Checking In on Pop

You know about Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory, right? How all the good stuff is what’s left unsaid, the subtext lurking just beneath the surface?

Yeah, well, the old man drank a lot, too.

Checking In on Pop by Jen Conley

Hey, Pop.

Hey, son.

I got you some coffee.

Thanks. Add some of that vodka in here.

Your hands are shaking.

Yeah, I know. Just pour that in for me.

It’s a little early for alcohol.

Pour it.

All right . . . is that good?


You want me to help you? Hold it to your mouth? You’re gonna spill it.

I got it.

You sure?


This happen every morning now? The shaking?

Hit me again.


Hit me again.

Fair enough . . . That good?


It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?


You should get out. Walk around a bit.


Or sit outside. Enjoy the sun. Read the paper. I brought you the Daily News. I know you like reading the sports section.


Your hands seem a little better now.


I came over to check on you but also because I need to pay your bills but I don’t know the password on your bank account.

You trying to take my money?

No, Pop. I’m trying to pay your bills. Keep the lights on. I got my own money and I wouldn’t take yours.

How’s your mom?


What she up to?


She still with Joe?

Yeah. They’re going down to South Carolina to visit Gina.

Your sister is living in South Carolina?

She moved there last month. Charleston. Her boyfriend lives there.

Hit me again.

Pop, that’s three shots of V. You need that much?

One more.

You gotta tell me what the password is on your bank account.

One more.



Where’s the password?

It’s on a sticky note. Your sister is living with her boyfriend?

Yeah. Matt. He found a job down there. They like the South.

I hate the South. Too hot. Your mother and me went down there, I can’t remember when. You and your sister were small.

I don’t remember that trip.

No, no. You guys didn’t go. Me and your mom went to a wedding. A friend of hers. I got drunk and she left me on the lawn in front of the restaurant. I woke up to a beautiful morning.

Like today?

Just like today. Hit me again.

I need the password, Pop.

Hit me again.

No, I won’t.

Give me that bottle.

Fine. Let me pour it.


The password, Pop.

I’ll get it for you.

You need help getting up?

Leave me alone. I got it.

If you tell me where the sticky note is—

It’s in my brain. Right in my head.

Okay. What is it?


That’s Mom’s name.

Yeah. We met when we were twenty-two. That’s how I remember it.

All right. Just sit down and I’ll try the password.

Okay. I’ll sit.

Good. I’m gonna give it a try on my cell, okay?


What’s the username? I forgot to ask you.

Shit. I don’t remember.

Pop, this is important.

Wait. I gotta think.




Yeah. I took your mother there for dinner and afterwards, while we were strolling around the gardens because it’s a beautiful place, I asked her to marry me.

Sounds like a nice proposal.

Girls don’t like bad proposals.

Right. That’s funny, Pop.

I’m a funny man. Still.

Have you called any of your guys? Someone to come over and help you get to a detox, help you get to a rehab or at least back to the meetings?

No. They don’t need to see me this way.

What about that kid you sponsor?

He probably found someone else.

I can get you set up with a rehab.

Don’t want it right now.

But when you do, you got my cell number. Right?


Let me try the username and password.

Go ahead. I know they’re right.

They work, Pop.

Told you.

Okay. I’ll be back tonight to go through your bills and figure out what needs to be paid.

Thanks. Hit me again.

Pop, I can’t do that.

Then give me the bottle.

Pop, no.

One more hit and then help me to bed.

Fine. Here. I’ll pour it.

You’re a good boy. You always were.

Pop, I hate to see you this way. You had three good years. You can do it again.

I like drinking. I like being sober. I like drinking. It’s my problem. It’s the way it is. And I ain’t drinking because of your mother and Joe. Don’t care.

Pop, let’s get you into bed.

I miss what I had.

You should sleep.

You know?

Let’s get you to bed.  

All right. Put the TV on. I like that channel. Home improvement. The one with the brothers. They make a mess out of things.

Careful, Pop. It’s just down the hall.

You still fixing up that little house? Remember when I’d come by and help you?

Yeah. Still working on it. Watch where you’re going.

I can come by. Tomorrow. You need help with them counters. In the kitchen.

I finished that, Pop. My buddy helped me.

Ah, shit. I’m a crap father. I should be dead.

Careful, Pop. Lay down now.

You got the TV on?

Doing it now.

Channel 42. That brother show.

I know. I got it.


Well, I’ll see you Pop.

I love you, son.

I know. I love you too but I have to go to work.

I love you, boy.

I know. I love you, too, but you gotta let go of my hand.

Don’t let me die this way.

You won’t die. Sleep it off and when I come back tonight we’ll get you set up for a detox and rehab.

I don’t want to go.

I know. Let go of my hand, Pop.

I love you, son.

Let go of my hand.

I can’t. Don’t leave me.

Sleep it off, Pop.

I love you.

I’ll be back later.


That’s it. Watch your show. I’ll be back tonight.


See you, Pop.


Jen Conley’s short stories have appeared in Needle, Crime Factory, Yellow Mama, Thuglit, Grand Central Noir, All Due Respect, Trouble in the Heartland and others. She is one of editors of Shotgun Honey and her stories have been nominated for a Spinetingler Award and shortlisted for Best American Mystery Stories. Find her on Twitter @jenconley45 or