portion of the artwork for Randall Brown's fiction

Eight Inches, Not Four
Randall Brown

I lied about the amount of snowfall so I wouldn’t have to visit, and when my father checked, I lied again, saying the city got less, the suburbs the worst of it. The lie reversed roles, so my father could say, “I’d be too worried about you. Stay where you are. I wouldn’t want something to happen.” He complained about the soggy vegetables, said the staff was using his shower when he went to meals. Even on the phone, I could smell that place, chlorine and urine, that stale stasis.

I took the snow from elsewhere, piled it on the deck—and made a postcard of it. I found a picture of elsewhere, too, and sent that. For seven days, I sent pictures of the snow that had fallen elsewhere. I attached notes about the neighborhood kids: snow angels and forts.

He sent a note back in what had become a tiny, barely readable scrawl. “The things you can do with eight inches,” he said. I taped it to my computer. I thought I’d mention that sometime later, at a memorial service, on the tombstone. I thought of all the other lies I'd told him—about what I’d ingested, where I’d been, the things that kept me from responsibilities. And the lie behind all these, that the truth would’ve hurt him more.

* * *

They called to tell me his legs had locked, that they couldn’t move. I came to find my father like that, stuck. They wanted me to talk him into the electric cart, say things like, “If you agreed to it, Dad, we could then go to places, Flyers games or fishing holes.”

“You hit anything on the turnpike?” he asked me. “Ice storms, raccoons, a strange blinding light from above?”

“Nothing like that.” I wanted to tell him something true then, something that wouldn’t hurt him, that would unlock his limbs, but I had nothing like that. Just things that would make him feel bad, about the Xanax I needed to go outside, my own trembling that never subsided, job titles made to seem as if I were somebody, months spent stuck inside, wondering what I’d need to believe in to make it back out.

“Did you get my joke,” he asked. “About the eight inches?” He trembled from the Parkinson’s, drooled, his face now made expressionless, things stiffened into place. A world without the possibility of anything different, until eventually one's posture curved into permanence.

“Got it,” I told him. “Very clever.”

Dust floated in his room, or at least I saw it. It made me think that we lived inside a snowglobe that someone had shaken. I held onto him and he held back. I imagined it a test of who would let go first. “Not me,” I said aloud. “Me neither,” my father answered, as if he knew.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 33 | Summer 2011