The night my Pop-Pop’s apartment flooded, he said, “I don’t really believe I’m here,” which I assumed meant here, in my bedroom, lying on a bare mattress, with a single pillow I’d found for him in my closet. “You’ll go home tomorrow, Pop-Pop,” I said. But this was not the kind of here he meant. The day he died, he told my mother, “I don’t know why we keep doing this,” and my mother smiled the way she smiled when she did not understand.
“What’s this, Dad?” And he said, “This thing where we pretend I’m still alive.”
When I found him in his apartment, his papers floated in the water. A Birth Certificate and cash, love letters from my grandma. He sat on the couch, the water rising past his waist. When I called to him from his window, he did not bother to look at me. I climbed inside, swam between his things. The doctors all said he was fine, he could spend the night with me.
“But don’t you want to keep him?” I asked.
And they smiled, the way my mother smiled, when she did not understand.
“He’s yours,” they said. “Why should we have to keep him?”
When my first child, my only child, was old enough to ask questions, I told him about that night. He asked me to tell the boat story again. I’d mentioned how Pop-Pop’s walls were covered in wood, how his room took on the ocean as it rose. I guess he pictured it as a boat. The waves crashing, all his treasure lost.
The sound the ocean makes—when it blankets the stones and recedes. The constant swelling, the endless retreat. My son, he takes the foam that washes up and wears it like a beard. I tell him he looks good, even as an old man. He hunches his back, pretends to walk slowly. He plays this game for hours. And when it’s dark and he’s tired, we lay our backs against the stones and I dream each one is kissing me, kneading me, every pebble and grain of sand, asking if we’ll stay.
Matt Barrett holds an MFA in Fiction from UNC-Greensboro, and his writing has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, River Teeth, The Minnesota Review, The Maine Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Wigleaf, among others. He teaches English at his undergraduate alma mater, Gettysburg College. You can find him on Twitter @MBarrettWriter.