I. Hairline crack.
I don’t know why I went south looking for my father, but I did.
When I was a freshman in college, I saw his face up in the clouds, a mental imprint strung high over Jersey City. I was driving down the Jersey Turnpike and the image emerged like an apparition: his dark hair inverted to white and a soft smile playing on his lips. It held steady until the wind changed and then started to disintegrate.
I had to ask someone if it was really there, worried I’d gone mad. (We do that in my family sometimes, though no one likes to talk about it.)
The fact: My father was dying, and we had just finished the last coherent conversation we would have.
The fact: He was dissipating, and I could see it.
At St. Francis Hospital the hour before, a pair of elderly women had fought over baby dolls in the hallway by his room, thrashing from dual wheelchairs in loose, blue gowns. They clawed at me as I edged past, crying like children. They reached out as if I could help, but I averted my eyes and walked past them.
Safe, then, in the clarity of fluorescence, my sister and mom and I encircled my father’s bed, pushing down shadows and talking the small talk that precedes death.
We came together one last time as if through muscle memory.