Jason ran down to the deli a few blocks away to get a couple of sandwiches for lunch while Lisa started another load in the washer and folded his dried jeans. Lisa had a 2:30 seminar and they agreed she needed to attend, but until then she would help Jason with his laundry.
When he returned, they unwrapped the sandwiches–a pastrami on sourdough for himself, a turkey on wheat for Lisa and two bags of chips–on the coffee table and sat on the couch to eat. Jason had given away his dining room table years ago to make room for his desk, so meals were taken on the coffee table. For a few minutes they concentrated on their lunch. Because they’d overslept that morning, neither had eaten breakfast. Both were starving.
“Tell me about your dad,” Lisa said, pausing between halves of her sandwich. “What was he like?”
Jason wiped his fingers on one of the cheap deli napkins and thought about an answer to her question. “He was a man.”
“Well, I kind of assumed that.”
“No.” Jason shook his head. “Not just an adult male, but a man. There’s a difference.”
Lisa looked intrigued. “I’m listening…”
“He was strong and tough as anyone. I don’t think he was sick the entire time I was growing up. I know he never set foot in a doctor’s office unless it was for one of us kids, or when Mom got sick. He was a commercial fisherman until us kids came along, then, because Mom thought fishing was too dangerous, managed the cannery until he retired. Both are tough jobs that employ tough people.”
Lisa nodded and took a bite of the second half of her sandwich.
“But the same tough guy never raised a hand against his wife, never belittled us kids when we screwed up, never made us feel stupid. Life wasn’t perfect, by any means, but growing up I never doubted my parents loved each other and that both loved us kids.” He looked at her. “There’s an awful lot of people who can’t say that.”
Lisa hooked an errant lock of hair behind her ear. Her own parents had divorced when she was in grade school. Both remarried within a few years and she’d spent her childhood bouncing back and forth between the households.
Jason smiled as a memory came to him. “We had a dog when I was growing up, a goofy mutt named Festus.”
“Festus?” Lisa frowned.
“Festus,” he grinned. “It was the name of the lame deputy on Gunsmoke; my dad was a big fan.”
“Hey, I didn’t pick the name. I just loved that dog the way a little boy does. He was as much a part of my family as my brother, my mom, or my dad.”
“Like Hector,” he admitted. “Anyway, one day when I was nine or ten, Festus wouldn’t get up when I went to feed him in the morning. He’d never done that before. I went and got my dad, who explained that Festus was fourteen years old, really old for a dog, and dying.”
Jason nodded. “He explained to my brother, Jeremy, and me that everything dies sooner or later and that the best thing we could do for Festus was be there so he wouldn’t be scared. My father, the tough guy fisherman, sat down on the floor with us and took Festus’ head in his lap while me and Jeremy knelt down beside him. He held Festus’ head and stroked him and told him what a good boy he was, while Jeremy and I petted his back. We sat there like that until he finally stopped breathing.”
For a few moments, neither of them said anything. The remains of the sandwiches lay on the wax paper, forgotten, unwanted.
“He sounds like he was a really good man.”
For the first time all day, the loss of his father was beginning to feel real. He thought he might prefer the way it was before.
“You’ve never talk about him much.”
“Dad and I were never that close,” he said. “Not as close as I think either of us wanted.”
“Why’s that?” Lisa pinched off a corner of her sandwich and slipped the tidbit into her mouth.
“I don’t know. We just never had all that much in common. I think if my dad and I were just two men, unrelated, we’d be acquaintances, but not really friends.” He looked at her. “Know what I mean?”
“I was the artsy one, the one who took after Mom. Jeremy was the one who took after Dad. He was the football and basketball star, the hunter, the soldier. I sometimes thought Dad couldn’t quite figure me out.”
“What do you mean, ‘figure you out’?”
He paused for a moment, searching for a good example. “It’s easy to show your support for your kid when they’re a running back on the football team. You go to the games. You celebrate their touchdowns. You save their clippings from the paper. That’s easy. How do you show the same amount of support for your other kid who was named editor of the school newspaper? Then editor of the yearbook? There’s no cheering section for that.” Jason shrugged. “I don’t think he ever really figured that out.”
The dryer buzzed.
Lisa was on her feet before Jason could react. “I’ll get it.”
“You don’t have to do that. I can do my own laundry, you know.”
She leaned over to kiss his cheek. “Since you won’t let me come along to help you up there, doing your laundry lets me help you down here. Besides, I’m going to have to head to my seminar soon. You’re on your own after that.”
She hugged him then, kissed him again, and went off to fold his dry clothing. Jason remained on the sofa, staring at the remains of their sandwiches on the coffee table. After a moment, he reached over and began to re-wrap his sandwich. He was no longer hungry.