I startle awake to the sound of a grunt and a meek cry. I drape my arm over the side of the bed to look at the time on my phone, hoping to block as much light as possible from the display. My head aches.
Lately, I dream of my dad. He’s particularly annoyed with the car parts I’ve bought. Not a single night passes where he isn’t scolding or explaining; imparting, in his own way, how he would have done it, which is invariably not the way I did, in fact, do it.
While the dreams play out in a vividness as potent as waking reality, he almost never speaks. All our communication is nonverbal; grimaces, smiles, shrugs, winks. He’ll often walk some distance in front of me, leading, but rarely looking back.
But last night, he spoke. As he passed an hunk of metal under a spinning wire brush, cutting through 50 years of road grime, he said, “I bet you don’t even know what this is.”
He held it down to my face, so I could inspect it. I realized I was a kid again, standing behind the master as his ever-learning apprentice. The old dirt had given way to brilliant silvery surface below. Pretty, but pocked with years of neglect.
“It’s a brake caliper,” I said.
He smiled. An acknowledgement. I handed it back, so he could return it to its original luster. In that moment, I was as tall as him.
I wake again, this time to a more perturbed sigh and snort. I play the bed-phone-light game again, but this time accidentally flood the room with blue light. The bassinet next to me shifts and fidgets with the hungry wiggles of a newborn.
Her mom is busy studying her role as Sisyphus, rock replaced by breast and pump. I go downstairs to grab a bottle. The cats barely stir as the fridge turns kitchen night into kitchen day.
In the dreams, we also rarely touch. He wasn’t one for hugs or physical affection in life, either, so perhaps it makes sense. If we do connect, it’s through some medium; my hand on a ratchet as I place it into his waiting, open palm.
But last night, he touched my shoulder. Standing behind me, in a flip of usual place, he reassured me as I torqued down the bolts on a cylinder head. A summer breeze swept through the garage. For the first time in a long time, the tone was not one of lecture, but one of acceptance.
She sucks greedily from the fake nipple. Her little blue eyes flash at me in the dim light, so bright, so wonderful, so overflowing with curiosity. I take the bottle away for a burp, and she screams, but then settles.
Normally, she doesn’t speak, but this morning, she coos and goos a chorus of baby questions.
Normally, she doesn’t touch me, but this morning, her tiny little hands wrap my fingers with a vice grip.
She may never meet her grandpa here, but part of me knows she’s already met him there.
She snuggles into my shoulder a little, drunk on milk and midnight dark.