Him, Me, Muhammad Ali

Randa Jarrar in Guernica:

This is a work of fiction. . .

Foto12399 In the spring of my twenty-fifth year, just after I got my first legit job as a photo archivist, my father died of a brain aneurysm. He was on the Metro-North train from White Plains to Grand Central; his fellow commuters noticed in Scarsdale. Some mornings, on my own commute into the city from Brooklyn, I’d picture him slumped forward in the red and blue fake-leather seat, a newspaper in his lap. If you’re a regular reader of the Sun, you may have seen my father’s “Tut is Back and He’s Still Black” series of articles, which he wrote in revolt against museums’ “color-neutral” depiction of King Tutankhamen. While my father was alive, he sometimes said he wanted to be buried with the old African kings, and when I’d pressed him, he’d said his ashes belonged near the great Pyramid of Khufu. I tried to dissuade him by saying that the pyramids were cheesy; that the ancient Egyptians would have never cremated anyone; that his family would fanatically object to the idea of his cremation, but he just waved his hand, squinted his eyes at me, and said he didn’t care.

When I bought my ticket to go to Cairo and scatter him, I wondered what his Egyptian ex-wife, my long-dead mother, would have thought of it.

My dad’s best friend is an Argentine named Astor, who was his long-time fact checker at the Sun. Their friendship was a tango and so consisted of very little verbal exchange. They played chess and drank coffee and maybe once or twice went fishing. Their dynamic was thus: my father would say something—he had a way of saying everything as though it were the truth of God—and Astor would raise his full eyebrows and shut his eyes once, then tilt his head, and say either: “Yes, I remember that,” “Not true,” or, “That never happened.” When I first met Astor, I was twelve and recently arrived in New York City. We went to meet him at a dive on the Lower East Side. “Meet Astor,” my father said, and I shook his hand. “He was named after Piazzolla.” Astor raised his full eyebrows, shut his eyes once, shook his head, and said, “Not true.”

More here.