By: Rebeka Singer
Dad went on a road trip. Said he was headed south, destination Florida, so he could lie on the beach and just relax. He had been retired, (as he liked to put it), but just plain unemployed, for nearly ten years. He spent his days smoking pot, gambling at the casino, and sleeping around the house, bored and dreaming and lonely.
Before he left he had said things like: “There’s nothing for me here.” “Izzy is grown up; she has Teddy.” “I don’t have a family here.” “My parents are both dead.” “My older brother: dead.” “I’m next.” “I’m never coming back.” Mom told me he said these things.
Mom looked so sad everyday since he left. Said she was so sad, too, as if he had bought a one-way ticket gone. I couldn’t tell her that he hadn’t, only that he was a talker, a performer, even, and his money wouldn’t hold out and it would force him back. It was hard to convince her that his version of reality was distorted, since she never understood what it meant to be an addict, his lack of motivation to live with the rest of us.
She would call him and he wouldn’t pick up, wouldn’t return her calls, wouldn’t tell her when or if he was ever coming home. But I knew, he was too lonely, too poor to just live by the beach. So let him relax I told her—he’ll be home soon enough.
But he called me. This killed her, I think, when I told her that he would call me: from New York and Jersey, and about a week after he left, from Washington D.C.
It was July in New England. I was at Rejects Beach—that’s what us Rhode Island locals called it. I was with my boyfriend, attempting a brief escape from the sticky city heat that clung to your neck like a spider’s web, each bead of sweat tightening the wrap.
I checked my phone and had missed him, but there was a message. There was a long pause like he didn’t know it had begun recording. Then he started with the exuberance of a circus ringmaster: “Izzy!” My name was that of the star performer. He mellowed and told me that he was just thinking about me. And suddenly, I became me, again, to him. (No child really ever wants to stand on their parent’s stage.)
He told me he was standing in front of the Washington Monument. “What a, a magnificent structure,” he remarked. He paused and I imagined him squinting in thought. What did it mean to him? He told me he had never seen it up close until that moment and then asked me if I had, catching himself, remembering that I had in fact visited DC on a school trip. Sometimes he remembered my growing up, sometimes not.
“Maybe I’ll take you here sometime and show you the Washington Monument. You and me.” You and me, Dad. You and me. It was a dream. Like so many others that he imagined for himself, and then there were the ones that included us—Mom or me, the family. Those ones hurt the most, maybe. But you learn that it’s all just a dream, and hope isn’t a player.
“Oh my god!” he shrieked into the phone. “It’s a lizard.” He sounded clouded. “It’s an iguana! You wouldn’t believe— And it’s, it’s coming toward me. You wouldn’t believe this. An iguana—what do they call these? A Komodo dragon! Oh my god!” It sounded like he shuffled the phone from one hand to the other. “A Komodo Dragon and it’s coming toward me.”
I listened to his wild exclamations about an iguana approaching to attack him. His voice blended wonder and fear into a magical brew of delusion. Naturally, I wasn’t concerned—for the reasons he was, at least. “It’s coming closer. I…I have to go. I have to go. It’s coming at me!” I’d entered the circus once again. And he left me at the start. Hung up the phone and closed the curtains on the world’s greatest show.
I must have looked puzzled because Teddy sat up on the beach blanket. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh my god. You have to hear this.” I couldn’t help but smile. I didn’t doubt whether he believed that a Komodo dragon was after him. In his mind, it was true.
I put the phone on speaker and held it close to Teddy’s ear so he could hear the message over the ocean rough.
“Is he high?” he asked.
“Must be high.”
Teddy started laughing. “Save that.”
I put the phone down on the blanket and looked out across the ocean. A light breeze brushed over my searing skin. “Komodo dragons don’t live around here.”
At the water’s edge, a child’s sandcastle drowned.
Originally published October 16, 2014 at Extract(s).