“I’m… done,” Tort wheezed. A.S. stood up and started to remove his lunch tray, but he held it with his gnarled and weak hands. “Still… eating,” he puffed out the words with effort. She looked at him with questioning eyes. “You just said you were done.”
He drew in a breath through both his mouth and nose in a gasp like a fish trying to breathe air. “I’m… done,” He gasped again and a cold chill ran up her cheeks. She reached in her pocket for her cell phone, but her father just sat there, eating the last of the savory onion pie A.S. had bought from that Vietnamese lady at the nail shop. Was he dying? What was he trying to say?
After two more bites, Tortimer looked at A.S.’s anxious face. “…being… mayor.” He said with a finality. His words had become so limited with the oxygen tubes interfering. “Yes, Papa. You’re the mayor.” She considered whether she should pack him up in the car for another trip Up North, he was talking so strangely. Was he not getting enough oxygen to his brain?
She started to inspect the oxygen lines, but her father took her hand. “You run.” She panicked now. Run from what? Was he having a stroke? She inspected his face for slackness on one side or the other and looked into his eyes. Did his pupils match? She could smell his adult diaper and wondered if she should change it before they left. “It’s okay, Papa. I’ll get you to the hospital.”
Tort started laughing, but the laugh transformed into a cough. He held out his hands, trying to stop A.S. from going through the lengthy process of getting him out of bed. When he recovered from his cough, he puffed out the whole thought, complete and cogent, “You run for mayor. I’m done.”
A.S. slipped away from the oxygen tank she had start to remove from the chain on the wall and sat awkwardly on her chair next to her father’s bed. Angie’s cutting words echoed in her mind, “YOU’RE not running for Mayor. Your dad is.” She could hear her old friend’s voice repeating the two sentences over and over again. If her father wasn’t running for mayor, everything was wrong in the world.
“No, no, Papa! I can’t run for mayor.” Her fingers absentmindedly ran along the oxygen lines, removing the kink and Tort breathed easier with the added oxygen. He drank it in like a tall glass of water and answered her, “You’ve practically… been running the town… since I came back from Florida… What difference… would running yourself… make?”
“It’s too late for you to bow out of the race now. The primaries are over.” Tort looked at her over his bifocals and gave her a withering look that would have had her confessing to a myriad of sins as a child. “Primaries…” He puffed out and took another bite of onion pie. He chewed as if he were supremely disappointed with her.
“Primaries in Merriton… consist of… nothin’ more than… puttin’ your name on a paper.” The longer he went with unkinked oxygen, the more he was able to chastise her. “Go,” he waved the fork at her. “Put your name on the paper.” He took another bite of food and spoke with his mouth full. “While you’re there… take my name off.”
Just like every other thing she had done as a child, A.S. followed her father’s instructions in a desperate attempt to make him proud.