by Roger D'Agostin
I told Dad it’s like when we were kids and used silly putty to pick up the imprint of newspaper comics.
Dad scratched a stain on his pajama bottoms. I corrected myself and said, when I was a kid. “Then you stretched out the images and they looked really funny.”
He shook his head, stared at the stain, which I noticed was not a stain per se but a bleach spot. “I’m too old to be stretched out,” he snapped.
“It’s not going to hurt. Just press your thumb here.”
The next time I didn’t explain. I removed the silly putty from the egg and broke it into pieces. I pressed his left thumb, back of his ring finger, the tattoo on his wrist, his right palm. That was enough. He started referring to me as his brother. “Tommy, Mom doesn’t want us to bring the fish in the house. We need to clean it out back and then put the fillets in bags.” I told him Mom’s coming later and he said she never comes. “Goes to see Tommy, though. I knew he was her favorite.”
I stuffed silly putty in his slippers but that didn’t work. It was there the next day but no indentation to speak of. I got the rest of his fingers, and his left palm, the one with the scar, but he didn’t let me touch his shoulder and get the other tattoo. I knew the face was out of the question.
I asked about the pictures. “Dad, remember the albums. The ones in the attic.”
“She put them up there.” I couldn’t tell if he was referring to mom or grandma. I asked, if he thought Uncle Tommy had some. But this started him on the fish. “I have to clean Tommy’s fish because he leaves too many bones. Mom says she can always tell who cleaned which ones.”
I wonder if that Kodak fellow knew his film would blur and yellow after thirty years in a stifling, dusty attic. Perhaps he thought it would serve as a convenient excuse when one couldn’t remember
“I told Mom that Tommy didn’t catch the biggest fish. That fish is mine and I should be able to hold it for the picture.”
I’m not doing this to my son.
I digitize everything. I have local drives and cloud storage. I keep old phones and their chargers in plastic bags with silicone packs. My wife says I’m obsessed. But she has photos of her past. Communions, Fourth of July, the time they went camping when she was a girl scout. She told me she was a girl scout for only one year. And her mom slept on a rock every night. There is a complete album dedicated to this one trip.
I’m working on plaster casts, too. I have many impressions of my hands.
But I couldn’t attempt that with my father. Out of the question. Silly putty was the best I could come up with. But two weeks ago my son found three pieces on my dresser and stretched and rolled the impressions away. So I tried storing new ones in the freezer. They cracked.
I now take pictures when Dad’s sleeping. Same expression. Same clothes. Same hospital bed. I remind myself that sometimes when you take pictures and demand everyone’s attention someone’s blinking or moving or not looking at the camera. Even for important occasions like weddings and graduations. It happens. But you keep them. They get stuffed into the albums with the good ones and decades later when you crack open the albums you remember.
Roger D'Agostin is a writer living in Connecticut. His most recent work has appeared in Washington Square Review LCC, Third Wednesday, and DASH