For the first few years I could remember you were always up before me (gone to work) and in bed after me (back from God knows what) and our lives only overlapped in the half-life of the night, respective worlds of son and father only converging when we were both unaware. You slept in an exaggerated sprawl, like you were posing for a cheesy commercial, not hunched over like you were during the day. While I would curl into a passive ball and Mom would lie flat as a plank as if freshly executed, you would attack sleep, relaxed but vigilant.
But I could only see this when I would wake up in the night, sometimes groggy, sometimes clearheaded, sometimes just to take a piss. Sometimes it seemed like my brain just had to make sure I was still alive and that there was a roof over my head and the world still made sense, and all I had to do was snag a sight of you and catch a whiff of the smoke in the curtains and then I could pass out peacefully. Even if your mind was already running further away by then our bodies were never closer, in the smoky room where the three of us slept during those years, that room where all our needs and wants blended together, where cigarettes and food and water and sleep were all the same, all melted into a hazy stew. Mom said that the cigarettes would kill your lungs but they seemed to blend with your soul, something that you seemed to transmit to me either genetically or through diffusion at night. In the end that was the only thing you left- a curve in the curtains, a crease in the pillow, your breath in the walls.
Story by Ben Biber