Sunday afternoon in November. Cold streaks of wind, ash-gray sky. Droplets of rain hit Lana's car. She slammed her trunk. She carried the last box to her apartment. The box was heavy, the weight not evenly distributed. Lana adjusted her hands around the edges, angled it against her stomach. She drew in a deep breath and walked towards the entrance of her small apartment complex, chipped paint exposing the old wood of the door. With her elbow she pressed the automatic door button.
The elevator creaked and shook as it ascended. Lana pictured her father on the couch, pipe out, a hazy cloud of smoke encircling him. Another talk she'd have to have.
"Is that everything?" Dad asked. He wasn't on the couch and he wasn't smoking, to Lana's surprise. He knelt on the floor, his thin arms stretched in front of him, and pulled contents from boxes. "You got any nails? I want to hang this." He held a picture of himself and his last girlfriend, Shonnie, or was it Bonnie? It was something like that. Lana could never remember.
"The complex doesn't like holes in the wall. I'd have to fix them when I move out."
"At least you'll move out one day," Dad said, his voice low and gutteral. "I'll probably die here."
His words hung in the air, suspended. Lana didn't say anything. He had a weak heart, but his brain was working just fine. "Come here, Nancy," Dad yelled to the male nurse at the nursing home earlier in the day. He was giving Lana the Cliff Notes version of her father's health in the hallway. "See what I mean," the nurse said with a wink. "He's fine."
When Dad had called and said he wanted to leave the nursing home, that those jackasses didn't know what they were doing and how could he sleep on a mattress stuffed with rocks and eat sandwiches made of paste and cardboard, Lana sympathized. She didn't regret offering her place to him until the words escaped her mouth. Once he agreed, she tried to convince herself that he would have asked to come anyway, and it's not like she could have said no. It's Dad and it's my job, she told herself. She didn't want him to die here, but once she thought about that, she thought of the various ways she may discover her father - on the couch, pipe in mouth or slumped on the floor, a spoon in his hand, spilt cereal a sloppy outline for his fallen body. It's not like she wanted to stay in this apartment forever, stuck in the awkward post-college phase of apartments and temp jobs. His death would be her catalyst.
She didn't know her dad too well as a kid, most of his time spent on the road chasing quick fix solutions, and later, she'd find out, chasing women. With a thick build, dark, brooding eyes, and a '73 ice blue Corvette, the only woman that was ever a problem to him was his wife. He was a man of ambition who always saw himself as better than he was, and that made it very difficult for Lana to idolize him. There wasn't enough room.
Dad continued to pull things out of boxes. Old books sat on her coffee table, some Lana recognized from childhood.
"Are you hungry for some dinner?" Lana asked. "I have some leftovers in the fridge."
"Leftovers on the first night, huh? If I told anyone I'd have to sneak some food out of the nursing home, they'd have looked at me like I was crazy," Dad said. Lana assumed he was joking, but couldn't tell.
"You're not hungry then?"
"Shit, I'll eat," Dad said. He lit his pipe, small wafts of smoke swirled about his face. Lana saw her $250 security deposit on her non-smoking apartment disappear. The stale, minty smell of the tobacco drifted to the kitchen.
"If it wasn't so cold you'd be on the patio right now," Lana said.
"You wouldn't do that to an old man."
"Watch me," Lana said, only half serious. She placed the two plates on her small kitchen table and sat down. Spaghetti is always better on the second day, she thought. Dad's plate steamed. He stayed on the couch, smoking. "I'm not gonna wait for you," Lana said. "Come and eat while it's hot."
"I'll get there," Dad said. Smoke filled the apartment. Lana tasted it in her nostrils when she breathed, it's burning, stinging sensation.
Lana told herself the first week would be the most difficult, and she hoped it were true. On the second day, she found Dad on the couch, head tilted back, in his underwear at five in the morning as she headed out for a jog. She put her ear to his mouth and listened for his shallow inhale and exhale before walking out. The fourth day, a Wednesday, was date night with Cody. Last Wednesday she went to Cody's apartment for Thai takeout and a dollar box movie. This time she made homemade pizza. Upon Cody's arrival, Dad engaged him in a long story about the Knicks and the democrats and why everyone was out to get them. Lana made the pizza while they talked, Cody's every motion to end the conversation met by her father's leaning even closer and smacking the coffee table for emphasis. At least he's wearing pants, Lana thought.
On Saturday, Eric, Lana's older brother, visited with his wife and their two young kids. Eric was a lawyer, Christie, a lawyer's wife. Eric lived a couple hours away and usually visited at least once a year. When Dad was in the nursing home, he'd ask Lana to visit Dad when he did so they could see everyone together. "It's easier with the kids," Eric would say.
"How's my lawyer doing?" Dad asked, his voice a growl. He stood up, teetered for a moment and embraced Eric, the hug stabilizing him. "And who's this beautiful princess?" he'd say, embracing Christie. Lana wanted to mouth the words as he said them, the same greeting he'd been giving since Eric brought her home pregnant. Lana made the mistake of asking what type of law Christie was studying, to which she replied she was probably going to major in English, but didn't have to decide until her sophomore year.
"Dad, you look great," Eric said. His two kids ran around the apartment.
"I look like shit," Dad said. "But you look great, and Christie, whoa, you always look great. The lawyer business keeping you busy?" Dad sat on the couch and smiled, the first Lana had seen all week.
"Yeah, yeah. Lots of work. Lana, hey, good to see you. Dad, you hear about the New York news anchor? The one that got fired for having porn on his computer? I'll probably be representing him. Meeting with him next week."
"I'll be in my room," Lana said.
"How 'bout that!" Dad said. He leaned forward and clapped his hands once. "Lana, can we get some drinks?"
Lana sighed. She had just settled on her bed. She put her book down and walked into the kitchen. She grabbed two bottles of water out of the fridge and walked over.
"Oh, can I have one too?" Christie asked.
"Do you have any iced tea? Or maybe a root beer?" Eric asked.
Lana walked back to the kitchen. Her lips clenched together, her steps heavy. There was a lone Snapple bottle on the side of the fridge. Lana grabbed it. Justin, or Jason, she wasn't sure which kid, barreled into her. Lana buried the iced tea behind the gallon of milk. "All out," she called from the kitchen.
"Lana, come here," Dad said. "Christie here, you know what she's doing? A half marathon. Can you believe that?"
"That's great," Lana said. She tried to force a smile, her lips pressed together.
"Lana, she runs too," Dad said. "Probably not as fast as you, though, hon," he said, tapping Christie's knee. Christie laughed.
"Still dating that teacher?" Eric asked.
"Cody? Yes, we're still dating." Lana's voice was sharp, tense.
"I got to meet the sucker," Dad said.
"So he does exist!" Eric said. Eric and Dad laughed. If Christie heard, she didn't show it, her face buried in her phone.
"Our reservation is in twenty minutes," Christie said. "We should probably get going."
"That's nice, you're taking Dad out to dinner?" Lana asked. She saw Dad's eyes perk.
"Oh, no. I'm meeting with an associate over a case. More business than pleasure, if you know what I mean," Eric said.
"Yeah, boring lawyer stuff," Christie said. "He wouldn't want to go."
Eric put his coat on. "Dad, great to see you. Lana, you too. You'll have to bring Cody around sometime. I'd love to meet the guy." Turning to Dad, "Now that we know he's real."
Lana hugged Eric. "Your jokes get funnier every time. They really do. Don't stop doing that."
"You know," Dad said. He cleared his throat. "It's kind of small here for one person. Imagine what it's like for two. I don't know how you guys are on space..."
Eric smiled a knowing smile, let out a chuckle. "We'd love to have you, Dad. We really would. It's just I'm really busy, the kids, you see how the kids are."
Dad nodded. "I know."
"We really should get going," Christie said.
They filed out of the apartment. Lana closed the door. She lowered her voice, tried to match her father's. "You know, it's really small in here for one person."
"I know, I know." Dad shrugged his shoulders. "It was a shot in the dark. I couldn't stand those kids though. If they didn't kill me, I'd probably kill them."
"I'm meeting Cody for pizza. Why don't you come with us?"
"As long as I don't have to eat cold spaghetti again."
Lana buttoned her jacket. She put her arm around her father's thin shoulder as they walked down the hall to the elevator.
BIO: Brian Kayser is a writer who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. Brian’s fiction has appeared in 34th Parallel Magazine, Alliterati Magazine, Down Dirty Word, Writing Raw, and Bursting Plethora and forthcoming in The Orris Journal and Eunoia Review. He has been editor-in-chief at HipHopGame.com since 2003, where he has interviewed and written about a variety of hip-hop artists. His writings about music have also appeared in The Source and various websites and magazines.