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18 Candles and an Eraser

My father offered his hand, limp, 
fingers curled like he was passing 
me a piece of paper. I had never 
seen death, and now, at his bedside,
I remembered the time I smashed 
my finger in the car door, the nail 
falling off, raw pink skin exposed. 
I screamed, "Look Dad, it came off!" 
and held it up to him like a prize.

I look at him now, groaning 
the low thud of a tuba, and watch 
his chest sink, rise, sink. I remember 
the time I came home late. He wrapped 
my cold roast beef sandwich in aluminum
foil, plopped it in the microwave, 
sparks, then the explosion. 

And the surprise birthday party 
my friends threw, we gathered 
around a cake with eighteen candles 
and a small rubber penis stuck 
in the middle. I cradled it in my palm, 
scooped icing onto its tip then winked 
and sucked. I hadn't seen my father 
watching from the hallway, 
and I waited for a shadow to cross 
his face, the lines to deepen.
But he smiled, laughed. 

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