Deda Vitya, my father’s father, is in the hospital now, and we are with him. My father’s standing over his father’s bed. At the end of a blood test. White strands of hair. Distress increases. Deda Vitya chanting the names of God.
I’m pretending to be asleep, eyes slitted, all but closed.
Deda Vitya tells my father, “Misha I’m experiencing shifting of ground under my feet.”
My father says, “You’re lying down, Papa.”
Deda Vitya asks, “How’s Jacob doing, Misha?” Even though I’m right there, sitting in the chair. There is a mealy-gray cast to scarring: scaly eyelids in Deda Vitya’s chest.
Deda Vitya says, “Misha, you’re bleeding.”
My father looks down, sees blood stains appearing on his shirt. My father pulls his collar out and looks down at his chest, saying, “I’m not bleeding, Papa.”
And it’s true. My father has no wounds or blood on his chest. But the blood on his shirt grows. Circles, two circles. They overlap.
“Lie back down, Papa,” my father says.
Deda Vitya says, “The pillow’s too hard, I need two.”
Grime comes off onto my father’s fingers when he touches the inside of Deda Vitya’s blanket. Aquatic mat-forming perennial with hollow stems. Knots on Deda Vitya’s feet, wisping like those found on submerged trees.
My father tells me, while Deda Vitya’s asleep: “Jacob talk to Papa he’s about to get another surgery.” My father leaves the room. I can tell he doesn’t know where he is going.
I can tell he hopes he comes back.
I talk to my grandfather. I say, “Are you sleeping, or just pretending to be asleep?”
Deda Vitya thinks I’m my father, says, “Misha, I’ll talk to you after my surgery.”
I find Papa’s journal: This fear of losing the father I hated growing up, preemptively, convinced he hated me.
It appeared with its face on fire. I fall asleep standing. I’ve been up with Papa so long it feels my whole life.
Doorknobs searing to the touch. Giddy like someone is touching me. No one is touching me.
Sudden passage of white fog in this dark room.
I am pulled over the rootbed clinging to the holes in his trees.
There is a coral-like oily stain on Baba Galya’s photo in my father’s wallet. It spreads by fragmentation. Slipping from her eyes to her nose and lips, the eyes clear again. My father can’t rub it off. It’s like it’s under a layer.
Roots free-floating in water, gristly blue flowers growing down. Once it enters it can live inside for years.
Butterflies flutter across the small, flat, square world outside the window, white veins on their under-surface.
Deda Vitya mumbles something and I slit my eyes almost closed, pretend to be asleep again.
My father says, “What?”
Deda Vitya says: “Misha, I feel sad.” There are white spots on his hands.
I turn the page in Papa’s journal: Feeling of “having no existence” without Papa, only half since Mama died. Thoughts about assaulting the doctors going out or coming in continuously. They have many unfulfilled desires, rings under eyes.
Many densely-packed, branched spikes found in shallow water.
I put my foot in and touch the soot bottom. Two splashes: when I step in, and when I touch bottom.
I clasp the bedside like leaves clasp their stem.
Deda Vitya, in his sleep, laughs continuously.
In my dream (I guess I’ve fallen asleep for real, now, staying up for so many nights), my father asks me, “Jacob, do you sometimes also feel like throwing objects, making loud sounds with eyes closed?
“Do you grow prostrate along the ground with white flowering tips upright? When mine are split open to expose a glossy dark seed 1 to 1.2 mm long…”
And in my dream, I answer, “It assumes the form of the person it enters.”
Awake again, I think. Or pretending to be awake.
“When I touch Papa’s hands or feet,” my father tells me, “I have a sensation of pin-pricks.”
While singing, Deda Vitya forgets some verses or repeats a verse again and again, whorled branches of blue buds within, even though these Yiddish hymns are well known to him.
My father and Deda Vitya sing: Blue water, take me with you. I can’t let go.
Note: “Blue Water” owes some of its lines, in full or in heart, to the paranormal guide at Spiritual Science Research Foundation, and to the weed guide at Virginia Tech. Also see the Russian song “Синяя Вода” (Blue Water).
© Rainie Oet
[This piece was selected by John Haggerty. Read Rainie’s interview]