by Evan James Sheldon
There is no note when he leaves, just his skin folded up for me on his faux-leather recliner, all neat and creased. I sit on the couch across from his chair in a kind of shock. Even though I always knew my father wouldn’t be around forever, the timing is unexpected, and a numbness spreads through me. I look around and I don’t want to be alone in the apartment with all his things. Fall in Denver is brisk in the morning, hot in the afternoon; it’s wise to dress in layers. Through the window I see low grey clouds hemming in the city, threatening snow.
I shake out my father’s skin, slip in, and head over to the farmers’ market outside Southwest Plaza Mall. We only live a couple of blocks away. I smoke while I wait at the crosswalk on the corner of Bowles and Wadsworth feeling a bit awkward because his hands were bigger than mine are, and it shows.
The corner of the mall parking lot hums with white tents and people in expensive flannels and dark blue jeans milling about sipping coffee. This market doesn’t only sell local fruit and vegetables, and interspersed are stands selling artwork and craft bloody-mary mix and homemade beard balm. I join the other people, winding through the aisles stopping here and there to stare at a particularly sharp woodcut print or finger a lush hand-knit scarf.
Hey Bud! How are you?
I turn to find a woman wearing a long-sleeved button up and a down vest standing behind a table filled with potted plants. Bud was my father’s name and I wonder if this woman knew him or if I, like so many other friendly but unknown Coloradans, fall into the “bud” category. I feel a rush of heat realizing I am already comfortable imitating my father, responding as if I’m him. I wonder how long until I can’t tell the difference between us, or who I imagine him to be, until I am sitting in his recliner wrapped up in his beliefs.
When I walk over to the table there’s no hint of recognition in the woman’s eyes.
This one is great if you live in an apartment. A Peace Lily cleanses the air, no need for a purifier. Plus that’s a hand thrown pot. I fired it in my own kiln.
I touch a leaf, the glaze of the pot.
Isn’t it too cold out here for these? I ask, pointing to three Venus Flytraps in small sunrise-pink pots.
Oh! These little guys are amazing. I just read an article this week that researchers believe they can absorb the short-term memories of their prey. Something to do with calcium transfer. Can you imagine what it would be like for a plant like this to suddenly know what it feels like to buzz around like a housefly? No wonder they eat bugs.
I don’t say that they would also then know the terror of having that flight suddenly taken away, of dissolving into the dark. They would truly know what it is like to experience themselves.
And they can tell the difference between prey and other things. If a raindrop lands, instead of a fly, they don’t close up. They know that rain is rain…
She continues on but I’ve already made up my mind. I buy all three. She puts them in a low-edged box, the kind you get buying cat food in bulk, and I return to my apartment.
I try to find the best place for them, somewhere where they will get sunlight, and I realize the woman never answered my question. I don’t know if they will survive in the cold here. I set them on the end table by my father’s recliner, turn on the lamp above them.
Through the window I see light snow falling. The kind that doesn’t stick. The kind that disappears once it touches anything. I take off my father’s skin and set it aside. I can’t bring myself to get rid of it, but I won’t be wearing it again either. I briefly think about tearing off little pieces to give to my new plants, maybe some misguided attempt to share his memories, or to learn if they’d keep their hungry mouths open, recognize him as rain.
Instead I go out on our little patio and look into the city, hold my arms out to feel each snowflake on my own skin, pinpricks gone they moment land.
Evan James Sheldon’s work has appeared in the American Literary Review, the Cincinnati Review, and the Maine Review, among other journals. He is a senior editor for F(r)iction and the Editorial Director for Brink Literacy Project. You can find him online at:
http://www.evanjamessheldon.com, Twitter @EvanJamesSheld1.