He found a half-empty whiskey bottle on his father's bedside table. The label read "Jim Beam," but screamed loneliness. Mickey wondered if his father had completely given up toward the end. He had always sounded upbeat on the phone. "Naw, you don't have to run over here. Your old man's fit as a fiddle and tight as a drum," Larry would say.
"Or maybe just tight."
Mickey swirled the amber liquor around absentmindedly.
Tight was right.
When he drifted through the shadowy living room, bottle in hand, Mickey plopped down in the beat-up lounger, unscrewed the top, and took a long swig. He held the bottle up, imagining a toast to the departed.
Here's to Sally, who dresses in black,
She always looks hot, she never looks back.
And when Sally kisses, she kisses so sweet,
She makes a thing stand that never had feet.
As toasts go, it was old-fashioned and a little salty. Larry would have approved. "God bless," Mickey mumbled.
He wasn't aware of falling asleep where he sat. Twilight surrendered to night. The whiskey bottle nestled in his lap. No tiny creatures stirred in the woodwork because there was no woodwork. In any case, the management had been very good about spraying.
WAKE UP, KIDDO.
"I am awake."
Prove it. Open your eyes.
It wasn't until that moment that Mickey realized his eyes were closed. A faint glow shone on the other side of his eyelids. When he opened them, he saw that the glow was coming from the TV he had given his father for Christmas. Who had turned it on?
He started to get up, and the whiskey bottle rolled onto the floor with a clunk. Mickey didn't pay attention, though, because the TV was acting strange. The screen was filled with gray snow, but that wasn't strange in itself; he'd canceled the cable service the day before. The strange part was that the fuzzy snow contained faint shapes. Mickey leaned down and took a closer look. He could make out the outline of a head, then two hands.
Don't turn it off.
He couldn't tell if the outline of the head had Larry's face, but this was definitely his father's voice. Which should have made Mickey jump back in alarm. Instead he was relieved, because it proved that he was dreaming. "You're in the TV," Mickey said, raising his voice. If he pointed out the dream's absurdity, it would break the spell and he'd wake up.
I'm not in the TV. Don't talk crazy. I'm in limbo. They're letting me talk to you.
"You can see them?"
Not exactly. It's complicated. Just listen.
Mickey hesitated. His glance went down to the carpet, where the fallen whiskey bottle was dripping onto the floor. He could smell the sharp alcohol, and that was wrong. One thing Mickey knew for certain: he couldn't smell in his dreams. "I'm turning this off," he mumbled.
He punched the power button on the remote, but the gray fuzz didn't disappear, or the shapes vaguely visible inside it. The hands now came into focus as they pressed up against the screen from the inside.
I want to help you.
"I don't need your help," Mickey said. He punched the remote several more times. Forget the TV. The TV is just a way to reach you. You don't believe in psychics.
This was more convenient.
Mickey shook his head. "You can't be my father.
First, this limbo business is crap. Second—"
The hands turned to fists and started to bang against the screen. Shut up. I didn't mean church limbo. It's more like a halfway house. Neither here nor there. Get it?
"No. How could I?"