Dad’s Barracuda

Tom Nugent

I don’t know anything. That’s what you should understand about me — I’m dumb as a hunk of moon granite, and the only thing I own is this little bit of music floating inside my head. And maybe not even that.

Talking to my old man. He’s sitting in the wheelchair. He says: “Those two nephews, those two little shits — they swiped my barracuda and that’s a fact.”

“Dad, they’re just getting it cleaned. They’ll bring it back on Monday.”

He looks at me. His eyes are bright, bright, my ruined dad. Blue eyes, glowing with the madness of his condition. I don’t mind. It’s what we do. I seem to remember a line from an old song: I had to find out what condition my condition was in.

“They’re sneaks,” says Dad. “They got my shaving lotion, too. Do you think I was born yesterday?”

I don’t say anything. Believe it or not, I’m thinking about Toynbee, about his suggestion that the identity of the Western world was determined by a single fact: “The Franks gave up their language on the Romanized plains of Gaul.”

“I want chocolate yogurt,” says Dad.

“All right,” I tell him. “And you will have chocolate yogurt.”

Oh, the bright day. I’m watching a spangle of afternoon light inch across the nursing home carpet.

The thing is, I’m half-convinced that both Dad and I were hatched in a world ruled by owls. Bear with me on this. Our cultural roots lie in western Normandy — and in that very interesting region, the Roman influence came late. We converted (there’s no denying that fact), but we converted late, and the rains of the Atlantic coast continue to have a powerful impact on us. Sometimes, when broken sunlight checkers through rain along the Normandy coast, you can almost hear the owls speaking to you.

The leaves throw their idle shadows on the grass, and for a moment your grief is a bright dagger lapped by crimson blood.

“Well,” asks Dad. “When are we getting my damn yogurt?”

TOM NUGENT is the author of two novels and two collections of short stories, along with several works of nonfiction, including Death at Buffalo Creek (W.W. Norton), a book of investigative journalism about the U.S. coal mining industry. He lives in Hastings, Michigan.

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