Her Favorite Word

1962, Detroit: Ralph, Age 18, Clerk at the 7/11

My daddy was a cheater, a dead-eye deleter, his gut giggly ruse: light the two minute fuse that Hiroshimaed momma into twenty tiny atolls of mammalian animosity. His days: beer, bull and baseball stats in Speedy’s body shop, welders and sweltering Lucky Strike-a-fied air. His nights at TV, an ancient Motorola, scarred with cigarette burns. One channel: The Tigers. I rarely saw him without a Stroh’s, an aluminum appendage, a metal mitt. But he broke down the day she stroked by the oven, slathering turkey with butter, his turkey, just the way he demanded it. He wandered the alleyways, kicking trash cans over, pounding his fist into brick, came home bleeding hands, oozing at every pore with self-pity, the feathered specter of the pain he caused her perched on his shoulder, whispering crow calls, cat calls and his caterwauling inner spirits. The VA pills vegetized him. He dropped smokes, Stroh’s rolls, forks and facts. Until Sister Mary of the Incarnation, a friend from his school days. Smile like the smell of a fresh-cut melon. She heard about his pain, came with no pamphlets, no church bake-offs. Just a friend. Days, weeks, months. They talked quietly in the smoky-draped den. He wouldn’t drink with her around. One Sunday morning I’m cramming in Krispy Creams, chuckling at Dilbert in the Sunday comics, when he breezes through the kitchen, tie and shoeshine, a bright, clean shave, and B-B-B-Brill Cream! When they married, I mourned a while. The old life roller coastered with cruel folly, but my testosterone had grown to like the rocky, lightning pace. Now, well, I will confess, I think I’ve begun to understand the meaning of her favorite word, the way she smiles when she whispers it, especially at dawn: “Grace.”

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