In the Dark
He was my father, but I called him Todd, and I believed his hands were
magic. He spent both his days and nights in the dark, only touching the last blushes of sunlight when he was lucky. Todd shared the skin tone of Antarctica’s glaciers, with rich mahogany eyes that sunk deep into his skull. His hair looked like mine: dark blonde and flimsy, no enticing or attractive appeal to it whatsoever. When he wasn’t covered in coal dust from the mines he sold his soul to, he liked to dress sharply, being particularly fond a baby blue button-up and khakis. After Todd came home drenched in sweat from a hard days’ labor, he instantly fell asleep, sprawled out on my grandmother’s murky brown couch with the TV blaring Frasier reruns. His hands were some of the grodiest and roughest I’ve ever seen. Every line that traced across his palm had become a calloused crack. People said he was the strongest and most dedicated person they’ve ever known, spending most of his life in depths of coal mines. Our hometown praised him and his men for their work. I must admit, I agree with them on that part. When I was young, my elder brother used to tell me that “daddy’s hands make the lights turn on” or “daddy’s hands make the house all cozy and warm.” I spend most of my childhood believing his hands were truly magical. I spent most of my adulthood believing his hands were cursed.
No one with half a brain would go down in those mines. I never said Todd
was intelligent. Fresh out of 10th grade, he decided a life of modest but stable pay was worth more than an education or safety. For as long as I’ve been alive, we’ve lived in the same house, a sturdy, three-bedroom ranch with ruby red carpet plastered everywhere but the kitchen and bathroom. I once asked Todd why we never moved to a different place, he just huffed and spat his tobacco in the bowl he just finished dinner out of.
* * *
I never knew my mother, but I did know she was a singer. Her name was
Lola. She sung at nightclubs near the mines- places where miners would go after work and drain their wages on liquor because it was the only thing that could make them feel alive. Lola met my father there. According to old photographs, they were a handsome couple, vibrant and happy. They got married in a chapel just outside of Cheyenne. The next year they had a son, Thomas, named after my grandfather. A few years down the road they wanted to have another baby. But my mother had spent too much time near the mines, near Todd. Sometimes, the windows would look as if they were covered in soot from the Black Wind, you could never tell if it was day or night. The Black Wind is what killed her, not me. Todd might say otherwise. She died from respiratory complications during birth. I was in Todd’s hands when the monitor flatlined. His work, his hands, are what took Lola, but he’ll never admit it. I was 16 when he told me just how my mother died, and suddenly, his hands were not so magical anymore.
To Todd’s dismay, I took after my mother, pursuing music and learning
every instrument I could get my hands on. I even got a scholarship for our local state school to play violin. Todd never showed to a single one of my recitals or concerts. Thomas, however, came to everything he could, a constant support for me despite his unruly accounting job. In a way, I’ve always thought of him as the father I never had, the person Todd was supposed to be. I’m not sure if it was my existence or the coal mines that squeezed the light out of Todd more.
Where I grew up, the “elderly” are in their mid-40’s. No one wanted to say
it, but the town wasn’t normal, or healthy. When I moved to Las Vegas to join their philharmonic orchestra, my coworkers’ eyes nearly fell out of their sockets after saying most people don’t live past 50 where I’m from. A normal day in elementary school was filled with endless coughing and albuterol inhalers. Our hospitals were always full, and not just with miners, but their families. I used to see men with black hands and pale faces walking the streets, appearing as if they were walking towards their graves rather than their homes. Todd used to wheeze with every breath. I worried about him; I worried about the consequences of having magic hands. He’d call it allergies and tell me to go to my room.
* * *
Todd died in the dark. Those magic hands dug too deep, got covered in too
much dust to use their powers. Black Lung took him on a Tuesday at the ripe old age of 44. I nor Thomas were surprised to receive the phone call. We knew how he would meet his end; Todd knew too.
We arrived back home to stained faces and dirty hands greeting us at our
front door. They spoke of how brave, strong, and diligent our father was. They said he died a noble death, the death of a hero, the death of someone who worked hard to make our community great. But Todd died like everyone else. The work of his magic hands came back to destroy him. The curse was complete.
The funeral attendees wore the color of their stains. More people came than
I thought would, creating a disgusting symphony of coughs and wheezes throughout the ceremony. I watched as they lowered his coffin into the earth. Once again and for all of time, Todd was in the dark.