Small Fry - Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Three months before he died, I began to steal things from my father’s house. I wandered around barefoot and slipped objects into my pockets. I took blush, toothpaste, two chipped finger bowls in celadon blue, a bottle of nail polish, a pair of worn patent leather ballet slippers, and four faded white pillowcases the color of old teeth.

After stealing each item, I felt sated. I promised myself that this would be the last time. But soon the urge to take something else would arrive again like thirst.

I tiptoed into my father’s room, careful to step over the creaky floorboard at the entrance. This room had been his study, when he could still climb the stairs, but he slept here now. It was cluttered with books and mail and bottles of medicine; glass apples, wooden apples; awards and magazines and stacks of papers. There were framed prints by Hasui of twilight and sunset at temples. A patch of pink light stretched out on a wall beside him.

He was propped up in bed, wearing shorts. His legs were bare and thin as arms, bent up like a grasshopper’s.

“Hey, Lis,” he said.

Segyu Rinpoche stood beside him. He’d been around recently when I came to visit. A short Brazilian man with sparkling brown eyes, the Rinpoche was a Buddhist monk with a scratchy voice who wore brown robes over a round belly. We called him by his title. Tibetan holy men were sometimes born in the west now, in places like Brazil. To me he didn’t seem holy—he wasn’t distant or inscrutable. Near us, a black canvas bag of nutrients hummed with a motor and a pump, the tube disappearing somewhere under my father’s sheets.

“It’s a good idea to touch his feet,” Rinpoche said, putting his hands around my father’s foot on the bed. “Like this.”

I didn’t know if the foot touching was supposed to be for my father, or for me, or for both of us.

“Okay,” I said, and took his other foot in its thick sock, even though it was strange, watching my father’s face, because when he winced in pain or anger it looked similar to when he started to smile.

“That feels good,” my father said, closing his eyes. I glanced at the chest of drawers beside him and at the shelves on the other side of the room for objects I wanted, even though I knew I wouldn’t dare steal something right in front of him.

While he slept, I wandered through the house, looking for I didn’t know what. A nurse sat on the couch in the living room, her hands on her lap, listening for my father to call out for help. The house was quiet, the sounds muffled, the white-painted brick walls were dimpled like cushions. The terracotta floor was cool on my feet except in the places where the sun had warmed it to the temperature of skin.

In the cabinet of the half bath near the kitchen, where there used to be a tattered copy of the Bhagavad Gita, I found a bottle of expensive rose facial mist. With the door closed, the light out, sitting on the toilet seat, I sprayed it up into the air and closed my eyes. The mist fell around me, cool and holy, as in a forest or an old stone church.

There was also a silver tube of lip gloss with a brush at one end and a twisting mechanism at the other that released liquid into the center of the brush. I had to have it. I stuffed the lip gloss into my pocket to take back to the one-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village that I shared with my boyfriend, where I knew, as much as I have ever known anything, that this tube of lip gloss would complete my life. Between avoiding the housekeeper, my brother and sisters, and my stepmother around the house so I wouldn’t be caught stealing things or hurt when they didn’t acknowledge me or reply to my hellos, and spraying myself in the darkened bathroom to feel less like I was disappearing—because inside the falling mist I had a sense of having an outline again—making efforts to see my sick father in his room began to feel like a burden, a nuisance.

For the past year I’d visited for a weekend every other month or so.

I’d given up on the possibility of a grand reconciliation, the kind in the movies, but I kept coming anyway.

In between visits, I saw my father all around New York. I