September 6, 2013 by The Citron Review
by Suzanne Farrell Smith
The evening our father died, my sisters and I did something we were not normally allowed to do: watch television. Mom preferred that we crochet and play school before bed. Debbie remembers red flannel “jammies” with white plastic feet that made her toes sweaty. I like to think of our feminine foursome in matching nighties, soft and pale pink with flowers.
I wonder if I felt excited to be shuttled into that February night, along the dirt path, and through the pachysandra patch to the neighbor’s house, where we ate Spaghetti-O’s, according to Tammy, and watched television, according to all. I remember that part. The show was Knight Rider: “A shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist.” In February 1983, the show was over halfway through its inaugural season. It was a Monday, and new Knight Rider episodes aired on Friday nights, so perhaps NBC was showing a rerun of the latest installment, “The Topaz Connection.”
I purchase Knight Rider and skip ahead to “The Topaz Connection.” The publisher of a men’s magazine is murdered. Michael Knight and his sleek supercar, KITT, head to Vegas to investigate. Miss November plays a role—topaz is November’s birthstone, something my father and I shared. The dead man’s daughter, the standard love interest, sums up the episode:
“Glamour and sex. Fashion and sex. Cars and sex!”
On the screen: a supposedly dead ex-cop and indestructible supercar on a grisly but glitzy investigation. Watching: four little girls, in jammies or nighties, waiting at the neighbor’s while their mother is told by a cop and a priest details of their father’s death. KITT could sustain impact at top speeds, destroying the other guy without receiving a scratch. My dad’s small gold Honda stood no chance against the drunk driver’s oncoming car.
My sisters and I remember the red lights on the “mouth” of the talking car known as KITT. We differ in how we recall Mom’s phrasing of the terrible news. But after thirty years, none of us has forgotten those lights. To us, watching the show, watching television at all, had been as strange as the strangers at the door.
I tell my sister Beth I am trying to remember the night our father died. “Mom knew the minute she opened the door,” she says. “But I thought, it’s a mistake. He’s just hurt or asleep, not dead. I thought that until I saw him in the casket.”
“You saw him?”
“We all did. We drew pictures to put in there. We gave him flowers, too. Don’t you remember? We wore matching cranberry-colored velvet jumpers with ruffles along the straps. I remember placing my picture next to him.”
My sisters say I’m lucky that I don’t remember. His skin looked like silly putty, they tell me. His knucklebones, pronounced.
After the funeral our mother put us to bed and lay down on the porch, where she would sleep for many years, her only company the blaring television.
Suzanne Farrell Smith’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Kenyon Review, Post Road, PANK, Anderbo, The Monarch Review, Hippocampus Magazine, and elsewhere. She holds an MA from The New School for Social Research and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She teaches college writing and runs an editing business in New York City, where she lives with her husband and son.