived at my apartment to take me to a performance at the local theatre, forgot about our plan. He could tell and I could tell my not-remembering crushed him. It was shortly after mum left and he was holding tight to what he could—his kids, his history. He’d brushed his unruly curls into a thick wisp of fluff and worn his best blazer, the one with the felt elbow patches. He slipped two tickets from the pocket of his flannel and held them out between his sap-stained fingers. We went to the performance, sat side-by-side, and I snuck glances at him on the sly to make sure he was still there. I still worry my going wasn’t enough to make up for my forgetting.
There was an abscessed tooth months before he died in December. He mentioned the tenderness in his jaw, the way the pain forked through his head and along the nerves in his body. He almost left it too long. We reflected on how lucky he was the infection didn’t leak into his bloodstream, how lucky we are when our bodies remind us we’re mortal before it’s too late. Months later an autopsy revealed his bloodstream was riddled with lymphoma, that the cigar he smoked before bed was what killed him. It struck me how an infected tooth bothered him more than cancer. That cancer was something that could roam around undetected.
There was the time he pulled up unannounced in front of my office in his Bronco and asked if I wanted to go for lunch. We didn’t see each other often then. I was his punk kid, he was my hippie dad—we weren’t that far apart. He blew his bullhorn and his eyebrows lifted when I turned and saw him, his dimples cratering into a smile. It was my favourite face of his. I can still picture it when I close my eyes.
I can’t remember what our last interaction was, if there was a goodbye or just a brief wave from the deck of his sailboat where we found his body. This I do know: there is the connection between pushing my cuticles down—ten cents for two hands of half moons. There is the sweet smell of pipe tobacco and the way it hauls me back to sitting on the patio with him, watching our family dog chase rabbits. There is his laugh—his chortle—that I hear if I concentrate hard enough in the quiet. There were many goodbyes and hellos and see you laters, and the timing of them, of anything, probably doesn’t matter much anymore.
Jennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in The Forge, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, and elsewhere. Her work has been selected for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions and Wigleaf´s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes and founder of Trash Mag. Find her at www.foxbane.ca or @JenTod_.