My house has smelled like violets for two months. When I get home the odor is so overpowering it almost knocks me down. He won’t admit it, but Dad is spraying Mom’s perfume around before I return from work. He arrives an hour before I do, lets himself in, and starts cleaning.
Tonight he’s attacking my fridge for the second time this month, has scattered packages of cheese, bottles of condiments, and containers of leftovers across my kitchen table. He’s wiping down the white shelves with baking soda and water. I shove six bottles of salad dressing to the side of the table so I can put down my bag of groceries. The smell of violets never used to give me headaches before.
“Dad,” I say, “the fridge wasn’t dirty.”
“It’s an old fridge,” he says. “The cold air doesn’t circulate if there’s clutter.”
“It’s not old,” I say. “I got it five years ago.”
“I’m making chicken breasts for supper,” says Dad. “They’re defrosting in the sink.”
I concede defeat and put away my groceries, though I do so with as much noise as possible, banging cans into the cupboard and slamming boxes on the counter. Dad doesn’t seem to notice. My fingers are tight. My shoulders are tight. Dad has an apartment a mile from my house, but he spends two nights a week there. The rest of the time he comes over to clean and make dinner and sleep on the couch. This has been going on for half a year. Since Mom died. Last week he rented a machine to shampoo the rugs.
He’s my dad so I don’t feel right kicking him out. He’s gotten thinner in the past six months. His wrists and ankles are scary. When we go to the grocery store, people stare. I can’t yell at someone who looks that pitiful, even if he’s no longer a welcome houseguest.
After dinner, Dad watches me paint. I used to only paint flowers. When I took art class in high school I needed something to use for my still-life assignments, and Mom brought home slightly wilted bouquets from her flower shop. They weren’t fit to sell, but Mom said there was too much pretty left to throw them away.
Since she died I started painting airplanes. There’s a little airport on the edge of town, and on Saturdays I drive out to watch planes take off and land. I’d never go up in one of those things, they’re flimsy two-seaters and I’m scared of dropping out of the sky, but I like seeing them circle town. Now when I paint daises or jack-in-the-pulpit, there are tiny planes weaving in and out of the stems.
Dad thinks my paintings are weird, but he sits sentry-still to watch me. I can’t focus when he does that, even though he’s quiet.
“Don’t you think you should get back to your apartment?” I say. The protruding blue of his veins makes me nervous.
“I want to see you finish,” he says.
“I won’t until tomorrow,” I say.
“Just a bit longer.” He rubs his hands together. All his shirts hang loose around his body.
“You can’t keep doing this,” I say, daubing fuchsia on the paper.
“Doing what?” he says. His breath smells of violets. Maybe his body is being replaced by that odor.
“You’re moving into my house,” I say. “You need to stay at your place.”
“I like eating with you,” he says.
I grimace. Since Dad moved in with me, my jaw hurts in the morning. I’m grinding my teeth at night.