My Father Visits Not Long After My Mother (His Wife Twenty Years Ago) Dies

By Brock Guthrie

Featured Art by Paul Gavarni

My father’s in town for a quick couple days
and it’s early morning and not much to do

and he needs some smokes and I need
a few things from Lowe’s. We walk to my car

and he says, “Man, you need a car wash,”
and I say, “Yeah, I’ve just been so busy,”

which isn’t really untrue, but I tell him
there’s a place on the way. We get in my car

and he says, “Go to McDonald’s, I’ll buy,”
and we wait in the drive-thru and he says,

“You need a vacuum too,” and I don’t reply
because the food is ready. I pass him his

Egg McMuffin and drive down the road,
carefully unwrapping my breakfast burrito,

and this commercial I’ve heard a dozen times
comes on the radio, some guy with a nasally

New York accent, but only now do I gather
it’s an advertisement for snoring remedies.

My father says, “If there are two vacuum hoses,
I can do one side and you can do the other.”

We drive past strip malls. I wave vaguely
toward a Mexican restaurant I kind of like

but I can’t think of what I want to say about it,
so I kind of mumble and my father does too

except his is more reply, like, “Is that right?”
The car wash kiosk has eight confusing options.

“That seems excessive,” I say, and my father says,
“Yeah, they’re all the same,” so I order the basic

for six bucks and we sit through the long, dark wash
without a radio signal. Thirty-some years ago,

as a boy, with the brushes spinning heavily
up and down the car, I might’ve said, “You know

it seems like we’re moving but really everything
is moving around us,” and my father would’ve

encouraged me that I was right. Today we stay
silent except at the end when my father observes

that the wash seemed thorough. “This place
must do pretty well,” he says. In the vacuum stall

are two long hoses, one on each side. On my side
someone left behind a heavy-duty rubber floormat:

“Hey look—someone left behind a good mat
over here by the trash can,” but my father is

taking his hose off the latch and can’t hear me
over the suction noise. He has trouble unhooking

his side’s interior floormats, so I reach over
and help him. I’m vacuuming faster but he’s

vacuuming more carefully, so I slow down
and vacuum more carefully too. We finish

the front seats and meet in the back and put all
the loose stuff into the baby’s car seat: small

umbrella, naked doll, triceratops, some books.
I say, “You know, these car seats aren’t easy

to install, I can’t seem to make it tight enough,”
and my father wiggles it around and says,

“Yeah, if there’s a fire station nearby you can
sometimes have them do it.” But then I cringe

at the thought of telling my wife a fireman
fixed our daughter’s seat, so my father says,

“And if he calls you a pussy, do something funny
with your left hand and punch him with your right.”

We laugh pretty hard and move on to the trunk.
“Hold up,” I say, and take the stroller out

and put it on the ground next to the floormat
someone left behind. “Hey check out this

thick rubber floormat someone left behind,”
and my father says, “That’s in good shape—

you should keep it,” so I put it on the driver-side
floorboard, on top of the existing floormats,

which are also in good shape, though fabric.
“We came out ahead on this one,” he says.


Brock Guthrie is the author of Contemplative Man (Sibling Rivalry, 2014). Born and raised in Athens, OH, he now lives in Tuscaloosa and teaches at the University of Alabama.

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