I rang the doorbell and shifted from side to side on the grimy front stoop. The morning air is thick and stale. The carafe of coffee in hand, along with the patrol car parked on the curb, reminded me to focus.
When Dad finally answered the door, he stopped to smile, leaning on his walking stick for support, his shaking hand temporarily stayed by the feeble grasp on the front door. “Ara,” he greeted.
“Hey Da.” I stepped in and bent to kiss his forehead. The hallway is covered in dust and cobwebs and a hint of black mold where the bowed ceiling meets the walls. “Brought you coffee.”
His smile curls into existence, shining out from the web of wrinkles and crinkles in his weathered face. “Come sit.”
In slow steps, we made our way to the drab sitting room. The rickety furniture groaned and squealed as he eased into the recliner and I perched on the opposite chair. The end table soon held the carafe of coffee and the two camp mugs nestled in my overcoat pockets.
As I pour the blended caramel colored brew, Dad’s eyes closed in dreamy pleasure. The familiar scent of his favorite coffee is comforting. “Remember the first time I sent you for coffee?” His hands toyed with the fat silver ring on one finger as they hold his walking stick steady. “You were so scared,” he recalled. Milky blue eyes dimmed as he faded into the memory, the smile on his face evening out.
“I was terrified,” I corrected, surreptitiously sticking a finger over the edge of his mug to test for temperature. The last time he’d burned his tongue, I’d felt guilty for weeks. “I’d only been driving for two weeks and you wanted me to use the drive-thru!”
“It was just coffee,” he chuckled.
I dug a handful of crumpled tissues out of my coat pocket and flattened them out. I handed over the cup, nestled in a napkin for safety’s sake. “It was driving up to the ordering window without grazing off the side mirror or having to open the door. Not to mention remembering to ask for what, six creamer?”
“Six,” he nodded, the walking stick forgotten as he cradled the cup of drinkable coffee close to his chest. His trembling hands sloshed it from side to side, but I’d poured just enough so it wouldn’t spill. I’d done this before, after all.
“I had to pull over in the parking lot when I was through—my hands were shaking so badly, I couldn’t grip the steering wheel.”
He laughed, long and echoing in the empty house.
I watched him until the smile faded and he contented himself with drinking the coffee. “Da?”
A baleful look settled in those blue eyes. Good. He was back to himself.
I took a swallow of my own coffee to steady myself. I hated this part. “They have you on camera, Da. You break out of your room, you hide from the security guard and then you break out of the building. Then you’re off camera, until a patrol officer radios in that you’re standing on the front porch of our house, trying to open the door.”
“Couldn’t find my keys,” Dad grumbled. “Had a spare-”
“No, Da.” I refused to let him look away. “You took them when we moved, remember?”
His hands shook even worse.
I set my cup down and moved to kneel by his hair, holding his hands around the warmed mug. “Da, you can’t keep doing this. I know you miss Mum, but you’re scaring me. It’s not your fault the fire started.” My voice wavered, because the back of the house is charred, but the front—where we sit—is mostly intact.
“Miss Behr?” Officer Jennings stood in the doorway, worry on his face. “I let him in because I was worried he might hurt himself, but-” He gestured, apologetically.
“That’s fine.” I rose and picked up Da’s walking stick. “We’re leaving just now."
"How is he?"
"The flashbacks are easing up, the shock will register. Soon.” At least, that’s what the doctors said. But Da’s been sleep walking since those eight months and that terrible fire.
Every time the phone rings before nine, I know I’ll be standing on the porch of my charred, childhood home and ringing the doorbell. He might get over it and he might not. But somehow, I can’t take this away from him.
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