David Ohle

Daddy's Home

Jerry’s Daddy, looking half dead, sat in the kitchen smoking a Camel and sketching comic faces on a napkin with a stubby pencil. There was quite an odor about him, mostly of sour, poorly washed clothes. A thin white paste leaked from his mouth.  Jerry sat at the far end of the dining table.  “Where have you been?”
“All over the place.  Don’t worry about that.”
“How did you get into the house?”
“The basement window. I was careful, I was quiet, I didn’t want to wake you up in the middle of the night. I scraped myself, but don’t worry, I don’t bleed anymore.”
“I assumed you were dead.”
“It’s an assumption, Jerry. You never knew this, but at times I had to rest.  I came here, a familiar place. I stayed in the basement. I’ve got a little niche back there in the corner.”
“That’s crazy. What’s that white stuff you’re drooling?”
“I don’t know. It just started happening a few years ago. I know it smells bad.”
“Why don’t you bathe? I’ll take you upstairs. You can get into the tub. I’ll give you some soap.”
“The least bit of water on my skin burns like acid.”
“Right. I’m sure it does. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“I’ll have a sip or two. If I drink too much I get animated…. What kind of coffee do people drink these days? Is it still Maxwell House and Folgers?”
“I get better stuff. It costs twice as much. It’s organic.”
“It’s what?”
“What in the shit does that mean?”
“They don’t use pesticides on the coffee plants. They don’t treat the beans with chemicals.”
Jerry’s Daddy watched him pour three scoops of beans into his Braun grinder and held his ears when it was turned on. “Jesus Christ, what is that thing?  Cyclones in Hell that don’t make that much noise.”
“It’s an electric grinder. You buy the whole beans and you grind them yourself. It tastes fresher.”
“Have we gone to the moon yet?”
“We have, yes. In 1969. Where the hell have you been?”
“Fantastic. I knew they would. How old is Kennedy now? He must be eighty or ninety.”
“He was assassinated.”
“You’re kidding.”
“In Dallas. A little guy with Cuban sympathies shot him dead in his limousine. The top was down.”
“Somebody shot Kennedy? Hard to believe.”
“What am I going to do with you? This is a small place. Just a kitchen, a tiny parlor, one bedroom and a bath upstairs.”
“I said I would stay in the basement.”
“The bathroom is upstairs. You’d be going up and down all night.”
“I don’t need a bathroom. I’m dried up. Kidneys don’t work.”
“That’s interesting, Daddy.  Here’s your coffee. I’m taking you somewhere, a facility where you can get some help.”
“I don’t need help. I’m fine.”
“What will you eat down there, slugs? Roaches?  I’m taking you somewhere. Let me make a few phone calls.”
Jerry fished an iPhone from his robe pocket and spoke into its receiver: “Social Services, Geriatric.” He looked intently at the little screen for an answer.
Daddy pointed at the iPhone. “What in the hell is that?” 
Several social service geriatric sites had scrolled up and Jerry wasn’t paying attention. “What is what? I’m busy looking something up.”
“Don’t tell me they’ve got little bitty televisions now. Why did you talk to it?”
“It’s a telephone and it’s also a small computer. It gives me information about things to do with you. Right now it’s telling me to call St. Vincent’s, which it says has a good reputation.”
“I read about them in Popular Science, the little computing machine of the future you could hold in your hand. No wires. Dick Tracy had a wrist phone. It might have been a radio too. I don’t remember.”
Jerry said, “Fifty years, Daddy. You’ve been gone that long.”
“Was I.…? What about your mother? Whatever became of her?”
“She died in eighty nine. Cancer of the colon.”
“I bet she suffered. I’m sorry I couldn’t be with her. I wish I cared more, but I lost all my feelings when I moved on. Physically, mentally, nothing there.”
Jerry punched in the number for St. Vincent’s and waited for an answer. “I was with her,” he said, spite on his fleshy face. “I took care of emptying her colostomy bag and trying to talk her out of taking an overdose of her pain pills.”
“I’m guessing it wasn’t fun.”
“It wasn’t…. Hello? St.Vincent’s? I’m calling about a situation I’m having with my father. He’s been gone fifty years and now he’s back and he needs care. Are your services free?”
“I’m not going there, Jerry. Think of something else.”
Jerry shushed him with a finger to the lip and listened for awhile with his ear to the iPhone. “I’ve already thought about this for a long time, in case you came back. I can’t take care of you. It’s way too late. You’re going to St. Vincent’s.”
Daddy took a small sip of coffee. “Did you ever hook up with a woman and get married?”
Jerry pressed the End button and slid home the cover of the iPhone. “The damned place is closed three days a week. They won’t be there till Thursday. I got a recording.”
“Did you?”
“Did I what?”
“Find a woman and get married.”
“No,  I’ve been going it alone. It’s noon already. We’ve got to make some kind of arrangements.”
“I’m living the dream. I couldn’t be better. I don’t need any arrangements. I told you that, didn’t I?”
“I’ll call them back on Thursday.”
“Son, are you religious? Do you belong or go to any church? All that Heaven and Hell shit?”
“No. I don’t believe any of that.”
“Let me tell you, I’ve been to Hell.”
“Of course you have.”
Jerry began to make a sandwich. He took sliced ham, mayonnaise, yellow mustard and a leaf of lettuce from the fridge, placed them on the kitchen counter and dropped two slices of split-top white bread into the toaster. “Go on, Daddy, tell me all about Hell.”
“The first morning I woke up there I felt more rested than I had in years. My big surprise—there wasn’t enough fire to roast a marshmallow. The place that terrified us had burned out long ago and a cool drizzle had turned everything into a slimy black tar, still warm enough to burn your feet, but that’s it. I saw familiar faces right away, friends from home. They were in single file, pushed along by the Devil’s trustees, on their way to one of several Hell-based factories for a long, steamy day of work. There were two Hells, one for women and one for men. A river of boiling plasma separated them.”
“I think St. Vincent’s is the place for you. Good priests, good nuns. They’ll treat you well.”
“I’m not finished with Hell yet, Son.”
“All right.”
“There were a few children to be seen, mostly males, idling their way through eternity, too young to work, too old for Limbo. There were no clouds, tobacco or animals. And the condemned ate half-cooked flesh soaked in mother’s milk at every meal. People were trying to distill whiskey down there. They were going to call it Deep Shaft Bourbon—Bottled in Hell, but you can’t make good whiskey without corn. And for corn, you need good water. The Styx doesn’t have it. It’s eighty feet under the ground. It gets every drop of toxic effluent from the City.”
“Is that it, your treatise on Hell?”
“It’s my report. I was there. Look, I’m going down for a nap. I can’t hold my eyes open.”
Daddy struggled up from the table without help from Jerry and shuffled to the basement door. “Good night, Jerry.”
“Daddy, it isn’t noon yet.”
“Oh, don’t worry, it’s dark enough in the basement.” He opened the basement door. “Don’t try to raise me in the morning. I’ll be sleeping in.”
“All right.”
Daddy stepped onto the basement stairs and closed the door behind him. 

David Ohle lives in Lawrence, Kansas.