by Sung Kim
He stood out on the sidewalk and stared up at his apartment. Blue light flickered from the windows juxtaposing the calm gray night sky. His eyes gazed down on his phone; thumb hovered over the contact list as he pondered. Out came a long breath as he tucked the phone away and withdrew the apartment keys.
He stepped inside the dark apartment quietly and stood near a wall that seemed to have come alive from the TV glare with shadows that danced along it, elongating and shortening and appearing and disappearing. He waited motionless amongst them letting his eyes adjust as his shadow danced in unison with the other shadows.
Weaving through the dark room he made his way around the coffee table, where the jigsaw puzzle sat scattered collecting dust. He stepped around it quietly towards the kitchen. There was a grunt, or so he thought, and looked over at the armchair, pausing, waiting for another grunt or some sort of an acknowledgement, then continued on when none came. The room flickered behind him.
He emerged from the kitchen with a plate of leftovers in one hand and a glass in the other. “Mind if I turn on the light, Dad?” He waited by the light switch.
“Dad.” He walked over to the armchair.
His father sat sunken into it, in the same way he always sat, crooked to his left, cheek smooshed on the shoulder, mouth slight agape, remote nestled in the limp right hand. The TV glare made him look gray, as though he were older than he actually was. On the TV a documentary on WWII.
“Your grandfather fought in that.” He remembered his father saying before when the same program was on last year, or at least it looked like the same program. Little black and white planes littered the screen and little black and white men marched in groups.
He looked at the lines that cracked his father’s face. Where they began and where they ended. And the gray hairs that once only specked the sides of his head now covering nearly all of it. His eyes caught the picture frame on the wall, of a younger dad and mom and a baby version of himself. He must have been younger then than I currently am, he thought. But no matter how much he stared at the picture his father seemed so much older than him. He looked over at the puzzle and the coffee table. His father’s feet sat atop the table, but near to the edge, as if not to disturb the puzzle that sat collecting dust.
Do something, together. Build something, together. Together, is the key.
He had gone out and bought the jigsaw puzzle and dumped it on the coffee table. A raised eyebrow was the response. The next day, two pieces were connected, so he connected a piece as well, then that evening when he had returned from work another piece was connected. But after a while they had forgotten whose turn it was and the puzzle sat collecting dust, taking over real-estate on the tabletop, yet neither had removed it.
His eyes reverted back to his father. So frail, so withered. When did he age so. He walked over to the TV set and turned it off. The room went black. Faint moon light took over and shadows froze.
“What the...” His father made slurping noises and began sitting up. “What the hell are you doing? I was watching that.”
“Dad, why don’t you go to bed? You were sleeping.”
“The hell I was.” Leather squeaked and the TV came back on bringing chaos along the walls again.
“Can I at least turn on the light? I want to eat.” He stood still for a few seconds, waiting for a response.
“Yeah,” his father finally responded. “Sure.”
The room lit up and the shadows faded. He sat on the couch next to the armchair and pushed the puzzle pieces and laid down the glass and the plate.
“Here, don’t move those. Set your food here.” His father sat up straight removing his feet to make room.
“Dad, I’m not gonna put my food where you just had your feet.”
“Ahh, the hell with it then.” The feet went back up and the chair let out a loud slow whoosh.
He picked up his plate and went to his room.
“Remember. Do something, together. Build something, together. Together, is the key.” He remembered mom saying that, that night in the hospital.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were sick, Mom?” He had asked looking up at her. Her face, so thin that he wondered whether he would recognize her if he saw her out on the street.
She had caressed him from the bed as he had sat close to her, hugging her.
“Together, is the key.”
Together was hard.
He sat in the dark bedroom with the plate of food in his hand. Under the door, light seeped in. He thought about getting up and turning on the light but didn’t. He became thirsty and realized he had only brought the plate and not the glass.
He made his way to the edge of the hall silently. His father was out of the chair, kneeling on the floor with a wad of napkins in one hand and a fistful of puzzles in the other, wiping the water ring off the coffee table. Where the puzzle pieces were lifted remained silhouettes of jigsaw patterns in dust. His father began wiping the dust. Then as he laid the pieces down, he saw him pause, stare for a second, and connect two pieces.