He still drops in occasionally on my dreams with pointless scraps of news from the afterlife, so when the image of his old house loaded and there he stood, loitering like a ghost in the front yard, it wasn’t a total shock. His back is turned, so Google hasn’t had (I’m oddly grateful for this) to blur his face. He stands between his mailbox and a newly planted dogwood whose huge white flowers seem too big for its thin trunk. It’s spring: the redbud is blooming too and the oak is leafing out with that unspeakably bright chartreuse of April. His left hand rests on his hip, his right is clutching mail he must just have taken from the box.
He’s likely thinking of something quite mundane (lawn care, I’d guess), but somehow the tableau— he’s dressed in white, his head is slightly bowed— puts me in mind of an aging, wingless Gabriel reliving his famous scene, recalling his lines, perhaps, or the odd look on Mary’s face. The photo, Google says, is five years old: he’s 81, has three years left. If it’s Friday, we’ll all be joining him, in an hour or two, for pizza. He’ll have cleared his sprawl of papers from the dining table to make room for us, there’ll be a box of red wine on the counter, some glasses. On a warm spring day like this, I’ll take the kids outside to play in his creek, catch minnows and crayfish, till the pizza comes. If not, he’ll likely come to our place soon…
The world is never so much with us as when it’s gone. I stare at the screen, fingers on trackpad, zooming and panning through the diorama. No matter the angle, my father’s looking away. Now I become the car with its high-tech rig of cameras: I approach, and slowly pass, and all the while he stands there, facing the oak as if he had some news to tell it—perhaps those letters in his hand are some top-secret summons or message it’s his job to deliver? And so he’s Gabriel again, a messenger, white dogwood blooms instead of a lily stalk, the iconography clear, except: he’s old, he has no wings, there is no Mary here.
It took one year for the cancer to do its job, a year in which I saw him almost daily. I like to think he had important things he could have told me had he chosen to. Or was it up to me to ask some question? Instead of asking, I fenced his yard with cedar for his old dog. Instead of telling, he turned on the television so we could watch John Wick, the Spurs. So much time together, so little said about the things that matter. (I haven’t started going through his papers; perhaps the important messages are there.) It was, I think, as if his back had always been turned. With every click, I half expect the man on the screen to turn, at last, toward me, who longs to see his face, who dreads the smear.