Daniel has wanted to be a writer ever since he was in elementary school.He has published stories and articles in such magazines as Slipstream, Black Petals, Spindrift, Zygote in my Coffee, and Leading Edge Science Fiction. He has written four books: The Sage and the Scarecrow (a novel), the Lexical Funk (a short story collection), Reejecttion (short story/ essay collection), and The Ghosts of Nagasaki (a novel).
Years after he died, I imagine running into my dad at some bar. Perhaps some tiki bar in the keys with coconut bowls for tropical drinks. He’s wearing jean shorts and a T-shirt; he has that weird not-even-trying haircut; and he’s dancing with a girl.
After the divorce, I don’t think my dad ever dated another girl. Not one other girl ever again. He had married my mom when he was so young. I think he was eighteen. When he got divorced he was then in his forties. He drank a lot. He got depressed. But I don’t remember him ever dating anyone.
And then the medical problems started. Perhaps the irregular work had started not too long after that. Too much free time, and then he drank.
I remember crushing beer cans with a big weight out in the back yard. There were always beer cans to crush. When we filled up enough bags with crushed beer cans we could go to the movies. Now that I think about it, going to the movies was expensive. One adult and two kids and maybe popcorn and a drink.
That’s a lot of beer cans.
I was probably in middle school when the very serious health problems started. It's hard to remember if there were any before that. My brother was in high school and had to take on a lot.
I do remember though that my dad helped my brother out his senior year. My brother got paid a lot of money the summer before he went into the Coast Guard. These were all subcontracting jobs so he could do that for my brother.
The stomach problems first; bad gas; hearing problems that resulted from him not taking care of his ears; and then later he had to have laser surgery for the cancerous cells on his face. This didn’t help his self-esteem. But I don’t remember dad ever dating other girls. He used to tease me quite a bit, ask whether I had any girlfriends--but I don’t remember him ever having any girlfriends.
Strange thing...I think dad and I got along well enough, but our relationship was complicated. After all, he was my part-time dad. I loved him without hesitation, but things are never simple in life. He must have thought I was a weird kid. I mean he knew that I wanted to become a writer. He knew that I liked Star Trek and science fiction. He must have known that a scrawny kid like me got beat up a lot in school. I had the reputation of being clumsy and not having a lot of common sense.
So I see him in the bar and he’s dancing with this girl. An older girl to be sure, just like him, but she has sass. I’m not sure what I should say or if I should say anything. If I approach him, will he just disappear again? I’ll wake up like it’s some sort of lame dream.
But I know this isn’t a dream.
What happens if I approach him? He suddenly becomes someone else and my whole fantasy collapses?
I don’t go up to him and say anything. I don’t acknowledge him but instead cast sidelong stares.
Then suddenly he looks over my way, nods, and then keeps on dancing. In his hand, he has a beer. If he did have another life, it figures he would be drinking again.
He quit smoking and drinking. His health depended on it and we were all grateful that he did this for us. It was probably one of the best gifts he ever gave to us.
Life could get complicated. But this wasn’t complicated.
He did a good thing.
The future is not necessarily a place for my dad. After all, the future has computers, iPods, and other digital crap he wouldn’t necessarily be interested in.
But also, it’s plausible that there could be a future with my dad in it. After all, there will still be thrift
stores, beaches, snorkeling, and lobster season. He would never know what to do with an iPod but he could sure rig a cooler for lobster season.
He would find old stuff nobody else wanted and build what he needed.
He was clever that way.
I start hanging out at all my dad’s favorite places. I hang out at the bars in Key West, the thrift stores, hoping to spot him. Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of him. But usually it’s the times when I’m not even really looking for him that he appears to me most clearly.
Always I see him from a distance. Always he’s just relaxing, and always I feel like if I were to approach him he would disappear for good.
One day, I go snorkeling by myself. I don’t take the cooler. Perhaps by this time, I’ve thrown it out. I don’t exactly remember. I head out at his favorite lobster spot around dawn. I start swimming. I’m not looking for my dad out here. I try to just be still. I try to find a time before and past iPods and computers, before his divorce and illness but past his death. I try to just swim and see the ocean from his perspective. I try to see things his way for once. I try not to try. It’s in these moments, when nothing exists and nothing is real, that I’m most apt to feel him next to me.
This time, in the ocean, he doesn’t nod at me or wink. Instead, he grabs my hand. When I feel him I see him in his mask and snorkel. He points vigorously. Real or not, he knows where to find the lobsters.