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LITTER.

My father was bringing soup dumplings. I sat waiting on the pier, squeezing a 100 Grand wrapper in my pocket, umbrella hung on the lip of a trash barrel crabbed with graffiti. The fishermen were gone for the afternoon. They'd left sunflower seeds, creamy-shelled razor clams, the tarred spit of coffee and Skoal, the guts of their haul--roe, scales, eyelash-thin bones--betting on rain to wash away their debris.

Weather was coming. Waves leapt off the reef, tall and boastful, the ocean taunting the downpour.

I was wearing the white slicker I'd said I would. I took out the letter from my father and reread it in its entirety:
    Greetings, Earthling: We're building a landfill in Missouri.
Where
   exactly, I'm not at liberty to disclose. You wouldn't want
a
   landfill in your town's back pocket, would you? I'm going
for broke
   at every meal. There's good food near the brewery, which gives
away
   nothing about my location or the landfill's--as if they're
one and
   the same. The brewery is ninety-three minutes from the site. If you
   think I haven't thought of postmarks, think again. I was aces in
   Khe Sanh, after all. I'll send these dispatches from my next
digs,
   before I begin the program.
   Greetings, Earthling: With a landfill, you don't like to see
   movement. You don't want to. But cats and raccoons raid empty
   fridges. Rats couch-surf. And maggots wine and dine on anything
   moist. The gas is methane and basically 3-D. The sound is like a
   neighbor popping bubble wrap. Last night, I ate ribs basted in Dr.
   Pepper and we (the crew) played volleyball in the backyard of a
   bar. Fun stuff--I couldn't feel my feet.
   Hey. A few days since the last installment in Your Dad Whores
   Himself Out for a Dump.
 This is why I trained six-minute miles,
   swallowed puke in pull-up drills. Ever consider how easy it is,
   saying shitty stuff about yourself? I blow. I have no talent. Hack.
   Then the good is tainted, too. The good sounds like bull: I am a
   superb project manager. I have a lot to offer.
   I control my body? Sounds as promising as Illinois Lotto. Have you
   ever tried spoonbread? You hardly chew it. Especially warm with
   maple butter.
   I'm not looking forward to the program at all. I don't have
a
   problem with my weight. You don't either, do you? Before I came
   "here," Teri and I had World War ... it was III when you
were
   little, so where are we now? It was your mom's deal, suggesting
I
   enlist in the slimathon. After she'd bought a blender. And
stopped
   restocking my Good & Plenty. I finally asked why she was picking
on
   me. We were hanging laundry in the basement, and for the better
   part of a load of delicates she gave me no sign she'd heard a
   thing. Finally she got to the last bra and said I didn't have to
   listen to her if I didn't want to. If my husband made a stink
about
   me getting sober, I'd be out, she told me, very much her
husband,
   snapping a clothespin. You know she keeps Scotch in the filing
   cabinet down there? I didn't.
   The worst thing about this site is the air sweats. Garbage sweats.
   Maggots must sweat, too. It's midnight. The sweat is huge and
   salty. But a worse stench lives in my shoes. Doesn't matter that
I
   shower. My soles are under the sink.
   This is my last morning in Missouri, Earthling. Time to seal the
   envelope on this sinkhole. A landfill, if not engineered properly,
   can become a sinkhole. Any surface can. You don't know when the
   ground beneath your feet will open up.
   I'm a week in North Dakota (expect a Bismarck postmark), then I
   start the program. Do you ever ask yourself if you like your life?
   If you fit in your skin? I will no longer settle. For twelve weeks,
   I denounce garbage. I'll have daily weigh-ins with other old
   Vietnam boys like me. Meals like back in the mess hall. Cardio.
   Counseling. And check-ins. Meetings. Other than oinking, what
   you been doing?
 we'll say. Nothing. No, not nothing-nothing,
   but nothing that's settling for something. Why else eat like a
hog?
   Everything is possible. You weren't born yet the summer I came
   home. I didn't even know your mom. What did I lose--thirty
pounds
   that June? Month, month and a half. My mother had these pans shaped
   like stars. If you didn't get Crisco in every corner, your
banana
   bread stuck. A few times my mother threatened to toss those pans,
   but I always rescued them. She tried to rescue me, too. She was
   good. The way you'll want to be as a mother. She made me banana
   bread, greased the goddamned pans. And muffins. Or maybe I'm
   imagining that. Bran muffins, with stubby, floury dates.
   What did I eat, you ask? Nothing. Where was I? Not in my country.
   When was it? No time. Or just a summer: opening the closet,
   saluting my uniform, and scraping breakfast into the dumb cane.
   When my three months in the program are up, you won't recognize
me,
   but I'll be in Venice on March 16, before heading to Puente
Hills.
   I hope to see you then.
   I'll bring the xiaolongbao.
   Your fat-not-for-long father.


I keep looking down the pier, this concrete exclamation point off the beach. Beyond the parking lot, the weather has emptied the boardwalk. You can't see beggars or buskers or zealots on heirloom carpets or dumpster divers hunting cans and glass. The rain has begun. It's not exactly cold, but it's supposed to last five days. I have no faith in my umbrella. It already should have blown away. Right now, I'm holding it between my knees.

I fold the letter and put it in my pocket. The rain is more than mist, but lighter and denser than drizzle. The sky is the color of steelhead. When I look south, Marina del Rey hides in the fog. North, the Ferris wheel marks minutes in Santa Monica. I stand up, take a few steps, graze the wet metal railing with my palm.

I guess I'm searching between raindrops. Maybe my father is so thin now, I can't see him. Maybe he's already here. But there are horns on the ocean and propellers chopping the sky, and he'd flinch at those noises like me. So much like me. Nervous, jumpy, sullen, tender, not sure if this is the right thing to say.

Sound lives in the body. Sometimes I can't hear his voice.

When he comes, he'll bite a corner of the soup dumpling and squeeze just the broth into his mouth. He'll tell me that's just how you do it. Fat or skinny. Give it a try. Like a shot, he'll say. The good part, minus the bad calories. Go on. Litter, he'll say. I give you permission. He'll throw the dough into the ocean.
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Article Details
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Author:Novak, JoAnna
Publication:Subtropics
Article Type:Short story
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Mar 22, 2019
Words:1318
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