P—W  V° 01:02


by Anthony Palliparambil Jr.

There is a den of red foxes that live in the bushes in front of my parents’ house. It’s not odd to notice the pitter-patter of their feet in moments of silence, or to hear their wails in the middle of the night as they claim their territory. I’ve even seen an errant tail disappear into the plant cover when I’ve opened the door to check the mail. Some mornings, when the world is still, and the hubbub of suburbia hasn’t yet sprung to life, the foxes emerge. They stretch out on the tacky astroturf that was installed on the front porch long before we ever owned the house. Fortunately, in recent months, they’ve taken to scratching and pulling at the green fabric with their teeth, clearly as distraught by the previous homeowner’s questionable taste as I am; a summer project in waiting.

Of course, I never see any of this, at least not while it’s happening. It’s all caught on tape, documented by one of the many cameras dotting the perimeter of our property. I am very distrustful of “smart” home technology – after all, the doorbell is enough to let me know when someone’s here. But no, in this house, every lightbulb is controlled via the internet, as are the switches themselves, the security system, the power outlets, and more Amazon Alexa devices than I care to count.

Most mornings, I’m drinking my coffee, scrolling through Instagram, and listening to the headlines, barely noticing the sound of my father - the culprit behind all of the automation - stirring in his bedroom. The sound of him slowly but steadily making his way out of bed, into his bathroom, and back. And then the choir of mechanical beeps begin to sing their song, signaling to me and my mother that he is preparing to take on the day. He loads a cartridge into the device that has been hanging by his side for the last five years and powers it up. Mornings usually begin with a high dose; enough to enter directly into his system to give him the kickstart he needs to make it from the bedroom to the kitchen.

Some days, the medicine works as planned – he can get around with ease (so to speak), and his body calms down enough to maintain a sense of normalcy. Those are the good days, filled with creative projects, spending countless hours speaking with his friends and family back in India, and finding new problems to solve with the clever inventions he makes in his study-turned-workshop. This week, he wants to rush through breakfast so he can continue building his cyclical hydraulic pump. I’m not entirely sure how he continues to use highly dangerous power tools, especially when he has a debilitating disease, but it’s one of my favorite things about him. His body may not work the way he wants it to, but his mind is limber.

Some mornings, however, that same device that hangs from his shoulder hardly makes a difference. The medicine doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, resulting in severe uncontrolled movement throughout his entire body. I once overheard his neurologist call it dyskinesia.

Dyskinesia (noun): the abnormality or impairment of voluntary muscular movements.

Sometimes it means he’ll gently sway back and forth as he tries to go about his day. At other times, it means his body will dance so violently that he cannot sleep. Those are the days when he looks spitefully at the machine, wondering why he went through all the trouble when it doesn’t even function properly. Those are the days when he says, “Just get rid of all of my tools. Give them away. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t do anything anymore.”

But regardless of how his physical body feels, he always tries his hardest in the mornings. I relish the moment I hear my dad’s footsteps shuffle into the hallway, the wheels of his walker providing a low hum as he pushes it along. He always stops in the doorway just before turning into the kitchen. “Good morning, Ashwin,” he’ll say in the soft tone that seems to have become his voice over the last few years. His greeting is always delivered with eye contact and a smile, though some days that smile is more of a suggestion than a declaration.

All of the cameras and smart devices throughout the house were installed to bring the same ease to his day-to-day life. And just like his medicines, they don’t always work right. Admittedly, it’s sometimes a little entertaining hearing him repeatedly shouting “Alexa, turn on all kitchen lights,” across the room, only for it to misunderstand his accent. “Thank you, Alexa,” my dad still says with an exasperated sigh, after it recognizes him on the fourth go-round.

Just as he begins to eat, I waltz into the kitchen, place my mug in the sink and ask what he has planned for the day. Some mornings he can hardly contain his excitement as he tells me how one of his inventions didn’t work right and how he’s going to resolve it. Some days, he reaches into the storage seat of his walker to retrieve his tablet and pull up the security camera footage from the night before. The foxes have had pups. He’s immensely proud of the family outside our home.

I smile at the video. “Good luck with your projects today,” I tell him, before running back upstairs.

2021 © A.Palliparambil Jr.