The favor

I first saw her at the Denny’s in Moss Landing. Your father kept smiling at me over his eggs; I looked past him at the couple in the next booth. She had her hair up in a ponytail and I could see the tiny hairs escaping down the back of her neck. He was eating some kind of steak or chop. He reached over and pressed his hand between her shoulderblades, like there was a button there.

That night she came scratching at the window of our motel room. Lucky I didn’t sleep soundly, even then. Her face through the peephole was brighter than the moon.

Their room was across the parking lot. He was laid out on the bed.

“I can’t lift him by myself,” she said.

I took his feet. They twitched a little as I carried them. I didn’t ask her what was wrong with him. We took him to her car.

“Can you come?” she asked. “I need you for when we get there.”

We rode east through the artichoke fields. She was a good driver; we didn’t speak. When we got to Castroville she turned off the freeway and made a series of lefts. She pulled up in front of a pink bungalow and we both got out. Again I took the feet. Both of us were gentle in the way we handled him. We took him up a path lined with marigolds and we laid him lengthwise on the front steps. She reached up and rang the doorbell. We heard a rustle inside and then I followed her back to the car. As we drove away I looked back and saw a woman kneeling by his head.

“Where do you want me to take you?” she asked me.

I had some friends living nearby then, and I formed my mouth around the name of their town. Then I shut my mouth and opened it again.

“Motel is fine,” I said.

For years I regretted saying that. Then you were born, and now I regret it differently. Now I only wish I could remember what made me change my mind, so I could have a real story for you, instead of whatever thing it is that I just told.

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