Cocktail Party

Suits on hangers
Photo by Yasamine June on Unsplash

The closet stands open: four suits of various male tints, a shirt with an orange stain, suspenders in surrender. Cocktails, says Dad. With people who vote.

I take a seat on the bed beside him. You have to frame being 94 as an advantage, so many more clever political moves, more fascinating stories. The hindsight alone.

Hindsight is what I'm worried about, says Dad, hoisting himself off the bed toward the suits. I don't think any of them fit. The waist alone.

I look around for a clean shirt.

Some people, he says, waste away. That's what's supposed to happen.

You're an exemplar of vigor, I say. Let's go shopping.

He's sorrowful for a minute—about the expense? the waste of an expensive new suit, given his age?—then he reaches for his shoes.

***

Extremely fashionable, says the clerk, waving the merchandise, cane in hand, all sales. Metal-handled or bone? We have wood too.

Dad, having teetered into the store, brushes him aside, or nearly crashes into him with tipsy disdain. We're here for electability. What did Nixon wear?

Maybe not him, I say, seeing the blank look on the clerk's face.

Dad takes a combative stance: legs planted, forefinger shoving at his glasses because his hearing aids make them slide forward.

I push suits this way and that.

The tailor at last emerges from a dressing room, where surely he has been doing something furtive, or hiding.  Measurements first, I believe?

A hundred years ago, says Dad, throwing his arms out for the embrace of the tape, my size would get out the votes. It meant success, enough bacon on the table.

The tailor jots down numbers. When he says nothing, Dad says, I swell up from medication. She gives it to me, he says, as if it's inflicted.

I admit I started doling out same soon after his diagnosis a month ago, after I refused to give him my kidney. I have to allow him some credit though, he did hesitate, averring that a daughter's organ might be too feminine.

The three suits the tailor produces as samples Dad slips into to finger where the jacket might come together. No need to button, says the tailor. Open, it emphasizes the vertical.

You should run for office, says Dad.

***

After writing and rewriting his stump speech with me, reviewing everything he's read in the news and arguing the finer points, he's ready for the party. When I show up in his bedroom wearing a good dress, he tells me I'm not coming, and picks up his invite and waves it. I'll do just fine without you. A couple of drinks—

This last is under his breath. He knows he should not even sniff a cork. Not so much because he'd overindulge but because it might kill him.

You only live once has been my motto since I ran for judge, he says. Life sentences. He tickles his hands into the shirt I've just ironed.

Yeah, but that was also the motto of most of the plaintiffs. I unleash his suspenders. Wouldn't I be an asset? At the very least, as your handler. I can burnish your illustrious past.

I've been nursing him now for three weeks too long, awaiting another sibling's arrival in another three weeks. He refuses Assisted Living, says it's just assistance, he can do the living. Is this contempt from something dementia, or is it his true self making an appearance? I know he's jealous that I'm still young, relatively speaking, with the aforementioned spare kidney.

Maybe they'd like to hear about a small-town girl doing well? I say, watching him snap his suspenders.

Yeah, he says. You're not in jail. You're not supposed to leave the small town to do well, he says. Shame on you—that's what they'd say.

I smooth the area on my blouse over my heart where it hurts. I thought I reflected the place pretty well.

I need the support of my party, he says. I can now raise a glass with impunity. Forsooth, give me my sword. He has his hand out for his new metal-topped cane. He winks at me. To mollify me? Meet the candidate, he says. He flourishes the cane.

Any yahoo can file, I say.

***

It's an hour's drive to the party. I can't exactly drive home and wait for his call for pickup. It's cold out, maybe it would be best if I come in, I say. I'm still dressed.

Park around the corner, he says. And run the heater.

He exits in steamroller style, girth first, a lot of gravity where he feels his foot forward not so fast. He leaves the cane in the car. A sign of weakness, he says when I run after him with it, but he allows me to take his arm like a bride. I deliver him to the doorstep where he asks if his teeth look good—excellent, I reassure him—and dismisses me. Only when I've stepped back into the car does he knock.

***

An hour and a half is what he's estimated for his retrieval. He can't be bothered to fetch me with his cell phone, I'm to ring the bell like livery. In the meantime, I'm chilly. I read in the car and listen to the radio. The snowfall isn't too bad. It's spring and the flakes are wet and decorative. The truncated prairie at the end of the street offers no view. Correction: a high-end Winnebago trailer sits crookedly where the street peters out, advertising the wealth of the neighborhood, proving that politics always runs on money. Maybe especially here, at least in terms of influence. Dad’s suit was a good investment.

But I'm sad. He wasn't like this before. Or was he? I probably thought this was how all dads operate.

***

I allow him an extra ten minutes. When the door opens on the dregs of the party, the hostess, handing over Dad, exclaims how they would've loved to have chatted with me. Has Dad, head down, used my accomplishments as part of his spiel?

He waves the hostess and her love of me away, he tries to hurry to the car but has to rely on me for the finer points of the steps to the street. What's the voting age here? he asks, his voice gruff from his drink, or from having no one to talk to.

We're just at the other end of the state, Dad, not another country.

The party was full of kids.

What did you expect? High flyers like yourself? Get real.

Last week he said he'd disinherit me if I didn't help him win. You'll be the laughingstock, I said. Later that day he had me sit in the sale barn's front row with him. I thought it was a privilege but it's where you get dung in the face from upset cows.

Get real, Dad repeats. He's about to follow up with something pithier but perhaps notices the way my jaw has tightened to fight tears. I only had one drink, he offers as conciliation.

Were you standing up the whole time?

I gave the speech standing, he says. He rolls down his window and lets the wadded-up speech flutter in the snowy air.

Don't litter! Somebody's got to pick it up.

Are you sure about that? His mouth falls open, pro-nap. Are you really sure? What evidence do you have?

That's what you always told us.

He lets the paper fly.

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