Creative: Sad Exchange

June 8, 2016
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Written by H.G. Pennypacker
Art by Hannah Schultz

I click the green icon, if only to shut the constant humming of the fucking thing up. The glare emanating from the thing adds a dose of pain to the hangover that arrives dead on schedule. Shit of a time to call someone.
“What do you want?” I croak out through sweet dry lips.
“David Flannery?”
“Yes.”
“I’m sorry, we…”
“What?” I shuffle out of the bed.
The man said he worked at the Downtown hospital. Said my dad stumbled in, sweaty, and screaming that he was on fire. Said they couldn’t help him in time. Said they’re sorry.

I button up my plaid shirt, put on some glasses and my woolly beanie. Should be enough.
I shake awake the woman in my bed.
“Whatimizit…”
“There’s somewhere I need to be. I’m staying here for a week, so please stay. I mean, if you don’t want to that’s-it’s okay. Order in breakfast. The gluten free waffles are delicious, they tell me. Anyway, I’m sorry for this jarring break in your evening, Marie.”
“Monique…my name’s…” she drifts back to sleep.

I could drive my Mercedes to the hospital, but I opt for a taxi.
The taxis in this city have particular smells. Stale sweat and sawdust, to be exact. Smells a lot like the sad old brown hallways in the apartment building my dad and me lived in.
My Mercedes and hotel? They’re nice. There’s nothing particular about nice.

When I’m in my trailer waiting for my scene, or pretending that I’m not terrified of the adoration radiating from the hive-mind at those sci-fi cons, I’ll centre myself with the memories of a fat 8 year old me and my dad watching those horror anthologies every Friday evening on our little TV. Every time a scary moment happened I’d bury my face in his shoulders. It was an “acceptable” excuse for some contact.

I was ashamed, still am, that I enjoyed inhaling his two dollar cologne and the feel of his threadbare collar that rubbed against my face like sandpaper.
So he’d never hug me? So what? He worked himself stupid and numb to keep us in that roach trap of an apartment. He was a good dad – fuck that, a good man. Didn’t skip a day of work, never hit the bottle when he had every reason in the world to, wouldn’t miss parent-teacher meetings, wasn’t afraid to show me the belt if I was “cryin’ like a bitch”.
“Are…David Flannery?” Asks a fellow cab passenger.
Goddammit.
“I suppose.”
“Dude! I love Seeing Red. Me and my boy watch it every Friday night. I can’t believe you’re in the same taxi as me! I can’t believe you’re in a taxi! This is nuts!”
“You watch the show with your kid? It’s intense.”
“Aw,” he dismissively waves a hand, “he loves it. It’s kind of a bonding thing for us too, y’know? Hey, I hate to be one of those guys, but could you sign for my boy? Name’s Jason.” He’s already fumbling in his bag.
“Happy to.” He hands me a scrap of notebook paper and a pen. I scribble something profoundly insignificant.
I hand it back to the guy. He’s holding the thing with the kind of reverence you reserve for the cure for aids or something like that.
“Thank you so much! I can’t wait to give this to him…you’re kinda his…well, I guess his hero, y’know?”
Hero? “Buddy, I don’t mean to come across as an asshole, but c’mon, I make and sell bullshit for a living.”
Dad’s last words to me…out of my mouth. I was about to scream back at the ugly old man that I was hooked on Lithium and sticking my finger down my throat.
I swallowed that bitter confession. I had no right to spit that at the only human being who ever gave a damn about me. Instead I said, “You’re probably right, sir” and we continued to watch whatever was on TV. I glanced at him. He was crying. He cried with such quiet dignity. I mumbled an offer to stay at my hotel.
Goddamn nothing. The hell did I even offer for? I left without another word, hoping that this lonely messy city would open its heart to me.

I’m staring at my dead dad, alright – chrome dome, broken nose, badly maintained goatee, flabby body and all, lain on a slab.
There’s no one around, so I lean my head against his shoulder. Of course there is no scent of two dollar cologne, or feel of a threadbare collar, nor sound of fuzzy static. Only old cold meat.
My throat constricts, my eyes sting, and I start crying like a bitch for him.

The taxi ride back to the hotel is quiet. It’s quiet because I’m alone. I’m grateful for that. But I need to scream. I don’t know why.

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