Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over a 130 short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. His plays have been produced in several American states. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee.
Every Day Is Saturday
By Steve Carr
I slowly push aside the curtains and let the white morning sunlight wash over me. The room is flooded with the light, erasing all the shadows that inhabited it during the night. I raise the window just a few inches, allowing the breeze filled with the fragrances of honeysuckle and freshly mowed grass to rush in. It toys with the edges of the doilies on the dresser and the gold fringe on the lamp on the stand next to the bed. The ticking of the clock set in a wooden, carved seahorse that hangs above the dresser gently echoes, like the whispering of a clicking tongue. The bundle of bright yellow dandelions have wilted and droop over the lip of the crystal rose vase on the antique stand in the corner. Before I wake my father I take the flowers from the vase and throw them in the waste basket by his bed. The basket is filled with crumpled tissues and cellophane peppermint candy wrappers.
He sleeps on his side, curled in a fetal position. He rests his face on his hands that are pressed together prayer-like between his head and the pillow. His face is lined with hairline wrinkles and his hair is the color of milk. From his breathing I know that he’s awake, but he hasn’t opened his eyes. I place my hand on his shoulder and gently shake him.
“Dad, it’s time to get up,” I say.
Without opening his eyes he unfurls his thin body and rolls onto his back. With his long, arthritic fingers he grasps onto the pale green comforter that covers him. He holds onto it for a moment as I pull it away. Uncovered, he lets his trembling hands rest on his chest like wounded butterflies. His pajamas have tiny prints of cowboys spinning lassos above their heads.
“Open your eyes, Dad,” I say.
He opens one, and as if giving me a wink, it’s a moment before he opens the other.
“Did you sleep okay?” I say.
“I had a dream I turned into a duck,” he says.
I toss aside his covers and help him sit up on the edge of the bed. “Wait there while I get your wheelchair in place,” I say.
“Quack, quack,” he says.
I position the wheelchair by the bed and watch as he transfers into it. His body is frail and every movement he makes is done tentatively, as if he’s made of twigs that could easily snap.
When he’s seated in the wheelchair, I say, “Do you know what day it is?”
“It’s Saturday,” he says.
Looking out the window above the kitchen sink, I watch the neighbor’s cat climbing on the tool shed roof in our back yard. It’s a bright orange tabby cat. Its fur shimmers in the sunlight. Three gray squirrels in the tree by the shed scramble from branch to branch, their tales raised and quivering, challenging the cat. The yard is carpeted in bright yellow and pale red leaves, but the tree is thick with multicolored foliage.
“I think fall has started early this year,” I say.
Jan is seated at the table. She bites into a piece of dry toast. It crunching between her teeth sounds like muffled gun shots. Her cup of coffee has gotten cold.
“I have to go to the funeral home today to make sure everything is ready for tomorrow,” she says. “Can you come along?”
I dip my hands in the sudsy water in the sink and wiggle my fingers creating ripples that push clouds of suds over the edge of the dishpan. A small brown cricket that fell into the basin struggles to extricate itself from the suds that circle the drain. I put my hand down next to it and let it crawl into my palm. My hands dripping, I take the cricket to the screen door, open it, and toss the cricket into the grass and then close the door. I’ve left a trail of suds and water from the sink to the door.
“You’ve done nothing to help,” Jan says, and then takes another bite of toast. Another gun shot.
Through the screen door I watch as the cat balances itself on the top ridge of the roof.
I hear the sound of the neighbor’s lawn mower being started. He mowed his front yard yesterday. His lawn mowing routine has always been a two-day exercise, with constant touch-ups where he runs the mower over small patches of grass. He has the best manicured lawn in the neighborhood.
I turn and say to my dad who is sitting at the table across from Jan, “Would you like to spend some time at the river this afternoon?”
Jan throws the toast down on the table, stands and then walks out of the room.
“Okay,” Dad says.
The river is swollen and overflows the banks. It’s muddy and small trees and other debris are carried along in its strong currents. I toss a stick into the water and watch as it’s quickly carried away. Hearing them honking, I look up and see a flock of geese flying in V formation in the pale blue sky. Here, the air is almost balmy.
“Trent likes the river,” Dad says. “We shoulda brought him along.”
He shifts in his wheelchair and then leans on one of the arm rests. His hands grip the blanket lying over his lap and legs. The back of his hands are lined in bulging blue veins and raised brown and purple spots; they’re like topographical maps.
“This is the spot we used to fish from when I was a kid,” I say.
Dad stares at the water and says, “Did you bring the fishing poles?”
A brown and black mutt come up to us and stands a few feet away, its head lowered, its tail wagging. It has no collar and its hair is matted and dirty. It’s emaciated.
I approach it slowly and let it sniff the back of my hand. It licks it. Its tongue feels like wet sandpaper on my skin. Its entire body shakes back and forth with excitement as I pat its head.
“Look, Dad, I’ve made a friend,” I say.
“Come here, Ranger,” he says.
“This isn’t Ranger,” I say.
Dad searches the pockets in his windbreaker, than says, “I don’t have a biscuit for Ranger.”
“This isn’t Ranger,” I say, again.”
“Come here, Ranger,” he says to the dog.
“This isn’t Ranger,” I scream.
Trent’s bicycle, skis and surf board are held onto one wall of the tool shed with bungee cords. A box with his football, basketball, soccer ball and a can of tennis balls is on the floor in a corner.
I empty dog food into a large bowl and sit it on the floor. Ravenously, the dog quickly eats it and then pushes the empty bowl around with his nose before he begins lapping the water in another bowl. I put the collar around his neck, fasten it and attach the leash. He resists only slightly as I lead him away from the bowls and out of the shed.
Beneath a late afternoon dull blue sky I turn on the hose, pour shampoo on the dog, and begin to wash him. He stands perfectly still except for his continuously wagging tail.
Jan comes opens the screen door and stands in the doorway for a moment watching what I’m doing before she comes out. She lets the screen door bang shut as she comes down the steps.
“What are you doing?” she says as she crosses her arms.
“Isn’t it obvious?” I say as I lather suds into the dog’s fur.
“Who’s dog is that?” she says.
I pull clumps of dirt and hair from the dog as I rub the shampoo into his skin. “He’s a stray. He was down at the river and he seemed so alone I couldn’t leave him. Dad thinks he’s Ranger.”
“Who’s Ranger?” she says.
“A dog I had when I was Trent’s age.”
Jan brushes back with her fingers a strand of hair that had fallen over her forehead. “Is this the time to be bringing a dog into the house?”
I nod toward the shed. “He can stay in there for the next few days. I stopped at the pet store on the way home and picked up everything needed to take care of him. I’ll take him to the vet and dog groomer after the funeral and then he can be brought into the house.”
“Does that mean you’re coming to the funeral?”
“It’ll be a beautiful service and the cemetery plot is in a beautiful location,” she says.
“I’m still not going.”
Jan turns around and goes back into the house.
My neighbor turns on his lawn mower. It startles the dog who cowers against my legs.
I pet his head and say, “It’s okay, Ranger.”
Dad fumbles with the wrapping on a piece of peppermint candy for several minutes, but unable to unwrap it, flings the candy across the living room. I pick it up and take off the cellophane and start to hand the candy to him.
“I’m not a baby,” he says, smacking my hand away.
“I know, Dad. I know.”
I hold the candy out for him and he takes it from my fingers and puts it in his mouth. As he sucks on it he turns his attention to the television. A western is showing. Westerns are the only thing he watches.
Jan is in the kitchen washing dishes. She has the radio on. Latin music is playing. It’s rhythm pulsates through the wall.
I go to the front door, open it, and stand in the doorway looking at the twilight sky. Rays of purple, red and gold are fanned out across the sky. Several large crows are on the lawn, strutting about as if they own it. The street is quiet and none of the neighbors are outside.
The cat that was on the shed early in the day suddenly appears, bounding across the yard, scaring off the crows. It sits in the grass and licks its paws.
I miss Trent so badly, my heart aches.
In the light cast by a crescent moon I sit on the back steps and watch as Ranger explores the yard. Clean, he looks like a different dog, although his thin frame has become more obvious. He’s sniffing under the leaves, frequently returning to the same spot. I walk to where he has his nose buried under some bright yellow leaves, push him away, and shove aside the leaves with my foot. The carcass of a squirrel lays in the grass, its body torn and parts missing.
Jan is sitting in front of the vanity dresser mirror brushing her hair. She’s not looking at her reflection, but has her eyes closed and is quietly humming some tune I don’t recognize.
I stand at the open window and stare up at the star-cluttered sky. A warm, moist breeze is flowing in. In the distance the siren of a police car shrieks.
I turn from the window. “For a moment, when I was putting Dad in his bed, he didn’t know who I was,” I say.
Jan opens her eyes, places the hairbrush on the dresser, and looks at me. “That’s never happened before,” she says.
“No, it hasn’t,” I say. “It kinda gave me an unpleasant jolt.”
“You knew it was going to happen eventually,” she said.
“I’m not prepared for what will happen to him.”
“We weren’t prepared for what happened to Trent, either,” she says.
“I don’t want to talk about Trent.”
“He was your son. He took his own life. You can’t be mad at him forever about that,” Jan said.
“Yes I can.”
I awake in the darkness, in the middle of the night. I say his name aloud. “Trent.”
Sunlight bathes Dad’s face. His skin glows. I straighten my tie and place my hand on his shoulder and gently shake him.
He rolls onto his back and sneezes. I pull a tissue from the box and hold it to his nose.
“Blow,” I say.
He opens his eyes and blows into the tissue. I wad it up and toss it into the waste basket.
“We have to get you ready for Trent’s funeral,” I say, the words choking in my throat.
“Trent is gone?” he says.
I look into his eyes, seeing the confusion in his gaze. “Do you know what day it is?” I say.
“It’s Saturday,” he says.