The news will be the liquid pop of a flashbulb in your brain; it will cause total erasure. You will dissociate from your body and see yourself from above. When two nurses in teal scrubs pass by the window, you will think:
They are having a normal day, and I am not.
You will think:
Who will take me to school tomorrow?
This question, posed seconds after, will be the first of many that are so logistical and quotidian you will feel guilt and selfishness for them.
Who will pack my lunch?
Who will walk the dogs?
Ten minutes after, the hospital counselor will leave you and your father in the room alone. Somehow your sister will arrive, though you won’t know who could have called her, or when.
Will I have to start using an alarm in the morning?
A half hour after, your sister will drive you and your father home in her convertible. The top will be down. Her hair will whip around as her hand rests on your father’s knee. In the backseat, in the wind, will be a chance to cry unnoticed, so use it. At home, when your father unlocks the front door, your two Rottweilers, Samson and Delilah, will greet you excitedly. Your sister will put on the kettle, and your father will shower.
Can Dad do laundry?
In the next few hours, many people you know and some you don’t—but who seem to know you—will come. You will try for hours to ease the houseguests with small talk as they look at you with wonder. It will be bewildering and exhausting. Your extended family will converge upon you from all corners of Texas, and the map of their travel will look like a crosshair with you at its center.
Who will take pictures of me?
That night, everyone will eventually leave, and you will be left alone with your father in a house that feels punctured, in a house through which spirits easily pass. You will sleep in the same bed as your father, with Samson and Delilah curled at the bed’s end, and you will feel cold touches at your neck between fever dreams.
(Delilah will sleep on your bed, and rarely leave your side, until your late teens.)
The first day after, you will want to bathe. You’ll enter the bathroom in which you found her, stand at the tub’s edge, and consider the small yellow stain on the porcelain. Assess your options: (1) Do nothing and hope it will fade, (2) Go under the sink for the toilet sponge, (3) Ask for help. You’ll choose (2), but the stain won’t go even after you hassle it, so you will settle for (3) and go to your father, who is on the back steps concentrating on the lit joint between his fingers. His elbows will rest on his knees, and he will wear the deeply slumped posture of a tree bowed by severe storm. Ask him to follow you to the restroom. Once there—he standing next to you with the joint still lit—you will bring yourself only to point and say, “I think maybe . . . Can you?” Your father will place the burning blunt on the windowsill and leave the room. You’ll hear a cabinet open and the wood floor whine under his step. When he returns with Ajax, he will roll his shirtsleeves to his elbows and spend the next half-hour kneeling in front of the porcelain, scrubbing.
Where would I go if Dad got hurt?
When you bathe again the next day, lead Delilah into the bathroom and ask her to lie down outside the shower curtain while you wash yourself. She will pant from the heat but not get up or leave. You will convince yourself despite contrary evidence that the stain is gone, but, even still, you will avoid touching your bare heel to the spot, which seems to radiate heat.
The third day there will be a gathering in the backyard. You won’t know who has made arrangements—it could not have been your father, who has been flitting aimlessly from room to room like a moth without a light—but there will be a catered meal, an impressive number of people, and an obituary in the Austin American Statesman. Your middle-school friends will be there, and so will your World History and Science teachers. Your guy friends will sit on the floor of your room, and you will lie on the bed encircled by girls—including Sasha—and you will secretly revel in the attention, and the pity, and you will hold on to Sasha extra long when she hugs you later, and all these good feelings will be edged with mold. In the backyard, under the drooping fig tree, you will sit on your father’s lap as the audience is called upon to share memories. Uncle Manolito will remember the time at the beach your mother and your aunt pulled down their bikini tops and flashed the Coast Guard helicopter. Your mother’s brother will remember when they put underwear on the golden retriever, and how she insisted they cut a hole for the tail. Her mother will say much about God’s divine plan, and it, along with similar talk over the coming months and years, will ignite a cold fire in you which will slowly and permanently consume your faith. Your father will share no memories but will weep heavily against your back, and all present will cry more than you, which will make you feel bad, but also stronger than everyone else.
The fourth day your sister, who lives in Dallas now with her husband, will cancel the rest of her stay at the Austin Marriott and instead sleep at the house for a few days. She will turn off her Blackberry. You will rent VHSs from Blockbuster—you’ll choose three sci-fi action flicks, and she’ll put a James Bond box set under her arm. Your father will join for the first part of Goldfinger, but when the woman painted gold turns up dead, he’ll say he’s tired and go to his room. After he’s gone, you and your sister will play video games for the first time together, deep into the night, and you will try to let her win.
The fifth day your father will go to the hospital. “Just to help Dad get some rest,” he’ll assure you. Accept your sister’s offer to go peach picking while he’s away. Making the cobbler together will be a second chance to cry. When she hugs you, she’ll stretch her fingers outward to keep the honeyed oats from your hair. Only later will you learn that your father had not slept since the day it happened, and when the doctors put him in a bare-bottomed smock and stuck him with tranquilizers, they had marveled at how a horse would have been knocked flat, but he had not.
The weeks after will be met with visitations of all sorts. Neighbors will leave pies—pecans fresh from Fredericksburg—and casseroles heaped with cheese. Tata will come stay for an extended period. She will make breakfast: scrambled eggs pumped full of milk, and café con leche. She will drive you to school in her forest-green Lincoln Towncar—what she calls her “old-fart vehicle”—and go forty in the school zone. You will relish the simple action of her directives: drink this, eat that, go outside a while, come here and hug me.
Your sleep will be restless. Animals will scurry across the roof. You will think you feel a palm flat on your back, and then you will turn over.
For months after, you will be smothered with platitudes:
“She is in a better place now.”
“She’s been returned to God.”
“It was her time.”
Bear them as well as you can. Hold on to friends like Eli, who will say, “Dude, that fucking sucks,” which says it better.
Do not dwell too long—or beat yourself up too much—over the thoughts and questions that will dart across your mind:
I bet Sasha will kiss me if I talk about it.
What if it had been Dad instead?
I wish I was handicapped.
Everyone else’s problems are pathetic.
I wish it had been Dad instead.
They are just thoughts; they are not who you are.
There will come a time, and it will happen gradually, when the visits stop, and you and your father become well and truly alone in the house. Black dog hair will clump at the baseboards, and much of the garden will die in a hard winter freeze. Most nights your father will make tacos with ground beef and McCormick’s seasoning, and you will heat the taco shells in the oven. After he loads his plate, and you yours, you will go to your separate rooms to eat. In this time, alone in your room, you will become a whiz with computers. You will live deep in the green 1s and 0s of circuit boards that are outside yourself, playing games of fantasy and adventure, and you will always play as the Necromancer. You will fall asleep to the sound and glow of the living room television coming from under your door. And beneath your bed will sit the wolf, which will not snarl or snap but rather wait and watch for what will be, I’m sorry to say, a very long time.
Twice in the coming year your father will stop what he’s doing—once with a soapy sponge against a plate, the other with the scoop halfway into the dog-food bag—and ask, “Am I an OK dad? Are we doing OK?” Do not hesitate. Say yes.
Your afflictions will be these: You will be at a loss to truthfully answer questions such as, How are you? What happened? Are you okay? You will experience a cleaving, and the pre-event you and post-event you will assume radio silence, and you will not know where the first you has gone except that it is to somewhere you cannot follow.
You will develop a recurring dream. This will be in your late teens. In it, your mother returns from the dead as a revenant. You are watering the lawn out front when you turn and see her standing at the bottom of the driveway. She wears an outfit you’ve never seen. You run to her, and she does not look like your mother, not exactly, but it is her. You say, “You’re back?” and she says, “I don’t understand it either.” You ask her where she has been these past years, and she says, confused, that she was taking a bath one second, and the next she was on Paramount and Montclaire walking home. You take her around the neighborhood reintroducing her to friends, and she tries to make conversation, asking about whatever was happening years ago. They close their doors, shrinking. Or they shout at her, and she keeps apologizing. She is sorry for everything. As you make the rounds, she walks slower and slower until she stops in the middle of the street and says, “We better just go home.” You take her there, and you ask who she is, really. She says she doesn’t know, and it is obvious that no one is more upset than she, because who could imagine coming back to life to find everyone wishing you’d stay gone? And neither of you know what to do, and you sit at the table holding hands, wishing she would disappear.
There are some fears I can assuage. You will learn to wake by alarm and to take the dogs on walks. You will get your first kiss, though it won’t be with Sasha. You will learn to do the laundry, and your father will make you peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch, and he will not forget. He will not harm himself. You will even share a joint, windows cracked, while driving to a family reunion, and eventually you both will find the shape of a relationship. Despite what you suspect, he will become an exceptionally good father.
Know that the wolf will never leave. Instead, he will become part of you. Welcome him, though he is terrible; the day you do will be the day you become a whole person. It is my responsibility to tell you that this will be the hardest thing you ever do, and it will hurt. But Danny, please know: there will be a revenant. It will not be her. It will be you.
Lucas Loredo was born in Austin, Texas. His work has been featured by Best American Short Stories, The Rumpus, The Washington Square Review, Kirkus Reviews, and The Southwest Review and profiled by Time Out New York, Juxtapoz, and The Wall Street Journal. He is now an MFA fellow at the Michener Center for Writers in his hometown.