Leave a message, I hear my mother instruct my 84-year-old
father: Hello, Candice! I hope I can see you soon. I
love you, & I hope I can see you soon. & I love you & want
to see you soon. Always obedient, only this time
it takes a lot more out of him. The breath shallow & his voice
muffled by effort while cheerful platitudes remain undaunted
by dementia. I call back. We’re having pizza & Snapple,
he explains with the optimism of a 5-year-old who has yet
to know defeat: of parenting, of career or marriage, let alone
the breathtaking ice bath called aging. I ask if he’s read
the inside of the Snapple cap. I can’t find—ohhh, found it
behind the plate. He is pleased to read a fun fact: The tongue
is the quickest healing part of the human body. Before
either of us comments, my mother interjects another command.
She thinks he’s wasting my time with bottle cap trivia. He
reads it another two times & I imagine it’s for spite,
hoping he still has some fire with so little oxygen. I wrestle
the image of a tongue healing, of language writhing in pain.
Hold your tongue, bite your tongue, control it—these
I understand. Perhaps the cap reads quickest heeling part,
the tongue a wet dog learning to obey. I have failed
to control my tongue for decades, lashing rage & accusation
at my father. Emotionally absent for years, now mentally
absent, his response has always been absence. There’s no
real fact like the complexity of father & daughter—so far
from the simplicity of a screw cap. Today on this call
I hear his tongue move slowly, attempting to chew cheesy bread
& engage with me for the first time in a while. Hello,
I hope I can see you soon. I love you, he exhales. Exhaustion,
before handing me to my mother. I picture his sip of peach
tea, tongue ushering its cool to pharynx & into the esophagus
without instruction. Tongues don’t forget things, don’t need
to be corrected. The human heart is the slowest to heal.

Cover art: Nostalgia by Rachel Coyne

Candice Kelsey

CANDICE KELSEY [she/her] is a poet, educator, and activist in Georgia. Her work appears in Passengers Journal, Variant Literature, and The Laurel Review among others. A finalist for a Best Microfiction 2023, she is the author of three collections with two forthcoming from Drunk Monkeys and Fauxmoir. She has five and a half cats. Find her @candice-kelsey-7 @candicekelsey1.