My Father’s Underwearhttps://i0.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/capeann.jpg?fit=1080%2C1080&ssl=110801080J. Edward KruftJ. Edward Krufthttps://i1.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/jedwardkruft.png?fit=94%2C96&ssl=1
My father died putting on his underwear. He managed the first leg, but on the next go around, he hooked his big toe on the elastic and did a header into the dresser.
My sister found him in full rigor and called me, then 911. The paramedics and I arrived at the same time. They were the ones who nailed it down.
“Course, you’d have to wait for the coroner’s report, but if you ask me, it was a header.”
“Definitely a header.”
Throughout his 57 years, my father thought nothing of saying things like: “I’m sweating like a negro on election day.” Only his word of choice wasn’t “negro.” For a long time, I too didn’t think twice about it. That’s what kids do: they parrot. Today, I cringe at the memory of running into a girl I crushed on who was with her Asian friend, who asked if I remembered her.
“Hard to say. You all look alike.”
Why am I telling you this? To prove I am now a penitent and changed man? Sorry, that’s another conversation. No, this is about my father, and his lethal underwear.
Let me say upfront, I mostly disliked him. Translation: I idolized him and suffered his follies; moreover, I felt I never met his expectations, while simultaneously aware that his benchmark fell well below the expectations I claimed for myself.
Say that three times fast, Dr. Freud.
Staring at his body, crumpled on the green shag that should have been replaced before Mom lingered and died in this very room, his underwear around his left thigh, his right big toe still cupping the waistband, I thought: OK, you got what you deserved. A ridiculous death. A pitifully funny death. A death polite people will say was tragic, only to then turn their backs and snicker.
When he was at the summit in my eyes, he took me hiking, up a mountain of switchback trails that was like walking the wrong direction to hell: it was hot, it was monotonous. He’d forgotten to bring water. Finally, at the top, he said: “That’s it,” and we headed back down.
OK, that’s it. That’s how it ends: too stupid to get your big-ass big toe through your JCPenney whites.
Still, seeing any man, let alone your father, stiff on the floor, blood around his head making the green shag look shit-brown, and the spot where he’d pissed himself a darker shade of green (did I mention, it occurred to me that this was the first time I’d ever seen my father’s penis?) – it’s an intimate thing. No understatement there. As detached as I felt just then, I also felt closer to him than I had in as long as I could remember.
About the penis thing: how was that possible? When I was a boy, hadn’t we changed in the pool locker room together? If so, wouldn’t it be natural to steal a furtive glance, if only to get a bead on my inheritance? It struck me: all the things we must have not done together, or had done and I’d forgotten, willfully or otherwise.
The truth is, he wasn’t a bad guy. Entirely. The off-color jokes and the sometimes seismic rages (did I mention those?) were not all there was. I had an imaginary friend, Georgie LaForgie, whom he would ask about and I would make up outlandish stories, and my father would laugh until he cried, which made me laugh until I cried. He liked to fart and ask: “did somebody step on a duck?” I still say this, in the same silly voice he always adopted. A couple of times, he put his arm around me, seemingly for no reason at all.
When they were about to carry off his body, pinched as though he were trying to form the letter K, the medic removed a scissor from his hip holster.
“Don’t cut them,” I said. “Please, can you slide them off?”
Want to talk about intimate? Watch a strange man remove your father’s last pair of underwear….
My sister got his ashes. They are predictably on her mantle. I didn’t tell her about the underwear, in a varnished box next to a basket of potpourri and a baseball signed by Jim Bouton, on a shelf above the toilet.
An earlier version first appeared in Tiny Molecules.
J. Edward Kruft received his MFA in fiction writing from Brooklyn College, and has been a Best Small Fictions nominee. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in several journals, including Back Patio Press, Cabinet of Heed, and Jellyfish Review. He is deathly afraid of mice. He lives in Queens, NY and Sullivan County, NY with his husband, Mike, and their adopted Siberian Husky, Sasha. His fictions can be found on his Web site: www.jedwardkruft.com and he can be followed @jedwardkruft.