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Ever Ready

by Michael C. Keith



                                                                         But there’s nothing to equal, from what I hear tell,
                                                                                    that moment of mystery.
–– George Eliot

My father fiddles with the on/off switch on his flashlight. “Crap!” he grumbles and taps it against the palm of his hand. “Damn batteries are new, too.” The flashlight flickers on and his face lights up. “Good!” He owns several flashlights. There is one within arm’s reach everywhere in his house. He’s always had lots of them. They’re very important to him, and I’ve never been sure why.

“What are you looking for?” I ask him as he casts the flashlight’s beam out of his bedroom window as he has a thousand times before.

“Just checking to make sure it works.”

It’s his standard answer to a question I’ve been asking him since I was a kid. “You’re always checking them, dad. How come?” I ask reflexively.

“The batteries die. Sometimes really soon, too, so you got to check them pretty often.”

“But you do constantly.”

“You can never check them enough, because when you need them, they damn sure better work.”

“A jealous husband after you?” I joke, and my father ignores me––he’s heard that line before.

When I was a kid, I was convinced that gangsters were tracking him down. Maybe he had crossed them and they wanted to come break his legs. When I told him my theory, he said that was ridiculous. I wasn’t convinced, and the question of why he spent so much time shinning his flashlight into the night continued to intrigue, if not haunt, me.

“It’s pretty weird doing that. A really strange habit,” I remark.

“You don’t know anything,” he snaps––and I’ve heard that line before, too.

“Dad, c’mon. I’m going to head back to my apartment. Walk me to the door.”

“Hold on!” he says, shooshing me.

“What?” I ask, and he waves me to the window.

He has something in the beam of his flashlight. When it moves, the air empties out of my lungs.

“Jesus! What the . . .?”

“No problem,” he says, holding the beam steady on the most hideous creature I have ever seen. And then suddenly the grotesquery vanishes, almost as if it’s been struck by a ray gun. “There,” says my father, turning to me with a look of triumph.

I steady myself against the wall and try to regain my breath.

“That’s why I always check the batteries,” he says matter-of-factly.


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