The windows of the corner room in my house were dark when I pulled in last night, which should have been no surprise. With a few exceptions, they have been dark since January.
I stopped the car in the driveway and thought about what was missing.
The glow of the television through the shutters was usually the thing that caught my attention. Even from the driveway, I could see images from the The Military History Channel strobing from light to dark in the shadowed room. In the foreground, Dad’s face was revealed when brighter images flashed on the screen. I could see him tilted back in his recliner.
He was waiting for me to come home.
As a teenager and young adult, I often returned home late. I’d turn the key in the lock as quietly as I could and take off my shoes so they wouldn’t make a racket on the green slate entry hall floor. At the sliding door that separated the hallway from the kitchen, one of our Springers would be snuffling along the half inch gap below the door. Slowly, I’d slide the pocket door open an inch or two, just enough to pat the soft brown head before closing the door and heading downstairs to my basement bedroom.
A few minutes later, it would start: Dad “buttoning up” the house. The springs of my father’s twin bed would complain and the wood floor creak slightly as he rose for his nightly rounds. Three steps to the end of the bed, another five or six to the doorway. It was quiet for a count of ten as he padded down the carpeted hallway past the bathroom, turning left into the front hall. Then a series of clicks: push-push, push-push. My parents’ 50s era house had buttons instead of switches to operate the lights, and none of us ever managed to remember exactly which switch operated what. So turning off the lights meant pushing the buttons to check whether everything was shut down. Then in reverse: movement down the hall, bathroom stop, bedroom door firmly closed, steps to bed, bed springs sounding their dissonant chord several times before Dad settled down. The house was secure.
This time last year, Dad would have been listening for the sounds of my return. He liked to retire by 10 p.m., but he’d often delay his bedtime if I wasn’t back. The bombs of Iwo Jima had decimated his hearing so much that he didn’t even turn on the television sound, relying instead on the closed captions. But something about the squeal of the garage door springs and the heavy whump of the door where we entered from the garage were within the range of his hearing.
When I peeked in, he’d be watching the door rather than the tv. “There you are, Bets. Did you have a good time?” He’d say he thought he’d retire, and I’d kiss him on the cheek. See you in the morning. “Shut the door, please,” he’d ask, so that the cat wouldn’t visit him during the night.
These days, his corner room is dark. And yet I feel he is still present.