I said something about the house seeming quieter than usual, but he didn’t register. He went on instead to explain how he found Jenny, and how helpful she’d been getting the house back in order after the funeral. I was relieved my dad ignored my comment. Of course the place was quieter. Half the household wasn’t there anymore. My stepmom’s high-pitched squeak welcoming me home had always given me some kind of reference point, and without her, it was like I was out at sea with my dad, lost and restless.
“You know,” he said in an uncharacteristically small, hesitant voice, “this is your home, too. It always has been. Pam felt the same way.” I thanked him and went to the guest room to take a nap.
I woke up a couple hours later and found my father frying empanadas in the kitchen. This is a family ritual with us. He learned to make them from his father who’d been a cook in Argentina, and to this day I think that watching him make those fried dumplings was one of the few things that still connected me to my relatives in South America. It also is one of the few things that used to connect me to my dad.
Whenever I went to visit, he’d make them for me. Janet thought this was his way of telling me he cared about me. “A non-verbal cue,” she’d explain, “typical of men of a certain age.” She was always quick to add, though, that food could never be a substitute for a real emotional connection. Honestly, when I saw my father take a couple empanadas out of the pot of boiling oil, I was glad that Janet had stayed home. Even if she was right, I loved watching my father cook. As a kid, I somehow knew there was something special going on when he was in the kitchen—the way he lost himself while chopping a vegetable or tasting a sauce. I wanted to be part of that world.
“They’re cooler on the bottom,” he told me when he finally looked up. “After lunch I can show you the new flowers I planted last fall.” I tried to tell him I’d love to but my mouth was already full of food. He went on: “Pam always loved roses. During her last week, I’d pick one every day and bring it to her along with her medication.” He went back to the stove and put another four empanadas in the pot. His face had lost any hint of the smile he’d been flashing since I arrived. Over the crashing sound of the boiling oil, he asked me a question: “Alejandro, I know this is none of my business, but do you really love her? You don’t seem like a man in love.”
I put down the empanada I was eating. “What are you talking about?”
“I don’t want to offend, mi hijo. But you don’t seem excited about having a wife.”
“Well, maybe I’m like you,” I said. My voice was jittery all of the sudden, and I was annoyed by the tremble in my voice.
He walked over and put a couple more empanadas on my plate. “You’re still angry about your mother and me?” he asked. After another minute of listening to the sound of frying dough and trying to avoid looking at my father, I told him I wanted to borrow the car.
“What do you need? I went to the market before you got here.”
“I’m just going to buy some beer.”
“Beer? With empanadas?” he asked. He’d been in the country for more than half his life and he still thought of beer as being something anglo and foreign. I told him I hated wine and again asked to use the car. He held out the keys so I’d have to walk over to him, and when I reached out to take them, he grabbed my hand. “Don’t be angry, hijo,” he told me. “I like Janet. She seems…nice.”