I had already cleared the altar – a shelf in the kitchen – of the food I had set out for the ancestors: the bowls of homemade soup, the whole wheat bread with butter, the gingerbread and coffee.
The coffee was for Dad. He thought coffee was a food group. In the months before he died, he would lie in bed late every morning and holler to my mother in the kitchen, “Caaaaw-feeeeee, caaaaw-feee!” Meaning hurry up and bring it now. He was dying so he could get away with that.
I had gotten him the best: a Costa Rican bean, light roast, ground fine. Even though Day of the Dead was over, I figured Dad would want a morning cup before his return trip, and would stick around for it. I no longer drink coffee, but I had a cup too. As I clinked his cup I stared at the photos I had put up – in one he has his chin raised, and he stares back at the camera, his eyes very blue. He looks forbidding and remote. In the other one he’s outside, with trees and an overcast sky behind him. He looks up from beneath the brim of his tweed hat, both his hands up to adjust the brim. He’s smiling a little. The position of his hands on the brim is like a double salute, like he’s saying, okay kid, over to you now.
I talk to both pictures. I fill him in on the past years, a lot of little stuff about what I’m doing and thinking, how his granddaughter is doing. I tell him that I haven’t seen Mom in a while, but I call her every couple of weeks. Mom and I seem to manage better that way. I don’t cry or blame or apologize – I did that yesterday. Today is more like when I used to go home and he would walk me around the yard to show me how all the plants and trees in the yard were coming along. Only this time it’s me doing the show and tell.
I write him a check, like he always did for me. I tell him it’s so he can take out the other ancestors to someplace really nice, a restaurant with a great view and excellent food – that was always his idea of heaven – on the way back. I burn the check over the sink until it’s turned entirely to ashes, making sure he gets it all.
Then I say goodbye for now, and wash the cups.
*This was first published in Tim Devin‘s zine, I left this here for you to read, issue #6. Tim left these zines in bus stations, in dentist’s offices, on park benches, and wherever, around Somerville, Boston, and Cambridge.