My dad died in October. That week I fixated on objects.
The blue bathrobe we bought at the Big & Tall in San Francisco when I was 13. My father was not shopping there because he was tall. “These aren’t clothes, these are living quarters,” he would say, among other things. We laughed so hard my mother was worried we were offending the other customers.
The morning my father’s death was announced, my cousin posted about the alligator clips. I had forgotten those violent little clips– how they punished my curiosity. He would use them to clip on a napkin bib every morning, before he started the car for the trip to school. He would take alternate sips of scalding hot coffee and bites of buttered roll as he drove.
My father was dying in the living room. The room overlooks the river he had gazed at while writing five editions of textbooks, countless law journal articles, dozens of tooth fairy poems, and tiny notes in tiny hand folded inside hundred dollar bills. The dining room table’s beautiful blond wood was covered with the folding mats my sister and I would lift awkwardly out of the closet for holiday dinners, on top of which were medical supplies, from adult diapers to skinny straws to those plastic pink rectangular hospital basins. My mother, hater of waste, didn’t skimp on the boxes of plastic gloves and little pink swabs on a stick that helped moisten his dry mouth. Then after he died they threw it all out. Not one pill can be repurposed for someone else. And they must be disposed of in person, as it were. You cannot throw a whole full bottle out. Each bottle carefully and laboriously emptied into the trash. Death, rules of.
The week he passed (an expression I used to hate but whose gentleness I have come to appreciate) the grandchildren picked raspberries and played a weird invented game with a stuffed sheep. They radically loved it but haven’t played it since. The few times my son came inside he would walk slowly up to grandpa’s bedside and look wide-eyed at his sunken cheeks and labored breath. And then he would turn around and go outside again. The raspberries have been in the freezer until this week, when I made jam. With the jam I may just make that insane cake my father invented out of pure passion and my mother loathed: a pound cake filled with raisins, with alternate layers of apricot and raspberry jam. And a thin layer of vanilla icing drizzled over the top.
The day he died I went to the dentist. She sat me in the chair and took out alligator clips.
Somewhere there is a Big & Tall where my father is eating raisin pound cake with an alligator clip bib and staying just this side of socially acceptable. But there’s a group gathered around him for the running commentary and they’ve got laughing eyes and icing dribbling down their chins.