My father left me his guitar when he died. I took it right to the pawnshop.
How much? I asked the guy behind the counter. He had this boxy, firm-looking beer gut. The watch he wore probably cost more than my truck.
You steal this? he asked me, examining the guitar anyway. I wasn’t offended. If I were somebody else seeing me, I would have figured as much.
It was my father’s, I explained.
He stared down the neck of the guitar like a rifle sight. The shelves in the glass case between us were lined with switchblades, laptops, engagement rings and arrowheads. A small fan on the counter blew only on the clerk. BEWARE: GUARD FERRETS, said a sign taped to the side of the register.
I thought of the dog I’d left in my truck, the pup my ex-wife and I had rescued. Ginger Ale was its name. I’d parked in the shade of some palm trees, but couldn’t remember if I’d cracked a window.
Is he deceased? the clerk asked.
My father? I said. As of like three days ago.
He set the guitar down and said, Hey, man. Condolences.
And I guess since he was the first person I’d shared the news with, first person I’d said the words out loud to, since I didn’t go to the funeral or any of that, I told him that condolences weren’t necessary, really, because my father had been a board-certified piece of shit—frankly the world was better off with him dead. I know it sounds awful, but I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true. He wasn’t a bad guy when I was real little. But when I got around 12 or so he started in stepping out on my mom, sleeping with various women not his wife, typical mid-life crisis bullshit. Of course then my mom would catch him with one of these women at the sushi place, at a stoplight, in my racecar bed one time, and she’d make him move out, pack his shit, chase him around the backyard with construction paper scissors threatening to cut that pecker right off and feed it to the cat. Out he’d go. But give it a month and she’d get all depressed, gain some weight and get an ugly haircut, and guess who’s back at dinner, screaming at hockey on the TV, his stupid pecker intact. And then guess what, he’s fucking around on her again! He had a thing for twenty-somethings who worked in car washes, girls who washed his car specifically and couldn’t count without their fingers. And so this cycle rinsed and repeated itself a few times for a few years until eventually he set up a whole secret life with one of these girls, a bungalow one town over, matching convertibles, bunch of Chihuahuas, rescues. The house was way nicer than ours. That’s when my mom left him for good. And you wouldn't think it, after all the wrongs he committed, but after that he became this just disgusting vengeful asshole, told everyone my mom was a psycho, an ice queen, this hysterical cold bitch who’d driven him to cheat by not putting out. What he said about me was no better. He stole a bunch of stuff, too. My mom’s anniversary earrings. My baby blanket from the incubator. He also got a credit card in my mom’s name and maxed it out and never paid the debt. She got stuck with it. What else? Right: he disappeared to Florida with the girlfriend, said my mom deserved it when she got in this bad car accident, that she brought suffering on her own dumb self to make him feel guilty, always had. I basically stopped talking to him after that. He didn’t seem to care or mind. Years went by without a peep, like a decade. I dropped out of school and had a pretty tough time, found myself in situations where having a father may have been useful, but whatever. I got through it. Long story short he goes to jail for running some scam involving a retirement home and denture alternatives. White collar crime. Suddenly he can’t stop calling me from prison and leaving these sad sack messages on my voicemail, how guys were threatening to -rape him, how his girlfriend was fucking her AA sponsor, how he missed me, our family, loved us, regretted everything, boo hoo hoo. It was nuts. I couldn’t believe he remembered my number. Anyway, he died like a month before he was supposed to get out of jail. Pancreas cancer, or so I was told.
Terrible disease, the clerk said.
I hope so, I said. How much for the guitar?
He offered me the Mourner’s Special, 25 bucks more than it booked, $250 in total. I shook his hand and said that was generous. He counted a fan of bills onto the counter, then introduced me to his ferrets. They knew tricks. One hopped on his hind legs like a bunny. The other played dead for pellet treats. A speaker above the door played me a jingle on the way out.
In the parking lot I was accosted by a female addict. Eye bags, track marks. She looked like my ex-wife but sick and younger, the age my wife was when we rescued Ginger Ale. The girl said she’d suck or fuck me for whatever I’d gotten from the pawnshop, but she’d just take the money if I had any shred of decency left.
Good god, I thought. What was this girl’s father like? It was a million degrees outside. I could see the fogged-up windows of my truck. The palm trees I’d remembered earlier were actually a single telephone pole, providing shade in the wrong direction. The girl eyed me expectantly. What other choice was there?
I gave her everything.