West Virginia

Mark Brazaitis

Mark Brazaitis

West Virginia was selected as part of MSU Library Short Edition's call for submissions on the theme of "Home," in coordination with the MSU Broad Art Museum's exhibition "Where We Dwell." Mark Brazaitis is the author of eight books, including The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala, winner of the 1998 Iowa Short Fiction Award, and The Incurables: Stories, winner of the 2012 Richard Sullivan Prize and the 2013 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Prose. His essays, stories, and poems have appeared in The Sun, Witness, Michigan Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. A former Peace Corps Volunteer and technical trainer, he is a professor of English, the director of the Creative Writing Program, and the director of the West Virginia Writers’ Workshop at West Virginia University.

On his way from Washington, D.C., to appointments at the Cleveland Clinic, my father would stop for the night at our house in Morgantown. My wife would make something he liked or we'd order pizza, and our older daughter would ask him to give her one of his Famous Flipper-roos. At three, at four, she was light enough so even when his cancer had nibbled the strength from his arms and legs, he could hoist her onto his shoulder, somersault her over his chest, and ease her down his legs, her feet meeting the hardwood floor with a thump of delight.
In the early stages of his cancer, he could still play golf. I would take the day off to be his partner on the Mountainview course at Cheat Lake. In memory, all of our days on the course are the same: warm sun, cool breezes. He'd always beat me, and not because I let him. But in his final summer, the closest he could come to playing a round was to stare at his library of golf books and swing a nine-iron in his front yard—twice, three times—before the pain in his spine made him think he'd broken his back.
When his cancer began to shoot out the stars in his brain, leaving him in a gray twilight of forgetfulness, he thought all his visitors, after offering their false-cheerful goodbyes, were going home to West Virginia. (With the strange candor his illness inspired in her, his wife admitted to being annoyed by his fixation on a state to which she felt no attachment.)
To the end, my father had all of us returning here. I wondered why. Was it the golf? His daughter-in-law's cooking? His granddaughter and her eager laughs?
Was it the song about "almost heaven"? Was he wanting us all close to where he hoped he was going?
He was an atheist, though—a fervent one.
It is I, sixteen years after his death, who inhabit a kind of afterlife. I dream so often of him it's as if he has a guest rewards card to my subconscious. I use his favorite words and phrases—indeed, indeed I do—and my gestures, from placing a contemplative finger to my forehead to swinging my right arm as I walk, faithfully follow his flight paths. And only yesterday, as I was about to mow my lawn, I found a golf ball—brand new, one of his favorite brands—sitting as plump as an Easter egg in my backyard grass. It was the perfect fall day to play: warm sun, cool breezes, the trees aflame with color. It was as if he'd dropped the ball from the heavens he didn't believe in so I might recall a round of golf we'd played or imagine us playing anew. If so, the gesture was unnecessary, redundant.

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