Phantom Bluegrass

The music stopped, but he still listens. God knows, he listens to it, sitting in his small garage with two tiny windows, drinking beer until the clarity turns filmy and forgotten. Then he stumbles into the house, eats dinner with my mother in front of the television, and goes to bed. Every day. Ten years.

They used to form a circle in our basement. Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Orange Blossom Special. Red and white Old Milwaukee cans covered tables. Cigarettes burned into nubs. I flat-footed until the sweat soaked me through.

Then, on a blazing summer day, my father came home from the golf course, eager to write, to play. Songs and songs and two packs a day. Beer cans filling up the trash can. He fell in the front yard, his right carotid artery like a tree branch snapping off in the wind. That’s how the neurologist explained it in front of a white silhouette of a tree.

From there, the calloused fingers peeled and softened. My parents moved into a house without stairs. He limps out to that garage. One hundred degrees inside, but he forbids air conditioning. Maybe self-torture.

I sit with him, the music speakers turned to a level too loud for normal ears. He smiles. Tears too. He hates how he can’t control the tears.

I watch the twitch in his left hand, where the music has stopped and think of calling it phantom bluegrass.

Daniel W. Thompson’s work has appeared in publications like Bartleby Snopes, decomP, WhiskeyPaper, Wyvern Lit, Third Point Press and Cheap Pop. He works as a city planner and lives in downtown Richmond, VA with his wife and daughters, cleaning up diapers and dog fur.