China

Dad rolled his eyes and mouthed to me, Oh Christ.

The next day, Mom would stand on one side of Dad, holding his hand, and I’d be on the other side, clinging to the rail of the gurney. He’d be dressed in a blue gown, a patient in his own hospital, and he’d stare straight up at the buzzing fluorescent lights as if they ran on his attention. As if when he looked away, everything would go dark and silent.

We’d be waiting there, the three of us plus Fitz, and my mom would be nauseous from trying to choke down her sobbing, and it would be my job to keep things light, to make fun of her crying, to remind Dad of what a great time we had the night before, of what a singing fool he was, a regular Irish Sammy Davis Junior, tapping his foot out of time, singing his heart out into the little microphone.

“Let’s don’t worry now,” Dad would say, as if he were standing beside the gurney, as if we were the ones about to have an iodine box drawn on our throats. “No last words, okay?” he’d say, and then answer himself. “Okay.” And with that, he’d give a thumbs up, and they would roll him away.

And right then I’d give anything to be back at the table the night before, when he pinched and rolled his cigarette between his thumb and forefinger, snuffing it out. Mom kept sobbing into the towel, and I kept lusting for the first sip of my beautiful drink, and Dad kept stubbing out his last cigarette. I thought it would never end, until finally it did.

“Okay,” Dad said. “Enough of that.” He leaned back on the legs of his chair and tugged Mom’s apron. She took a breath, removed the towel from her face and kissed him on the lips.

“Good,” he said. “We’ll still have that.” Then he raised his glass and nodded towards mine. I picked up my drink, and we toasted, without touching glasses, without words.

Matthew Batt is the author of a memoir, Sugarhouse, published in 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Tin House, Mid-American Review, The Huffington Post and elsewhere. He is a 2010 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and he is an assistant professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota.