by Michael Chin
When my father died, I figured it was time to start doing what I wanted with my life. He wore his nicest suit, black, in the casket. I wore his second nicest suit, navy, because I didn’t have one, and it’s not like anyone else would use it.
One by one, uncles and my father’s friends asked what I was doing with my life. I didn’t tell them about tending bar or filling in as a short order cook at Fat Lenny’s when Joel was too hung over for his shift. I told him them I was going to be a pro wrestler.
They clapped me on the shoulder and said damn right. All open-mouthed grins recollections of Bruno Sammartino’s over-the-shoulder backbreaker and the way Sergeant Slaughter used to have them play the “Marines’ Hymn” on his way to the ring.
It wasn’t until they asked when and where and how and waited a second before what on early are you talking about? that I didn’t know what to say.
Mom heard what I’d been telling everyone. Told me to stop talking nonsense. I’d never seen her look older, cheeks covered in sunspots, hair a dark, sickly gray, voice sharp and tired at once. If there’s one thing you ought to understand now it’s that you’ve got to grow up and start taking yourself seriously.
And I saw my past. The familiar faces. Mom cutting me down.
And I saw my future. Shining high beams onto blind curves over black ice on mountain roads. Triceps extensions and skull crushers to get my triceps cut. Likely as not hurting myself, but for once, continuing forward instead of tucking tail and running.
Well say something.
Mom and I—we had a lot of eyes on us, a lot of ears, just waiting for what I might do.
I figured I’d better get used to that.
I went for the heart punch.
I’m out of here.
A minute and I’m in the car.
A half hour and I’m on the freeway.
No time at all, I’m a new man. One hand on the wheel, one out the window, floating on a rush of air, riding the waves of it.
And as I passed the state line, as the daylight faded, as my eyelids grew heavy and I knew, sooner or later, I’d have to stop for the night, I could swear I smelled my father’s breath. That earthy smell after he drank whatever ginger-ginseng-kale-carrot smoothie he’d concocted for himself. I could swear he was riding shotgun. Careful, son. He gripped the armrest, right foot in the air, riding the imaginary brake the way he always did when I was driving. Careful before you make ghosts of the both of us.
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and is an alum of Oregon State’s MFA Program. He won Bayou Magazine’s Knudsen Prize for fiction and has published in journals including The Normal School and Bellevue Literary Review. Find him at miketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.