Dedushka’s Chest

Alexsandr Kanevskiy

I ask the people at the funeral home to let his hair out. Like most of these kinds of places, they are a family affair. The father looks at me and then his wife and then his oldest child, all burdened with the weary look of people who have just spent too much time in a moving car, all deeply and unevenly sun-kissed. They look ridiculous next to Dedushka, who looks like his own reflection in a window. His chest hair, I say. His chest hair. Pulling on the top button of my Oxford.

I sit and I wait for the family to deliberate in another room. They leave their youngest, a girl with legs that loll just short of the ground and half a creamsicle painted onto her face, in the waiting room to keep me company. Or they forget about her. She stares at me past her bangs.

I was about her age when we left for Detroit. Dedushka’s chest was in full bloom, then. It billowed like a thunderhead in the wind of the tarmac, out from the edges of his soiled wife beater, trapping motes of static, the thrill of heat lightning. I learned to bury myself in it whenever I got scared. I learned to floss my teeth with its rogue strands. He said that that’s what happens when you get old, that your hair travels from your head to your chest and everywhere else.

With any luck, I think, squaring mine away behind my ears.

It was there sneaking peeks out from his unbuttoned collar, a choreographed sway, when I graduated elementary. We had to go up to the podium, one by one, and deliver into a mic who we were thankful for, who we owed for this accomplishment. Some kids thanked their brothers and sisters. I had neither. Some thanked their neighbors. All of them thanked their parents. When my turn came, I controlled my bowels and my gag reflex, and calmly thanked the auspices of the Glorious Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics! before saluting, before being escorted off the stage. From the back row, Dedushka’s mouth expanded like the fast-approaching end of a tunnel, his gold premolar smiling its own smile, every fiber on his chest on end.

Some weeks later he went to the doctor and didn’t come back for the rest of the summer. When he returned, the forest was gone, in its place a long, blue gorge Ma would continually re-apply bandages to. His face had lost weight and gained skin. He spent most of his time in his bedroom, alternately sleeping and putting away a preposterous volume of applesauce, a screen in the corner constantly making its presence known. I was too young then to know of Samson and Delilah. I knew only the small facts of cause and effect. I knew my hair grew in long blonde falls and his in crimped tufts. I knew where the scissors were, and the tape. I knew that when the television in Ma’s room stayed too long on the same channel, she was asleep. I knew that under his hair was a faded tattoo of a woman and a lion and two onion domes I had only seen in photos.

The father returns now with pursed lips. He is going to sell me a car. He is going to drive a hard bargain. He is going to give me good news. Instead, he picks the girl up by the crook of her arms and saddles himself. The girl rubs the orange sweet of her face onto his shirt. She slides a grubby palm across her forehead. It is hot, she says.

He will be buried in the same cemetery as his mother. I took him one last time to see her, when, by then, most of what made him him was gone. I can admit that now. But I still can’t explain it. I cannot put words onto it. He dragged his right leg behind him to the headstone like you would a recalcitrant dog by the leash, and produced from his breast pocket a small prayer booklet he did not once reference. Until then I had only known how to feel pity for myself. It was something about the way he said, Mama. And how he stood there like a kid at her knee.


Alexsandr Kanevskiy enjoys cliches, aphorisms, sayings, idioms, and the like. He is currently mapping all the basketball courts in Detroit, building a coffee table, and generally spreading himself around. You can find him in his 300 square foot studio, doing push-ups between writing.

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