Tag Archives: Father

Dad’s Diaries

Dad’s diaries are waiting in the top drawer of
a bed stand in the places that we go when we
get lonely for an hour. The paper-thin parchment
crunches when I turn the page, like autumn leaves
that fell from burning trees too soon;
translucent and impermanent, the noises
keep me company in every bawdy tomb.

I read my favorite stories to a girl that I
won’t Mary from the time when you were
thirty-two, and think of all the shit you carried
with you on your back (you never let it weigh
you down) and I am hoping to remember all
the things you taught me back when you were still around.

Dad, I see your diary was written down by
someone else’s hand, but I still remember
everything you taught me about how to be
a man. You’ll be glad to know your grand
daughter is working overseas where she is
farming in a fertile land and does it all for
free, and how I almost tied your grandson to
a fence the other day, but I just pelted him
with rocks until he bled out all the gay.

See, I’m trying hard to live my life
just the way you told me, or at least
the way I read it in this dusty little
story book where your friends had all
your best intentions written down.
But Father, I have got to ask how you
drank from that bloody glass and split
the fish while we were killing kingdoms
in your name, and how you loved the lonely
lepers and you knew your mother’s whore,
when you told me that the wicked
would not be let in your doors. But you’re
not around to give me all the answers
I might need, so I am forced to watch
as Mary takes my sixty bucks
for a fuck and leaves.

Cereal for Dinner

Final post: Alas, this is my last week as a part of the 5×500 crew. I’m sad to go, but excited for the next phase of writers. It’s been so much fun being a part of this. Thanks for reading. – Mel

Everybody’s standing in the yard waiting for dad. I’m the oldest, so I hold Megan, the baby, in my arms. Mom is in the car already, looking exhausted. I have the feeling like I’m somewhere I’m not supposed to be, like I’m about to be caught. My legs get all tensed up, ready to run, and my breathing gets shallow. I wonder if that’s what’s happening to dad right now, if that’s why he’s locked himself in the downstairs bathroom and refuses to come out.

We’re supposed to be at grandma’s for our cousin’s birthday party, but we’re almost an hour late now. I look to mom to see if there’s any indication when we can just give up and go back inside. When we can stop standing in the yard like a pack of wolves – all eight of us kids, plus the baby. There’s a slamming, and for a moment I think dad has finally vacated the bathroom, but then mom walks up beside me. She says, “He’s overwhelmed with work,” and takes the baby from me. I wonder why we don’t just go to grandma’s without him, but the way mom’s shoulders droop as she carries the baby and tucks Jen, the five year old, under her armpit, I can feel the reason why without entirely knowing it. The rest of us follow suit: Reinard, the ten year old, two year youngers than me; Laurence, nine; Bennett, seven; Maxwell, five – Jen’s twin; Leigh, four; and Peyton, two and a half. She lets us eat cereal for dinner. It takes two boxes of Frosted Flakes, and by the time I pour my own, the milk is down to its final drops and I use water to fill the bowl. Mom nurses the baby, digging entire handfuls of cereal out of the box and eating it, not noticing the tiny white and beige crumbs landing on the baby’s head.

What Was Taken

Tonight we came home to this scene: The front door, ajar. Our things – clothing, books, dishes (broken), and those tiny milk glass figurines I’d been collecting since I was in high school – strewn about. I leaned against the door frame, staring, thinking about all of the words I would use to describe this: Agape, ajar, strewn, shattered, nausea. Dennis whispered commands at me: Get back! Call the police! Get your cell phone! Don’t touch anything! The more he hissed, the heavier I became, pushing against that door frame like a life support. In the end, it was he who rummaged through my purse to find my cell phone. He had to hang up twice and redial because he was fidgeting and shaking so much he couldn’t dial 9-1-1.

By the time the police arrived, Dennis had dragged me into the yard, standing close to the truck so we could make a quick getaway in case the “people who did this” decided to exit through the front door and chase us. We stood in silence as the sirens and the lights singled us out to the neighborhood. Heads poked out of houses, blinds slid open, and cars driving by slowed. And all I could think – as the officers walked through the house and Dennis, taking inventory, barked the things we were missing at them – was about that weekend I went camping with my dad when I was 12. We had just pulled up to the campsite, the sun had set and he was in a bad mood because traffic had delayed us. He hated pitching a tent in the dark, but still, he whistled while he did it. Perhaps it was his whistling that roused the buck nearby, who came charging out of the woods at such a speed I couldn’t help but stand and stare at it, wondering at the way I couldn’t make out its hooves. The only thing I’ve ever seen that has matched the speed of that deer was my father, who picked me up and threw me in the truck so fast that my shoulder popped out of its socket. The buck head butted the driver’s side door, making a dent that looked like a sculpture. My father drove up about a half mile from the campsite where he put my shoulder back in place and let me drink some of his soda with whiskey in it. When we went back to the camp site a few minutes later, my tears dried and sticky on my face, the tent was in shreds and our cooler of food was on its side, sandwiches and ice cream bars mushed into an unrecognizable pile. I sat quietly, thinking about cleaning up all that mess, when my dad put the truck back into drive and pulled away. “It’s just stuff,” he said when I sniffled.

Mr. Eldman’s Hands

There were tables full of food at the wake for Jay’s dad, from the church, from his coworkers. Mrs. Eldman’s book club brought desserts and fresh fruit sliced to look like flowers and tiny animals. Mrs. Eldman stood at the open front door looking like she wanted to shut it or run through it. She greeted friends of her late husband. They used words like “condolences” while they carried trays of meats and casseroles, party food that insulted her lack of appetite.

Jay and Melissa ate pineapple because they’d heard that it helped you digest meat. It was something Jay’s dad had told them, after a barbecue, their diaphragms pinched from fullness. Melissa had watched his hands, always speckled with paint splatters, as they held firmly the knife that sliced downward toward the picnic table. The juice gathered in rivulets, escaping with ease through the gaps in the planks of the homemade picnic table. Mr. Eldman’s hands had made that table.

Oatmeal Cream Pies

Janet has made herself sick on the oatmeal cream pies her grandmother bought her. It’s summertime, so they took a trip to the bakery store over on the bypass, where breads and pastries are cheaper. It’s one of grandma’s habits left over from the days before Newnan had several grocery stores (one of each kind, a Kroger, Winn Dixie, Publix, and a super Wal-Mart) between her brick house on Highway 154 and the mini strip of stores that are slowly going out of business where the bakery is. Every summer Janet drives out there with her grandma to get bread for the french toast or fluffernutter sandwiches they make while her parents are at work.

Janet hides the box as soon as she gets home, stuffs it into the bottom cabinet where the pots and pans go, far in the back behind the cake pans that only get used on holidays and birthdays. She visits the box every hour, when she craves a new one, and by the time her parents get home from work, she’s eaten the entire box.

Her dad doesn’t understand why Janet looks sad during dinner, why she takes long breaks between bites. He hears her crying in the bathroom afterward, but doesn’t ask her why. Instead, he takes the trash out, not noticing the crumpled, empty box of oatmeal cream pies shoved down below food scraps, pencil shavings and cat litter.

Evening Prayers

Shawn can fall asleep anywhere. He can fall asleep on the school bus to and from school even when all the other kids are screaming and giggling about nothing in particular. He can fall asleep on the train ride to and from his grandma’s house in Braintree, where she bakes him cookies and smokes her cigarettes outside even though the entire house smells like an ashtray and the walls are an unintended yellow. He can fall asleep with his dress shoes on, still wearing his Sunday suit that’s gotten too small for him too fast and makes his mother wince whenever she tugs the jacket onto him. He can’t fall asleep in his own bed though, with his mother right down the hall so that when he shrieks and pretends it was a bad dream which is impossible because he hasn’t fallen asleep in that bed in the months since his father stopped coming home, she can be next to him, kneeling as in prayer, repeating, I’m here. I’m here.

Sometimes it takes her eight seconds, sometimes ten. Tonight it has taken her eleven seconds, which still did not give her time to put her left house shoe on, the toe of the right one toe sticking into his carpet like a tree stump or one of those cars being swallowed up by the desert.

There Are Too Many (Part 2)

Part 2 (Ending of part 1 revised a bit)

“Hey!” His father stands at the base of the tree, waving his arms above his head, looking smaller than all those birds together above him. Some of them stare down at him as though trying to interpret his dance, but most of them ignore him, their calls drowning out his curses.

Reynold watches as his father’s arms slow their paddling. The desperation eases and turns into slow sporadic movements. It looks for a moment as though he is just swatting at a bee flying too close. Reynold has seen people give up before – the recognizable stoop of the shoulders as though something has been placed atop, the almost visible effort behind each step and subsequent motion trailing behind like a dust cloud in a cartoon. That is what he sees in his father as he aborts his mission and returns to his pickup. The engine screeches; Reynold remembers a mention of a new starter, remembers ignoring it, and watches the pickup drive down the street away from him.

The birds, emboldened by their victory, seem to get louder in the moments Reynold remains on his twin bed with his head against the window. The glass, cold and dirty, fogs with his breath, turning the mass of crows into a gray rain cloud.

“Renny.” His mother has to say his name three times before he hears her. She won’t open the door until he invites her to, and he pretends that he’s still asleep. She says his name again and the way it sounds against the calls of the birds, he feels guilty for his lie.

“Yes?” He almost has to yell.

She opens the door barely an inch, as though she’s afraid the mass of birds with their noise is waiting for her on the other side. She opens the door the rest of the way and stands there holding her gray robe against her small frame. Reynold wonders how she ever carried him around for nine months, let alone after he was born and growing.

“Go out and help your father, will you?” she asks, scratching her ankle with the toes on the opposite foot. She adjusts the sock so they are uneven and something about the way she looks like that keeps Reynold from telling her that his father’s already left.

“Yeah,” he says. She smiles at him the same way she smiled when he told her he was moving out, the same way she smiled when he showed up the first night Jenny was gone, the same way she smiles when his father says something unintentionally mean to her.

“Thanks,” she says. “I don’t want him out there yelling, waking up all the neighbors.”

Reynold pulls his coat on over the sweatpants and sweatshirt set his mother gave him for Christmas. The clothes aren’t particularly warm, but they are soft, which is its own comfort in the cold. His father’s newer work boots that he refuses to wear until his old work boots disintegrate where he stands stand guard near the front door. Reynold steps into them, his toes scrunching against the curved front of the boot that comes just a half size too soon.

The front door is unlocked, and he takes care to not slam it behind him. The crows’ yelps and caws are another presence in the yard. He wonders why no one else has come to see how to get rid of them, and the task feels much too big for him all of a sudden.

There they are before him, roughly equidistant from his ears, but they inhabit all of the distances, volumes and ranges he feels capable of hearing. There is a steady background cawing that reminds him of what his mother still believes is the ocean in the conch shell from Florida that she bought at a yard sale. It says Daytona in multiple florescent shades on it, and he’s caught her several times just sitting in her chair with the shell pressed up against her cheek with her eyes closed.

That is just the background noise of them. In the middle there is a heartbeat of caws, and he can feel the ebb, the overlapping of where a group of calls end and the next begins. Then there is the front sound, the percussion, the drum major with his perfect rhythmic marking of the full and half beats. Reynold remembers ROTC, the feel of the wooden stick in his hand shaved down to look like a rifle, painted white like the ones the girls in the color guard threw into the air during half time. Reynold had wanted to quit the ROTC the year after Brian Golden shot the better part of his ear off with his gun and the school district voted to immediately replace the real guns with their just as heavy but humiliating equivalents. His father, shaken by Reynold’s mother’s insistence that that boy was trying to kill himself, wouldn’t hear of it, and Reynold had to march around the school’s gymnasium with that harmless piece of tree.