I was 35 when I saw my father for the last time. He’d invited me to spend three days with him at his house in Santa Monica. The call came early in the morning, and though I usually would’ve let it go to the machine, Janet jumped out of bed. She was one of those dutiful people who always answered the phone, “just in case.” I was surprised by the call and even more by his invitation to come for the weekend. Honestly, I probably would’ve said no, but he’d been going through some hard times lately and I didn’t have the heart.
When he picked me up at the airport, he seemed odd. Or maybe I should say he seemed OK—happy even—the way I remembered he’d look after a couple glasses of wine. I’d promised myself on the plane I wouldn’t bring up my step-mom unless he did, but in the car I couldn’t think of anything else to talk about and the silence was getting to me. “Everything good?” I asked. “Everything’s great,” he answered. I was starting to get annoyed that he didn’t seem more troubled. My wedding was a month away and I only made the trip because I thought he needed someone to talk to.
“Was it peaceful?” I finally blurted out when we exited the airport’s garage. He bent over the steering wheel looking up to the sky for a moment. “Beautiful day, no? You don’t get many days like this in New York.”
I didn’t say anything, and for the rest of the ride to his house, he didn’t either.
My father’s home is decent-sized, not too big, but it’s close to the beach so it’s expensive. It’s built in a classic Spanish style with the usual red-tiled roof and a courtyard that lies between an outer archway and the front door. “This is the way the hidalgos lived,” my father proudly said to me, as he always did when I came to see him.
I noticed as I entered that everything was put away and clean. I don’t know what I expected. At the time, I’d never lost anyone close to me. I guess I thought the house would be a big mess: the smell of rubbing alcohol mixed with stale flatulence—the kind of stuff you think of after seeing one too many hospital dramas on TV. But the house was spotless. The living room furniture had been dusted and polished. There were no dirty dishes stacked in the kitchen sink. Even the knickknacks—souvenirs from the old country that were supposedly made by gauchos, but that I suspect were actually made in Indonesia or Taiwan—were placed around the house in meticulous museum-like displays.
“How do you find the house?” he asked.
I told him I thought the place looked great.
“Yes, I do, too,” he said smiling as he looked around. “After Pam died I decided I needed someone to help me clean the place. Jenny’s fantastic.”