why a grown man lugs tools for his father. I was home for the winter—mourning careers—and Dad needed my help. Flooding was general all over Jersey. Hurricane winds scraped the shingles from roofs. Uprooted oaks lay hammocked in power lines. Electricity abandoned its outlets. My father? He empowered the powerless. Me? I carried tools from the truck to the house. Dad introduced me to homeowners. Customers with whom I shook hands. Yes, I conceded, we do look alike—but Dad downplayed the resemblance.
We waded through a concrete basement where beheaded Barbies and deflated footballs and the core of an apple and hamburger wrappers floated on oily water. A possum had drowned—someplace nearby—its scent circumventing the tissues we’d stuffed in our noses. Dad rewired the breaker. I hammered staples to beams. I wrung out my jeans and climbed to the attic to free insulation from ceilings, coughing as fiberglass tunneled into my lungs. I put my foot through the ceiling where children were playing. I sawed circle in sheetrock, when what we needed were squares. The job took longer than Dad had expected. Next week, he told the homeowners. We’ll finish next week. There were limits to what we could achieve in one day. Like there are limits to the patience of homeowners: they would find someone else.
In the truck Dad spoke to his hand, rambling, as if I weren’t there.
“So how did I do?” I interrupted.
“Not as bad as I thought,” he said. From him it was nearly sanctification.
“Maybe,” I ventured, “if I can’t find a job else—”
“No,” he said.
“It’s not as bad as I—”
“Don’t ever say something like that. Don’t joke about that. It’s a trap. You hear me?”
“You’ll think everything’s fine, you’ll have money to eat, money to marry, money for clothes and money for kids, and then poof! you’re living in this fucking town, living this life, here—” We pulled into the driveway. Mom stood with her back to the living room window. Oblivious? Dad cut the engine. I watched him carry his tools to the garage.
If current is measured in amps and love is measured in power and currency a measure of power, how can I measure my father’s advice? What is it? A bulb, I decided, a floodlight, 500 watts, scattering shadows at the edge of his life.
Alex McElroy’s fiction appears or is forthcoming in Indiana Review, Gulf Coast, Diagram, Tin House Flash Fridays, Nashville Review, and elsewhere. Currently, he serves as International Editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review. Links to more work can be found here.