Dead Man’s Float
Dad is playing dead and I’m not in the mood for it. He’s sprawled out on the Lazy Boy as usual. He lies with his head dangling to one side and his mouth open. His color
is not too good to begin with so it’s pretty convincing. I’m on the couch knitting and watching Oprah. “Cut it out, Dad.” I poke his shin with the tip of my sneaker, not hard, but disrespectfully. Hey, he’s playing dead and he’s already been asked politely to knock it off twice.
Fortunately for my goal of knitting a few uninterrupted rows the slightest grin crosses his lips. Otherwise I would have to get off the couch and check for pulse and breath. This is one of his better performances. His chest barely rises and, since I’m not responding to death, every once in a while he throws in a little twitch to demonstrate that he could be in the throws of something significant, but short of dead, like a heart attack or a stroke maybe. He’s had several of each.
“You’re not funny. How are you going to like it if you actually do kick the bucket and
everyone just keeps knitting or reading the paper?” Actually, if I was in a better mood, I would think his stunt funny.
Sometimes I play dead myself. It’s a good way to fall asleep. It’s a family tradition that started on Haviland Pond where Dad taught us to swim. The dead man’s float was lesson one. Are all kids taught the simple joy of lying in the water on their bellies, faces submerged, that other world gone for a minute, two minutes, then to let the air out the side of their mouths slowly and stretch it to three minutes, with practice close to four? Four minutes to straddle here and there. The object of the game to fool a near-by swimmer, preferably a sibling, into thinking we were gone for good, then to spring out of the water at the last possible second screaming and gasping for air. What could be funnier? Unless it was the thrill of being on the receiving end of the game, “finding” your
sibling dead in the water, wading over to the corpse, touching the wet shoulder,
that luscious horror of that short window of time when you’ve convinced yourself
that maybe, just maybe, she was dead, and congratulated yourself for facing the
dead body with such courage.
My sister Kathy stops by on her way to choir practice. She comes into the house without
knocking. “Hi, Dad.” She kisses the top of his head.
“He’s dead,” I say.
“That’s too bad,” she says. “I brought blueberry pie.” She takes off her coat and puts a pastry box on an end table next to Dad. This makes his eyelids flicker and his mouth
twitch. She straightens his head and gives me a dirty look. “He’s going to get a
crick in his neck.”
“He’s dead,” I say. “And you’re weird.”
“She’s knitting a scarf for a dead man,” she whispers in his ear. “And she calls me weird.”
His eyes pop open. “Boo,” he says loud while her face is still an inch away.
“Dad,” she squeals, making his day.
His eyes dart to the pastry box. “Is it made with that crap?” He means Splenda, the sugar substitute.
“No,” she says.
“Liar,” I say. I’ve been sitting with a dead man all afternoon and my sister steals the “boo.”
Sally Bellerose. “Dead Man’s Float,” Boston Literary Magazine, winter 2006 http://www.Bostonliterary@aol.com.
Sally Bellerose. “Dead Man’s Float,” Sniplits, summer 2008. http://www.sniplis.com.