I bought my father a copy of The Road for father’s day. I told him I had intended on not giving him anything but a visit, but I’d just finished the book and decided he had to have it. We sat in the garage and stared out into the yard and talked. He mentioned how he likes to sit in the mornings and look at the flowers and occasionally a humming bird would appear. A minute later, in the flowers behind him, one nearly the blue of the cloudy, darkening sky flitted from flower to flower, bee-like, its wings invisible with movement, the bulky body slipping easily through the air accompanied by a barely audible hum. I pointed the bird out, but it vanished before my dad could turn around.
An hour later, the sun had nearly set and lightening bugs blinked light in the distant neighboring yards. In ours, we could follow their slow, easy movement between blinks. We watched until we could no longer track them in the darkening sky, and they became only vacillating points of yellow light. My dad said he used to hear an owl in the park behind the houses across the street but hadn’t in a long time. A minute later I heard a brief but distinct call from one just awakening with the sun slipped away. My dad didn’t hear it and though we listened the owl didn’t call again. I gave my dad a preview of The Road, I told him the world had come to an end and most of the survivors had resorted to cannibalism. Through this bleak setting, a father and son share an indelible tender bond. A lone bulb in the back of the garage gave just enough light for me to read by, and nearly every conversation had me searching for another passage to read to him.
He got to talking about toads and how he liked to find toads and hold them and warm them up. They usually pee on me, he said, but I don’t mind. Minutes later, up the dark porch came the unmistakable flop of one landing on concrete. I could just make out the shape of it as it came to a stop on the last section of porch before the driveway. I interrupted my dad and pointed, but by the time he turned, the dark shape scurried into the bushes. I told him I was sure I’d seen a toad but it disappeared in the bushes. My dad got up and walked around the bush, hoping to find it. He wanted to hold it a while and warm it up. The night was humid and hot. I told him it was gone. He sat back down. He told me he has a soft spot for toads, and then he told me a story I’d heard before. When he was a boy, he had played with a toad by placing the blade of a shovel in front of where the toad wanted to jump and after playing a few times he misjudged where the toad was and stabbed the shovel through the toad cutting it in half. As he told this story, he began to cry. I told him he shouldn’t feel guilty. He was a young boy and just playing a game.
He said, I know but I have a soft spot for toads, now. I like to hold them and warm them up. I don’t even care if they pee on my hands.
He showed me the fence we built when I was little. He showed me how the fence was crooked because when I measured the distance from the house to where to dig the hole for the second post, I bent the tape measure instead of holding it flat against the side of the house. He hadn’t said anything to me then. He said it had been his fault for not checking my measurement.
I read him another passage from The Road.
The driveway was dark and I heard its dry flop before I caught its dark shape. I whispered to get my dad’s attention and told him to look. The toad hopped again and landed just next to my dad’s foot, like it was coming to visit. My dad scooped it up. He held it and warmed it up. He spoke to it and rubbed its head with his finger. It peed into his hands.