Morse Code by Elizabeth Cabrera

The old man fell asleep in his car, his nostrils pressed softly against the steering wheel, but the car kept going, because the old man’s foot was not asleep, was still pressing down hard, and later they would say, it’s not really his fault, he’s such an old man, because the man had been at the pier very early helping his friend with his boat, and when you are almost 80—every hair follicle bleached of color, face mottled with radiation either natural or manmade—it is very tiring to get up early and engage in all the motions required to bring a boat to land, and I imagine this man was quite narrow, perhaps his arms lined with weeping tattoos the color of veins because isn’t that what men who deal in boats look like, ropy and mean and marked, but I guess I’m thinking of poor men, as rich men also play in boats, only they call them yachts and cruisers, and these are the things I’ll never know because my father’s death wasn’t litigated in court—just handled quickly between lawyers, two white men shaking hands, a judge’s stamp, a small insurance payout—so let’s say that maybe this man was very wealthy, and he’s leathered instead of mottled, his awake foot slippered in a driving moccasin and not a sneaker, but either way he could not be as substantial as my father at 25, whose hair was the color of a crow’s feather, who was walking home from his new job at the jewelry store just two weeks in this new country with traffic laws and yachts, walking through the wild grasses that line suburban roadways, who was pinned between the old man’s car and the guardrails, and maybe he died fast and maybe not, again there are no court records, though certainly he died, and that part isn’t surprising considering how delicate my father’s soul is, lighter than soap bubbles in a child’s bath, so when the old man’s car ripped his flesh, his soul had nothing to tether it to our dirt, the old man now awake and quivering, the tang of urine sinking into the upholstery, but that wasn’t the very end of their story because then—and this is the only part I can really know—the police were dispatched to my mother, me the size of an ear of corn curled up inside and tapping against her stomach, and a policeman drove her to the hospital and made her sit three hours in a linoleum chair, waiting for news that could never be good, until finally a doctor in a stained coat said in a low voice, I’m sorry, he’s gone, so I tapped my mother to tell her that I was still there, pushed her hard so her muscles would shake, and gauzy stars would form behind her lashes, so she would feel the heft of a baby, the weight of tomorrow, but she didn’t understand, didn’t know Morse code.

Elizabeth Cabrera works at an animal protection nonprofit and writes at night. She lives outside of Washington DC with her family.

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