From the Archives: The Death of the Father (1984)

Fiction by Charles Bukowski. Part I.
Father
Courtesy High Times

My father’s funeral was a cold hamburger. I sat across from the funeral parlor in Alhambra and had a coffee. It would be a short drive to the racetrack after it was over. A man with a terrible peeling face, very round glasses with thick lenses, walked in. “Henry,” he said to me, then sat down and ordered a coffee.

“Hello, Bert.”

“Your father and I became very good friends. We talked about you a lot.”

“I didn’t like my old man,” I said. “Your father loved you, Henry. He was hoping you’d marry Rita.”

Rita was Bert’s daughter. “She’s going with the nicest guy now but he doesn’t excite her. She seems to go for phonies. I don’t understand. But she must like him a little,” he said, brightening up, “because she hides her baby in the closet when he comes by.”

“Come on, Bert, let’s go.”

We walked across the street and into the funeral parlor. Somebody was saying what a good man my father had been. I felt like telling them the other part. Then somebody sang. We stood and filed past the coffin. I was last. Maybe I’ll spit on him, I thought.

My mother was dead. I had buried her the year before, gone to the racetrack and got laid afterwards. The line moved. Then a woman screamed, “No, no, no! He can’t be dead!” She reached down into the casket, lifted his head and kissed him. Nobody stopped her. Her lips were on his. I took my father by the neck and the woman by the neck and pulled them apart. My father fell back into the casket and the woman was led out, trembling.

“That was your father’s girlfriend,” said Bert.

“Not a bad looker,” I said.

When I walked down the steps after the service the woman was waiting. She ran up to me.

“You look just like him! You are him!”

“No,” I said, “he’s dead, and I’m younger and nicer.”

She put her arms around me and kissed me. I pushed my tongue between her lips. Then I pulled away. “Here, here,” I said in a loud voice, “get ahold of yourself!” She kissed me again and this time I worked my tongue deeper into her mouth. My penis was beginning to get hard. Some men and a woman came up to take her away.

“No,” she said, “I want to go with him. I must talk to his son!”

“Now, Maria, please, come with us!”

“No, no, I must talk to his son!”

“Do you mind?” a man asked me.

“It’s all right,” I said.

Maria got into my car and we drove to my father’s house. I opened the door and we walked in. “Look around,” I said. “You can have any of his stuff you want. I’m going to take a bath. Funerals make me sweat.”

When I came out Maria was sitting on the edge of my father’s bed.

“Oh, you’re wearing his robe!”

“It’s mine now.”

“He just loved that robe. I gave it to him for Christmas. He was so proud of it. He said he was going to wear it and walk around the block for all the neighbors to see.”

“Did he?”

“No.”

“It is a nice robe. It’s mine now.”

I took a pack of cigarettes from the nightstand.

“Oh, those are his cigarettes!”

“Want one?”

“No.”

I lit up. “How long did you know him?”

“About a year.”

“And you didn’t find out?”

“Find out what?”

“That he was an ignorant man. Cruel. Patriotic. Money hungry. A liar. A coward. A cheat.”

“No.”

“I’m surprised. You look like an intelligent woman.”

“I loved your father, Henry.”

“How old are you?”

“Forty-three.”

“You’re well preserved. You have lovely legs.”

“Thank you.”

“Sexy legs.”

I went into the kitchen and got a bottle of wine out of the cupboard, pulied the cork, found two wine glasses and walked back in. I poured her a drink and handed her the glass.

“Your father spoke of you often.”

“Yes?”

“He said you lacked ambition.”

“He was right.”

“Really?”

“My only ambition is not to be anything at all; it seems the most sensible thing.”

“You’re strange.” “No, my father was strange. Let me pour you another drink. This is good wine.”

“He said you were a drunkard.”

“You see, I have achieved something.”

“You look so much like him.”

“That’s just on the surface. He liked soft-boiled eggs, I like hard. He liked company, I like solitude. He liked to sleep nights, I like to sleep days. He liked dogs, I used to yank their ears and stick matches up their ass. He liked his job, I like to lay around.”

I reached over and grabbed Maria. I worked her lips open, got my mouth inside of hers and began to suck the air out of her lungs. I spit down her throat and ran my finger up the crack of her ass. We broke apart.

“He kissed me gently,” said Maria. “He loved me.”

“Shit,” I said, “my mother was underground only a month before he was sucking your nipples and sharing your toilet paper.”

“He loved me.”

“Balls. His fear of being alone led him to your vagina.”

“He said you were a bitter young man.”

“Hell, yes. Look what I had for a father.”

I pulled up her dress and began kissing her legs. I began at the knees. I got to the inner thigh and she opened up for me. I bit her, hard, and she jumped and farted. “Oh, I’m sorry.” “It’s all right,” I said.

I fixed her another drink, lit one of my dead father’s cigarettes and went into the kitchen for a second bottle of wine. We drank another hour or two. The afternoon was just turning into evening but I was weary. Death was so dull. That was the worst thing about death. It was dull. Once it happened there wasn’t anything you could do. You couldn’t play tennis with it or turn it into a box of bonbons. It was there like a flat tire was there. Death was stupid. I climbed into bed. I heard Maria taking off her shoes, her clothes, then I felt her in bed beside me. Her head was on my chest and I felt my fingers rubbing her behind the ears. Then my penis began to rise. I lifted her head and put my mouth on hers. I put it there gently. Then I took her hand and placed it on my cock.

I had drunk too much wine. I mounted her. I stroked and stroked. I was always on the verge but I couldn’t arrive. I was giving her a long, sweaty never-ending horsefuck. The bed jerked and bounced, jiggled and moaned. Maria moaned. I kissed her and kissed her. Her mouth gasped for air. “My God,” she said, “you’re really fucking me!”

I only wanted to finish but the wine had dulled the mechanism. Finally I rolled off.

“God,” she said. “God.”

We began kissing and it started all over again. I mounted once more. This time I felt the climax slowly arriving. “Oh,” I said, “oh, Christ!” I finally made it, got up, went to the bathroom, came out smoking a cigarette and went back to the bed. She was almost asleep. “My God,” she said, “you really fucked me!” We slept.

In the morning I got up, vomited, brushed my teeth, gargled and cracked a bottle of beer. Maria awakened and looked at me.

“Did we fuck?” she asked.

“Are you serious?”

“No, I want to know. Did we fuck?”

“No,” I said, “nothing happened.”

Maria went into the bathroom and showered. She sang. Then she toweled and came out. She looked at me. “I feel like a woman who’s been fucked.”

“Nothing happened, Maria.”

We got dressed and I took her to a café around the comer. She had sausage and scrambled eggs, wheat toast, coffee. I had a glass of tomato juice and a bran muffin.

“I can’t get over it. You look just like him.”

“Not this morning, Maria, please.”

While I was watching Maria put scrambled eggs and sausage and wheat toast (spread with raspberry jam) into her mouth I realized that we had missed the burial. We had forgotten to drive to the cemetery to watch the old man dropped into the hole. I had wanted to see that. That was the only good part of the thing. We hadn’t joined the funeral procession, instead we had gone to my father’s house and smoked his cigarettes and drunk his wine.

Maria put a particularly large mouthful of bright yellow scrambled egg into her mouth and said, “You must have fucked me. I can feel your semen running down my leg.”

“Oh, that’s just sweat. It’s very hot this morning.”

I saw her reach down under the table and under her dress. A finger came back up. She sniffed it. “That’s not sweat, that’s semen.”

Maria finished eating and we left. She gave me her address and I drove her there. I parked at the curbing. “Care to come in?”

“Not just now. I’ve got to take care of things. The Estate.”

Maria leaned over and kissed me. Her eyes were large, stricken, stale. “I know you’re much younger but I could love you,” she said. “I’m sure I could.”

When she got to her doorway she turned. We both waved. I drove to the nearest liquor store, got a half pint and the day’s racing form. I looked forward to a good day at the track. I always did better after a day off.

High Times Magazine, November 1984

Read the full issue here.

Excerpted from Hot Water Music by Charles Bukowski.

© Copyright 1983 by Charles Bukowski. Reprinted with permission.

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