My dad had waited for Trina his whole life. That’s what he told me anyway. Trina had one leg and that had something to do with it. He couldn’t explain it. He just kept saying, “She has one leg.” Then he’d look at me quizzically. When I tried to give words to the thoughts, he’d just shake his head like I didn’t understand. “She has one leg,” he’d say again.
The day of the wedding, we all waited in a Lake Tahoe government marrying office for the minister. The ceiling was short and we could hardly stand without our heads touching it. My dad sat in the front next to Trina. She wore a red pants suit and black cowboy boots. You couldn’t tell she was one-legged. The fake leg was plaster and the night before in the woods by the lake, she let me knock on it. It sounded hollow.
“You’ll break it,” she said.
“O.K.,” I told her. “I’ll break it.”
Then she threw back a drink from a bottle of wine and flashed an inky smile at me like a smear of stars in the sky.
The minister arrived, a man in his sixties, short, balding, wearing a three-piece suit. He stopped in the door and leaned against the jamb. He was drunk. Then he fell down and crawled to a podium at the front of the room. He was holding himself on one elbow on the podium, flicking through a pile of papers stacked there. He pushed his glasses up on his nose and held them there with a hand around an eye. He pointed at the open door and someone in the back closed it. He looked at my dad and smiled. Trina grabbed my dad’s hand and held it in both of her hands. It was the middle of summer but my dad wore the leather motorcycle jacket he’d worn since I was a kid. I painted an American flag on the back for him when I was twelve, copied from an art book I took out of the library and never returned. I still have the book. It’s sitting under a toolbox beside the water heater. Shit tends to disappear but I still know right where that book is.
My dad had found the jacket. He walked into the house one afternoon and said, “I got a new jacket,” and threw it on the kitchen table then spread it out on its back, the arms laid straight out. It was beat to hell, like someone wore it in a motorcycle crash.
“I can see you in that,” my mom said. She’d come in from some part of the house without us noticing. She was smiling. She had long teeth. She had hard teeth and proved it once by biting me on the foot. She said that all of her people had hard teeth. Something in the soil, she said as if they had all gone around finding teeth in the fields and pressing them into their gums.
“Looks antiquated,” I said.
My dad glanced at me and then looked away quickly. He didn’t like to look at me. “Why would you say that?” he said.
My mom bit the end of her finger, staring at me apologetically, like she’d forgotten to teach me something important.
“Don’t people like antiques?” I said.
“He reads too much,” my dad said. I couldn’t tell if he was talking to my mom or to himself because she’d made a fast exit. Dematerialized. She’d been practicing white magic with her friends.
“Where the fuck did she go?” I said.
“Fuck if I know.” He turned back to the jacket. I stood a little closer to him in the haze of our shared manliness.
“In any event, I like your new jacket,” I said.
He put it on and examined the road-rashed sleeves. “It’s not new though, is it? Maybe it is an antique, like you said.” He tried to look at me, but it was hard.
“Where’d you find it?” I said.
“Oh you know,” he said. “Shit turns up.”
“You mean like how shit disappears?”
“Something like that.”
“Turn around,” I said. There was a big splotch of pink paint on the back where the colors should be. “Wait here,” I told him and went to my room and under the bed where I’d hidden the art book. I flipped through it and found what I was looking for, the Jasper Johns painting of the flag. Carefully, I tore out the page. Then I took it to my dad and showed him. “I’ll paint this on the back.”
He was nodding slowly, staring at the page I was holding. “It looks like the flag, but it’s not,” he said.
“Something like that,” I said.
Later, I tacked the Jasper Johns page over my bed. It stayed there for a long time, years probably. Then one day it was gone, but I couldn’t tell you which day or even what year. It was just gone, like things are sometimes gone without you noticing.
Aaron Peters is a graduate of UC Irvine’s Programs in Writing and a 2013 recipient of the Henfield Prize for fiction. He lives in San Pedro, CA, where he is working on a novel.
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