My father was telling me about the Blizzard of ’77, how the snow kept coming, piling against the house, past the windows, the world silent and blue, something crystal, something paused.

It was the biggest storm, and it came as a surprise, my father said. No stocking up, no trips to the store, it just came on and you had what you had.

My father appreciated those days. Things happened with little warning. The world felt less hysterical, and maybe it was. It’s hard to know. We’re deep into the hysteria these days, that much is clear. Every day the planet burns a little brighter with it.

My father was telling me how it felt for the world to stop a while. He closed his eyes, falling into the drifts. His battered face, the blasted cheeks and roman nose, the scar on the side of his head where my mother had stitched him up sixty years ago, after he slipped on ice.

My parents were those kinds of people. They suffered the blows and knew how to tend to each other.

My father was eighty-nine, sick, depressed, and I had just given him a cat.

What possessed me to do this, I don’t know. My father could take or leave cats. And who was going to clean up the litter? Me. But I felt like he’d like the company. A good cat, it makes a difference in your life.

The cat was winding around the furniture, rubbing against chair legs, the sofa, the curtains. He meowed, he licked his paws, blinked. My father didn’t see any of this, though. His eyes were closed.

He was not thrilled about the cat.

He was deep in the blue, the darkness coming on and the remembered snow falling through the light from streetlamps.

He opened his eyes, as though something startled him. He looked at me as if I were a stranger, his eyes wide. The cat went off to find what it could find, and my father closed his eyes again, slowly, slowly, and that was that. He died.

When my sister arrived, she stopped in front of the house and got out of her car screaming.

I was at the door in the hurry.

I can’t go in there, she yelled.

I hadn’t called emergency services yet. I hadn’t called the police. I wanted her to see him one last time, before the commotion, before they took him away and did whatever they were going to do. Dress him up, put makeup on his face, nail him in a box or burn him in an oven.

My sister raved.

There was going to be paperwork. There was a folder somewhere, with all his passwords, the names of his lawyer, his accountant, account numbers and usernames. I realized I had no idea where it was.

I was in shock.

My father a river, my father a blur of trees.

I can’t go in there, my sister shouted again. Her car was in the road, not pulled over all the way. Crows flew off a wire and landed in the grass of the yard. A car passed, slowly, heading for the intersection. The porch light across the way winked on.

People were coming home from work.

My sister and me, we were home already.

But now we were orphans.

I was holding the door open, and the cat got out. He didn’t go far. He stopped in the yard and looked around as if he was thinking, what next. He looked around, savoring the scents and sounds. He seemed ready to go find something and kill it.

My sister was crazy, just saying whatever came into her head. You murdered him, she screamed. This is all your fault.

She’d always wanted to be dad’s favorite, and wanted me to think she was, but I knew the truth. I guess we both knew it. She was good at math, and so was my father, but sometimes that’s not enough.

My father and I had the same instincts, the same sense of humor, the same unwise tendencies.

Anyway, he ended up living with me.

What the hell was happening? I was never going to see him again, never hear his voice? There were sounds coming from somewhere, sounds of terror and distress, animals lost in bad weather. They were my sounds. They were coming from me.

A car pulled up. The driver got out, retrieved an insulated bag from the trunk. He was the pizza man. I’d forgotten. We’d ordered pizza, my father and I, and now here it was.

There were no rules worth following. My sister took the pizza and brought it inside. We stared at our father, dead in his chair. What were we supposed to do? We went into the kitchen, wiping away tears. We sat at the kitchen table, passing the red pepper flakes, shaking on the cheese, as if this day would pass, as if we were the same idiots we’d always been.

A plane flew overhead, carrying people God knows where.

Our father had paid for the pizza. So we ate. We ate every goddamn slice.

© Stewart Engesser
[This piece was a finalist for the 2022 Forge Flash Fiction Competition and was selected by Sarah Broderick]