JOHNNY LAI CC
Who’s Going to Pray for Me Now?
The deputy who called said that you’d gone to the restroom to pee, that your jeans had fallen to your knees, that your arm and hand were outstretched and propped on the wall, a brace that didn’t hold, unlike the spec homes you’d built for Habitat after the hurricanes along the Gulf. They said you couldn’t go because your kidneys had stopped functioning and filtering, and within a short time, your heart stopped, and you were gone. I wondered if that was what death was like—an incredible urge to pee and the sweet relief of finally going. I imagined you flew through that sheetrock and roof, looked back down on yourself all humped over with muscle turned to flab like a cicada shell stuck on the limb of a tree. After I wiped tears, the first thing that came to mind was who was going to pray for me now that you’re gone.
I remember that long ride to see you in Texas in Daddy’s Ford LTD with the pop-up headlights and fender skirts I thought were so cool; I didn’t understand why car companies stopped making them, or the white wall tires that were hard to keep white. Daddy made me put white shoe polish on them when we couldn’t get oil stains off. I remember Nana trying to act like riding in the back seat didn’t bother her, and since she never drove and never trusted Daddy and certainly didn’t trust him after that car was passing others on our side and was headed straight for us, how she kept punching her floorboard with her foot from the backseat to stop, and how Daddy’d said, “If they want to play chicken, I’ll show them who the king of the road is.” Daddy sped up until he side-swiped them, and we landed in a shallow bayou, an alligator swimming close to the front of the car, and Nana out cold because of the iron skillet she had to bring, because “I ain’t gonna scramble no eggs in a new-fangled pan Joe bought from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue.” At first, we thought she was dead. Then we saw the iron skillet had slid off the back-deck window and landed on her head.
We only stayed a few days because y’all fought when drinking hard liquor, you a Chevy man and Daddy a Ford man who got mad when you said Ford stood for “fix or repair daily,” and the ride home was miserable because we were crammed in that Japanese compact, but it was the only rental Daddy could afford because his insurance didn’t cover rentals. You and Daddy didn’t talk much, and you didn’t come visit even when Nana died from that brain aneurysm, and you called and said you couldn’t believe she was gone, that she was stubborn, Daddy was just like her, and it was her own fault because of that damned skillet she brought to Texas that had knocked her out and later paved the way for her aneurysm. You thought it was ironic that Nana died quickly and at home since she never got in another vehicle after she got back from Texas; she walked to the grocery store and to appointments, and certainly wouldn’t have gone to the hospital in an ambulance.
I am happy you quit drinking, got saved, and prayed for me every day. Sometimes, I could feel those prayers like a gentle breeze giving me comfort from the blistering heat, the same way you described a breeze when you could still put asphalt shingles on a roof before you slipped, fell, broke your back and had to take disability. I was happy you prayed for Daddy, and even though he only drinks Schlitz at night when he curses and damns everyone in Washington to hell, he still drinks Crown on the weekends and eats his eggs from Nana’s skillet with the big spoon because he can’t hold them on a fork since he has tremors. I’m praying for him like you prayed for me, but it doesn’t seem to take hold, and I’m hoping you find Nana and come for him when he takes his last sip, which may be soon because if he curses me one more time while I’m over here on the sofa minding my own business, I may take that skillet to his head.
Niles Reddick is author of a novel Drifting too far from the Shore, two collections, Reading the Coffee Grounds and Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, and a novella, Lead Me Home. His work has been featured in nineteen anthologies, twenty-one countries, and in over three hundred publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader Magazine, Forth Magazine, Citron Review, and The Boston Literary Magazine.
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