I picked up the remains from the funeral director, signed away and put the box up front, giving it a seat belt, going miles across the country, back to my apartment. During the trip, I talked to the box as if it were my father, asking are you tired? Are you hungry? Want to stretch your legs some? And I pictured the ashes, poof, a cloud around them. I wasn’t sure what to do.
Someone had found him in the hallway. He’d lived alone, and mostly stayed in his apartment, except when a worker took him to get groceries. They said it was their job, he was easy and pleasant enough. He wasn’t pleasant to me those few times I had called him. It got hard to tell what was really him, what was medication. It was kind of impossible.
When I got the box home, I put him on the desk by where I’d put his typewriter, along with the lamp that used to be his mother’s.
I took off my shoe and found a peanut. I couldn’t remember the last time I had nuts in my apartment. It happened on the next day, then the next day, in those same old shoes. I checked the fridge, looked under the bed, the desk, the sofa, and I didn’t find nuts anywhere. I started keeping my shoes upside down, then away in Baggies. After a while I threw them away, and bought a pair of new ones, but that didn’t solve things. I didn’t have a lot of shoes. I was particular about my feet.
I put the new shoes up on a shelf, and looked over at the ash box. I was perfectly square, the size of a jewelry box I had once. I opened the box and looked in. It was nothing but ashes. I said to the ash, Hey Dad, and I wondered how he was now. I’d gotten a report from his last psychiatric visit, the hearing of the voices. I’d known about it, kind of, but this was official.
I sat on the floor with the box and shut it. My father used to be a farmer. He wasn’t a nut person. I could eat a nut, though it wasn’t my favorite. I started to draw on the box. I started with a stem, but that was as far as I got.
I went to John’s party, though he’d told me not to. I knew where to go, from the time before the race, his wife gone and the two of us getting down to business with the door not even closed yet.
I called his friend Rex, who kept trying to date me, which was how I met John in the first place. I asked if he was going. I was convincing.
He had to get directions.
There was a Mediterranean theme, and Rex wore a shirt with palm trees. He’d been courting me, off and on, for months now.
There were cars all over John’s driveway. We went through the back. People were everywhere, in their suits and splashing.
I spotted John right away. He was grilling with an apron.
His wife wasn’t so pretty in person, though I could see the attraction. Her hair was in pigtails, she wore ragged cut-offs. Her legs were skinny.
Rex left his hands in pockets, did that hunching thing he did when he was nervous. He went to say hi. John was in his apron, flipping.
Hey! Rex said.
John gave me the evil eye when he saw me.
John’s wife came up with a kid on her hip. I knew it was the youngest. Hello, she said to Rex. They shook hands. I felt like I knew her. The kid cried and she bounced him.
We mingled and I saw another guy I’d met at Rex’s celebration. He was also from their high school, which was over two decades ago. Like we were still in high school and I was the new girl all over again.
I had a beer right away and took off my top. I was wearing a bikini.
I sat in the hot tub. C’mon, I told Rex. He said he wasn’t ready. When he looked at his watch, I said, You on a time clock?
There were mostly wives in the tub. We made small talk, mostly about babies, how they loved their husbands. I didn’t talk about their husbands or my ex, who I thought I loved until his mistress got pregnant. I thought about my son, away in college, how it used to be the two of us, moving all around the country.
I remembered being there before, bent over on the sofa, looking at the shoes in the corner. The wife’s red ones, a kid’s red and purple sandal. In the corner was a dust ball. John beat me at the 5K, but I still got a trophy because I was fast for a woman.
Rex brought me another beer. He’d been with another guy, laughing. John’s shirt was off. He didn’t seem so hot anymore.
After a while, his wife came in the tub, talking of holy hell, exhaustion. I was sweating and it felt good on my muscles. She sat next to me.
Far off, someone burped loudly. This group wasn’t the brightest.
Still, the wife had a nice voice. She told me she was also a teacher. I said, Special Ed? John had probably told me more than he should have. She seemed pleasant. I guessed she was a good wife. I felt kind of sorry for her. I liked her earrings.
We talked for a long time. Every now and then, we toasted.
Rex took me home after I commented on the dust ball. It wasn’t the first time—at least for John and me fucking. There were a lot of races for us to meet up at.
John was eating grits, when I’d said to him, hey, and he looked at me hollow. Nothing seemed Mediterranean. I’d heard about Cyprus more than once from an ex-boyfriend who was from there.
I asked Rex again about his time clock. He got quiet. He looked like a statue.
John’s wife seemed more genuine than he did.
His wife and I had talked about meeting up on Sunday. John could babysit. I imagined her out, him connecting with someone else on myspace, facebook, some woman at a 5K.
I wasn’t sure where I belonged, but it probably wasn’t this place.
Taking me home, Rex said I was fun.
I was pretty sure he was joking.
I said, John? He’s kinda cool, huh.
Rex sped and swerved, which didn’t seem to suit him.
I laughed and said, Can you just go a little faster?
He dropped me, said he’d see me later.
Hey, I said, getting out. I peeked in and said, Don’t sweat.
He looked everywhere but at me.
I even thanked him.
I went up to my apartment. From his only visit just last week, my son had left his shoes there.
I put one pair on my feet, and walked around tripping.
Kim Chinquee is the author of the collections Oh Baby and Pretty. She is an associate professor of English at Buffalo State College.