Kidding, Kidding By Di Jayawickrema

The first time I saw a thing I thought it was a rubber chicken. It looked so funny, drooping fat and yellow out of the man’s pants on the 6 train. I smiled up at him so we could laugh together but he wouldn’t meet my eyes. That’s when I knew he wasn’t kidding. I tugged my Amma’s hand to make her look but he was already gone, beware of the closing doors. 

#

Hasith was the ambassador’s bodyguard at the embassy where Amma worked. He was big-big, like a protector should be. Tall and round and bald like a cannon with the ball in it ready to go. He gave all us kids big bear hugs when we came to visit our parents at work. One time, Hasith came with me and Amma to the toy store and I begged Amma for this mermaid whose tail changed colors in the bath, but she said, no, no, no. When we left the store, Hasith pulled out the mermaid he’d bought behind Amma’s back. She pretended to be mad. We all loved Hasith.

#

In middle school: subway again. The man sat across from me and my friend Tamika, covering and uncovering his little pink thing with a crumpled paper bag like he was playing peek-a-boo. He kept his eyes on his lap. We pretended to keep our eyes on ours but we peeked. Every time he moved the bag away like ta-da, his thing waving in the air like a dumb baby fist, we burst out in giggles, squirming in our plastic seats. Nobody else in the crowded subway car laughed. 

#

Hasith let me hold his gun for the first time. I’d been begging for years and years. We were alone, sitting in the lunch room at the back of the embassy. Both hands, he said. I held my palms open, fingers wiggling, giggling hard. He took the gun off the thick black belt he wore below his big belly and placed it in my dancing hands. Well? he said, smiling. I hated it. It was heavy and slick, like a cast-iron pan coated in old fat. Wish I had one, I lied.  

#

The first year of high school, Min and I were walking down a bad street. Min was tough. She listened to German death metal and wore too-big cargo pants belted tight. The man was sitting in the driver’s seat of a beat-up, parked car, eyes closed and head back, his right arm pumping away. We knew by then what that meant. Min went right up to the open car window and said real loud, need a hand, mister? The man’s eyes jerked open and before he could speak, we sprinted away, howling with laughter. I didn’t see it this time. It was basically non-existent, Min told me.

#

That was the year I turned pretty. One day when I walked into the embassy lunch room, Hasith pulled me into his usual bear hug but as I smiled up at him, he grabbed my face. On instinct, I pulled back like a collared cat trying to shake him off. But he had one arm gripping me against his cannonball belly, one iron hand cupping my cheeks. It felt slow. Me leaning back and back as he leaned in and in and planted a fat wet kiss on my closed dry lips. My first kiss. He let go then, and I blinked. He winked and laughed as he walked away. Turns out all men have jokes.

***

Di shares how this this moving piece was created. Please note: content warning for sexual abuse in the paragraph below.

This piece was born in a workshop led by the wonderful Meg Pokrass from a prompt to describe a familiar stranger. As soon as I read the prompt, an image of the first stranger who flashed me appeared in my mind, immediately followed by the face of a family friend who was a protective presence in my life until he wasn’t. I wrote the piece very fast, without much conscious thought, driven by a series of remembered images (as is most of my flash writing!). The only active decision I made was to braid the two threads of public masturbation and “Hasith.” The other narrative elements: the child perspective, the quick movement and layering of times/places, the forthright but somewhat distant tone, were instinctive choices that I often feel drawn to when I’m writing to think through disturbing childhood experiences while still protecting the child in me.

Di Jayawickrema is a Sri Lankan New Yorker. Her writing has appeared in New Delta Review, The Pinch, Wildness, Entropy, and elsewhere. A VONA alumnus and a Kundiman fellow, her writing has been nominated for Best of the Net and anthologized in Best Microfiction. She is an Assistant Editor for fiction at The Offing and for features at The Rumpus. Find her at dijayawickrema.com and on Twitter @onpapercuts.

“Kidding, Kidding” was first published in Jellyfish Review.

Header Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

First Monsoon By Naz Knudsen

 

 

10. Early Mornings

The 5:00 AM train that goes through the Sixth Street underpass whistles in the distance. Shuffling the pillows, I try to find a position that offers some relief from the pressure in the back of my neck. I live in an apartment near the University of Arizona campus. As an only child who has lived with her parents all of her life, it took me a while to adjust to being alone in a two-storey apartment, in a new city, in a new country. For the first few weeks, I left the radio on all night. Soon, the train whistle became a reliable companion. Before I saw the freight cars I imagined a passenger train with cozy compartments carrying lone travelers to the east.

***

At around 5:00 AM in Tehran my room is still dark except for a single ray of light peeking through the gap between the curtains, illuminating a strip of the burgundy silk bedcover. I took some medicine a few minutes ago and hope to go back to sleep. My admission to the Media Arts program at the University of Arizona coincided with the “Axis of Evil” speech. As a result, when I applied for a student visa the gold embossing on my Iranian passport carried an extraordinarily destructive weight—one that overshadowed my freshly-pressed grey suit, the fact that I had studied in one of the best art universities in the Middle East, and the impressive scholarship I had received. I spent days traveling from Tehran to Dubai, to Ankara, to Cyprus, and was rejected for a visa in the American consulate in each city twice. I dreaded the nights in the hotels, surrounded by the sounds of travelers’ laughter, and I found shelter in In Search of Lost Time. Suddenly, Proust’s sentence structure wasn’t too complex: it was consoling, and we became companions in airports and embassies.

A few weeks ago, with a renewed 2003 admission letter, I applied for the student visa again. The seventh time was the charm. I was elated about starting my studies in the United States, and when the morning pain first started pounding in my head, I didn’t care. My mom did, and she dragged me to the urgent care clinic. We came back home with medication for migraines and a recommendation to get a CT scan.

***

I listen to the silence of Tucson’s early morning streets outside of my window as the train leaves the city and the whistle fades in my thoughts. The blue bedcover feels cool beneath my palms. Its texture reminds me of my burgundy bedcover back home. The ceiling fan has been staring at me for a while. I sacrifice a few more minutes of sleep in favor of a hot shower.

As I wait for the water to get warm, I look at the blurry version of myself in the bathroom mirror with a fragment of Arizona sky repeating itself in the background from the window next to the bed. The image looks like a closeup of Monet’s “Woman with a Parasol,” minus the umbrella. I run my fingertips over the arch of my brows. The dots of the newly-grown hair feel rough to my touch. I try to use a tweezer to pluck them. The closer I get to the mirror, the harder it is to see the dots. Pinching the thin skin beneath the eyebrows a couple of times, I give up and sigh at the thought of needing glasses again after having my LASIK procedure only a few years prior.

The heat of the water seeps through the heavy numbness in my neck, and the pain retreats. During orientation week a couple of professors warned me about the temperature, the stress of graduate school, and how so many people here get migraines, especially during Tucson’s monsoon season. I lean my head on the tiles of the shower and let the water wash over me. Behind this wall, on the shelves of my desk, there is a small plant, and next to it, a picture from my last birthday at home.

 

9. 25th Birthday

Eyebrows freshly threaded and shaped. They trace a line in tune with my smile. Toward the end, there is a subtle arch bringing attention to my eyes. I have a bright red shirt on and sit on a loveseat whose cherry-colored cushions barely show behind my mom’s small frame. From the crimson paisleys of the rug beneath my feet to the red and gold motifs of the Termeh covering the table, everywhere in our house there are traces of my mom’s love for red. In the picture she is leaning in, holding my left hand. My dad is on my right, with a look that doesn’t entirely give into a smile. My cousin took lots of pictures that night. In some I am in skin-tight grey jeans, and in a few I have a pair of loose-fitting tan pants on. Early in the evening, excruciating headaches stopped me from celebrating.

In my room, I close my eyes and take deep breaths to calm my mind beyond the laughter of my dad and uncles as they help themselves to my mom’s famous Lubia-polo, one of my favorite Persian dishes. Above the round dining table, a small A/C unit turns on and off regularly to help the swamp-cooler keep our small apartment on the north side of Tehran cool. The aroma of saffron and cinnamon embedded within the crusty rice fills the room as my aunt comes in with a plate of food. She asks if the pain is any better from an hour ago and insists I change into looser pants, it would help me breathe easier. I change into a more comfortable pair. My mom pops in to say they have turned the thermostat to a lower setting, that the heat wasn’t helping. I close my eyes and the plate of Lubia-polo sits neglected next to my bed. I think about packing my running shoes and try to imagine my life in Arizona.

 

8. Melting Masks

It is monsoon season in Tucson and a deluge has just let up. The ground is wet, and the air is heavy. The steam rises off the pavement and dissolves into the background of grey buildings adorned with terracotta tiles. Students are mostly in shorts and flip flops. On the northeast corner of the UA Student Union, there is a small market called U-Mart that has some groceries and essentials. I step out of U-Mart with a grocery bag and a blue backpack loaded with Media Theory books that are weighing heavily on my mind and on my shoulder. It’s been a long day of not understanding half of the discussions during the back-to-back seminars. Across from the U-Mart there is the campus bookstore, and above it there are restaurants, galleries, and a few theaters. A person wearing a Wildcats t-shirt and a shimmering face covering that resembles a ‘sad’ theater mask walks out of the bookstore. I see a group of students lingering nearby; they all have the same unusual masks—perhaps there was an event on the second floor of the student union. I begin walking towards my apartment with the bag that holds my essentials: a couple of slices of chocolate bread, a few Granny Smith apples, and coffee creamer. Less than a block into my walk I feel surrounded by surreal faceless people. My pace quickens. The edges of their unnerving masks dissolve slowly into the misty warm air.

 

7. Persian Tea

I blink to focus my vision through the steam. At home, my mom adds some hot water to the small glass teapot before putting it back on top of the samovar to let the tea brew for a few minutes. I am on the phone with my dad’s car insurance when she answers the door. Arshan hugs my mom and nods hello in my direction. We have been friends for six years and our relationship doesn’t have a name. I had a crush on him and pursued him before we became friends without him knowing; a year later he told me he loved me. I wasn’t sure of how I felt, and we remained friends. He is the only guy who visits occasionally for a cup of tea or even lunch. My mom tells him I was in another car accident. Arshan raises an eyebrow. Ten days before moving to the U.S. I could have done without the hassle of insurance calls.

“It wasn’t really an accident. I got to the highway, the guy on the left just kept going…”

“…She didn’t see the other car…” My mom cuts me off as she pours tea into a few clear glass teacups. Arshan kisses me on the forehead and sits on one of the chairs around the red fiberglass table that is a bit oversized for the small open kitchen.

“You have too much going on, you shouldn’t drive” announces Arshan, reaching for the tea whose auburn notes are lightly reflected in his brown hair. I peer at the steam above his cup: the red of Persian tea overlaps with the red of the table. I blink to focus.

“I have so much to do, I need to drive.”

“I will drive you.”

 

6. Double Vision

“Are you sure?” I ask Stephanie.

“Yeah, I need to go to the MVD to get my Arizona license, you can come with to get your ID.”

Stephanie is one of my classmates in the Media Arts graduate program. I don’t know anyone in Tucson yet, so I appreciate she has offered to take me along with her to the MVD. I sit next to her in the car, sipping on the vanilla latte she recommended for fighting the heat and surviving the first semester of grad school. She tells me about her German boyfriend who sounds very nice and would be visiting her soon. Somewhere in her story, around the part where they met, I get distracted by two identical yellow Volkswagen Beetles a few feet ahead of us. I think how odd it is to see two of the exact same color and model of such an unusual car, until I realize when I move my head slightly, there is only one car on the road. I remind myself to take the medication prescribed by the urgent care doctor back home for my migraines. As I reluctantly step out of the car, a blast of hot air hits my face. Stephanie asks if I loved anyone back home. It is complicated.

 

5. Squinting

“What do you mean you can’t see?” Kathleen asks as I stare at the monitor in front of me. She has a point; it doesn’t make sense now that I say it out loud. Kathleen goes to the other side of the table where Kristen is struggling with the new program we need to learn. They look quite stressed about this project. On the first floor of the UA library there are multiple tables with multiple Macs. Some students are working alone, a few are together working on group projects. I just got here after a long walk. The desert heat is starting to get to me. I should drink more water. The colors around me mimic the red and blue of the Wildcat bottle I carry often and neglect a lot. I look at the Flash program Kathleen left open in front of me. All the details are bleeding into each other. I don’t like Flash, even when the project is in focus. Narrowing my eyes, I conclude that squinting helps, or the water and the 24/7 A/C do. We decide on who does what for the next few days, and I gather my stuff to meet with my advisor.

I tell Dr. B something is wrong with my eyes and the campus health physician had offered the same diagnosis as the doctor back home: it is probably a migraine, but I should see an ophthalmologist.

“I tried to walk there yesterday. I kept going and going, but never made it…”

“You tried to walk from Second Street to Alvernon?!”

For the first time, I break down into tears. I don’t tell him I couldn’t see the names on the street signs as I walked beneath them, and it was odd how my vision seemed to have gotten worse so quickly, and I was scared. Dr. B holds a blue box of white tissues in front of me without saying anything. Eventually, when I stop crying, I explain that the campus health receptionist told me the ophthalmologist’s office was close, and maybe she didn’t realize I didn’t have a car, or I didn’t understand her. It didn’t really matter.

“I am going back there on Monday at 4:30… I’ll take a cab.”

He writes his cellphone number on one of his cards before handing it to me and tells me to keep him posted.

 

4. Reflections of the Light

Dr. Nichols has a kind voice. He asks casual questions like how long I have been here and what my major is, moving his light left and right and staring into the back of my eyes.

I nervously play with the crumpled tissue papers that have yellow stains from the eyedrops the nurse administered earlier. Eventually, he sits back on the stool in front of me.

“I think your surgeon in Iran did an excellent job of the LASIK.”

I am grateful his figure shelters me from the eye chart on the wall that failed me a few minutes ago. Some framed pictures and posters break up the intensity of the deep maroon wallpaper that has begun to overwhelm me. There is a cabinet on the right side of the patient chair that houses the medical supplies. A large round mirror above the cabinet reflects the lights of the room, and our words. My head hurts, and I can’t even remember when it began. I stare at my feet and think it was the right decision to wear running shoes today instead of my usual sandals. When I ask him what is wrong, if it is not my prior LASIK surgery, I already know the answer, and I think he knows I know. He tells me he will arrange for his colleague, the on-call neurologist at the ER, to see me as soon as I get there, and asks if I have any family he can call.

 

3. Chevrons on Pink

The fluorescent lights in the ER screech in my head. There are so many people here, so many lines are blurred: I am not sure who is sitting or standing, the English and Spanish sentences dissolve into one another and I can hardly distinguish words. I have always loved the shallow depth of field technique. In photography, the beautiful blurry background allows for selective focus. But nothing in the depth of my field is in focus, not even voices. I find my way to the front desk, and a woman in blue scrubs with a pattern I can’t recognize hands me a clipboard with a bunch of forms. I miss the pen she is holding on the board. It drops in slow motion, pulling the small chain with it, before making a rattling noise whose echo isolates me. Somewhere at the end or beginning of a row, next to a woman who tries to comfort a crying baby, I sit in a seat that feels like dark purple. I stare at the pink forms. No numbers, no letters, no words, only beautiful chevron patterns that dance behind the tears that wash my eyes. I have forgotten to water my plant this morning.

 

2. Through the Sliding Doors

I lay on the hard surface of the MRI platform with eyes shut as I slide into the tube of the machine. The panic button is pressed tight in my palm, making my hand sweat. This is my third MRI since I went to the ER four days ago. I have found a way to imagine a symphony of clicks, clacks, and buzzes, one whose length and rhythm need improvement.  I am scheduled to have surgery today to remove the tumor, my tumor, which—judging by its size—has been with me most of my life. Meningioma is a slow-growing benign tumor, and one of the best kinds one could have, if you have to have a brain tumor that is. Mine occupies a fifth of my brain, about the size of my fist. According to my surgeon, Dr. Weinand, the operation will take between 10 and 11 hours to complete.  My Aunt Shahnaz is with me at the hospital. She got an overnight flight from Baltimore and made it to the hospital on Tuesday morning right when they moved me from a bed in the ER corridor to a room. She is kind and knows how to control her reactions, which is extremely helpful when everyone else is drowning in waves of emotions and uncertainty. Last night the lady on the other bed said I looked as young as her granddaughter, and I thought if I die, and if there is something after that last moment, it would smell like white jasmines and my grandmother would be there.

I talked to my parents on the phone a few minutes before leaving my room for surgery. Dr. B stands next to Shahnaz near the door; he was here at 8:00 AM sharp. He tells me I will be missed in class that morning, and I think about my presentation last week that went well despite the complication of not being able to see my notes. When the nurses push my bed into the corridor I wave at Shahnaz and wish she didn’t have to go through 11 hours of waiting alone, updating my terrified parents over the phone. I stare at the fluorescent ceiling lights that lead me forward through the hallways, from one sliding door to the next.

 

  1. Counting Backward

The anesthesiologist reviews the steps for me, as he did yesterday. My best friend, Zahra, told me my mom had asked her mom to say a prayer for me. My mom is not religious. My cheeks are wet, and as I blink I see the features of Dr. Weinand clearer than I ever have before. I cry a lot. My dad does too. I told him yesterday the more I cry, the clearer I see. Dr. Weinand asks if I am OK. I’ve become fond of his serious, no B.S. persona from the moment he walked into my room with an entourage of interns. With him I trust it will be OK. The anesthesiologist asks me to count backward.

10, 9, 8 – I think about Arshan and the last night before I left, when he kissed me for the first time, and how the silk threads of my bedcover felt like a palpable luxury I was leaving behind.

7, 6 – I think about my dad, to whom my mom and aunts gave sleeping pills, in hopes he would sleep through my surgery, and how he would be on a flight to Dubai the next day to apply for a US visa.

  1. Early Mornings

The cold air of November feels crisp on my face and invigorating against my scalp. I have been leaving the window open now that monsoon season is over and the weather is finally cooler. I move around in bed thinking I should get ready for class. My closely shaved hair feels funny on the freshly laundered sheets. It still doesn’t cover the scar that begins above my right ear and goes around my head like a big question mark all the way to the nape of my neck. It has been almost a month since my surgery. Most of the tumor is gone, and although I have a blind spot on one side now, my overall vision has improved significantly, enough that I can read and continue my studies here. I pull the blue bedcover all the way to my chin and allow myself a few more minutes of just lying there. The 5:00 AM train that goes through the Sixth Street underpass whistles as if it is beneath my window.

***

Naz gives us the story behind the story:

Moving to a new country, missing home, inexplicable health issues, and the diagnosis came down like a deluge. I wanted this piece to mirror that experience—the emotions and the disarray. Writing in fragments allowed me to move back and forth in time and place, braiding scenes from Iran and the US together to shape the story. Numbering the sections from ten to one was an idea that came to me when revising the surgery scene. It added more urgency to the narrative and built momentum toward the resolution. As I experimented with form and negative space, I sometimes wondered if writing a personal essay with minimal reflection would work. In the end, I decided to trust the readers, that they would stay with me through it all.

Naz is an Iranian-American writer and filmmaker. She holds an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University and an MA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Mayday magazine, (mac)ro(mic), and Lost Balloon. She lives and teaches in North Carolina. Find her on Twitter at @nazbk.

***

“First Monsoon” was originally published in Mayday Magazine.

Header photo by prosha amiri on Unsplash

A Glacial Slowness by Tara Isabel Zambrano

My mother is unable to cry.

She’s sitting next to my father’s body covered in a white sheet, her hand over his chest. She’s staring at his face—dry, loose lips, a prickly beard—presses her hand on the fabric.

The neighbors arrive for the prayers and my mother goes into the kitchen filled with relatives, some friends. From the window, a post-monsoon light streams in, falls at her feet. An emotion rushes to her quickly, peaks and disappears. Speechless, she nods as if concluding something.

 

In the X-ray, my father’s brain tumor looks like a diamond in a black hole, threads of metastasis growing with a glacial slowness but fast enough to kill him in a few months. The doctor points to the left side of his brain, where my childhood and my mother’s youth lives. Where his secrets sleepwalk.

I suck on my thumb where I’ve accidentally cut myself, the blood browned, waiting for the doctor to decide the date of my father’s surgery. My mother has called me twice, I haven’t answered the phone. In the coming months, the intervals between hospitalizing my father will shrink. In the coming weeks, his hallucinations will increase, he’ll wonder why he’s holding a toothbrush, how he’s supposed to take a bath. He’ll write the names of family members in a diary and wish them well on their birthdays and anniversaries. Then he’ll fall asleep because his head will weigh him down. In the coming days, my mother will watch the raindrops splatter on the patio, weep in the dark, gray mornings.

My mother is sobbing on Skype. In the background, I can hear my father yelling, his speech incoherent. I instruct her to take him to the hospital: perhaps it’s a stroke, perhaps something else. She hangs up and there’s silence, but I can hear her helping him walk to the porch, into the car, driving away, surrounded by horns and screeching brakes, holding his hand, stepping into the phenyl-smelling corridors of the nearest hospital, the creases on their foreheads softening in the irritating summer light, the curve of their mouths flat, as if they have no expression to give except waiting.

I’m visiting on the spring break after my mother has mentioned a few incidents where my father struggled to remember her name. He is taking pictures of the flowers in the front yard, bending sideways to snap an orange rosebud. Colors are something our brain composes, I say. No way, he exclaims, like I have robbed him of a dream. The sky is clear of wheeling clouds, pristine. My mother is standing on the porch, wearing a lemon-yellow nightgown. She is rubbing her left eye. Something in it, she says. When I get close, I see her cheeks are wet and the edge of her forehead blurs into the crisp, golden air. She waves a hand of dismissal and says she wishes I could stay longer. I squeeze her hand. Together, we squint and smile. In the distance, my father raises his camera, his windswept sleeves like wings, up, up and up.



***

Tara shares what inspired this piece:

I started writing this piece when my father was first diagnosed with glioblastoma, and added to it after he died nine months later. My father’s death affected me deeply and this flash piece is focused on my mother who was his primary caretaker in India, since my brother and I live in the US.

Tara Isabel Zambrano is a writer of color and the author of a full -length flash collection, Death, Desire, And Other Destinations by OKAY Donkey Press in 2020. Her work has appeared in The Southampton Review, Shenandoah, Tin House, Mid-American Review, Bat City Review and others. She lives in Texas and is currently working on a short story collection.

Essay first published in Matchbook.

Header photo by Daniel Hansen on Unsplash

My Dad Says the Sun by Paul Crenshaw

My dad says the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass every day. He says if you ain’t the lead dog the scenery never changes. If you can’t run with the big dogs then stay on the porch. 

My dad says my daughters are so skinny he can’t see their shadows. He says they have to jump around in the shower to get wet. He said the same thing to me, when I was as skinny as they were, when I was as new to this world. 

On hundred degree days my dad says “It might get warm later.” When the storm is bending the trees sideways he says we might get some wind. When we have fished for ten hours and the humidity has seeped into us and we have not eaten since rising at 4 that morning, he says he might be a little tired.

“I’ll knock knots on your head faster than you can rub them,” my father says, but what he really means is that he misses me. I tell him not to make me whip his ass, and he says for me to bring two lunches because it will take me all day. Of course we mean none of this. We’ve just, in the way of men, fallen out of the language of love, and reverted to sayings that keep us from confessing what we feel.

So I call him an old man and he says getting old is better than the alternative. When I am having a bad day he says it still beats getting poked in the eye with a sharp stick. He says the worst day living is better than the best day dying. 

He says he loves my daughters like a hot pig loves cold mud. Like a June bug loves a porch light. Like a tornado loves a trailer park, and when I make fun of him he says for me to shut my pie-hole, which makes me wonder why it’s so hard for men to talk to one another without hiding behind the illusions of anger and indifference, without the pretense of violence.  

“It’s amazing to me,” my father says, taking me to the airport, where I will fly back home and not see him again for several years, “how much smarter my father became the older I got.” 

“I’ve yet to experience that,” I tell him, and he says the thing about knocking knots on my head. At the airport he hugs me hard enough to hurt. He says he hopes he doesn’t forget what I look like. 

When my dad tells my daughters to stay in school, he means he wants them to find a future. When he says for them to look both ways before crossing the street, it’s because he knows danger can come out of nowhere. When my first daughter was born he drove me to the hospital. I did not know at the time how having her would help me understand him. As we stood looking through the wired glass at her sleeping, I heard him say all babies were ugly, but I knew upon seeing her how she would swim through me, how I would hold her in my hands as if to shield her from all the ways the world could hurt. I imagined her mouth like a little bird, wanting. 

Watching my daughters grow skyward I’ve come to understand I don’t have all the words I need. In a lifetime talking to other men I have invested in understatement. We lace our words with the violence and indifference that seem second nature to those of us with hair on our chests, but I’d say it’s only because we know how often words cannot carry what we feel. The day his father died he said only “He’s gone,” as if there weren’t any phrases that could contain all the words he never got to say.  

We were sitting in the cab of his truck. Inside the house his sisters were wailing. He looked out the window as he told me about the two pups his father had just gotten, how they howled when no one came to feed them. He said it hurt worse than having knots knocked on your head, than being poked in the eye with a sharp stick. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that what I said was less important than how I said it, so I said nothing. 

My dad’s in his 70s now. He takes a nap every afternoon. He has diabetes and walks an hour each morning so he won’t die until he’s ready. My dad says he isn’t ready. He says they’ll have to drag him kicking and screaming. My dad says he held his father’s hand while he died. He says for me to hold his.

***

We asked Paul to give us a peek into the creation of this piece.

When I started this essay I had no idea what it was about. I had been running over some of my father’s favorite sayings and thinking there was something there—something about language, about love, about the way men talk to one another, even father and son. I started listing some of his sayings, and the essay came out of that. The ending hit me in the way the best endings do—a little surprise, a little sting, a big sadness.

Paul Crenshaw is the author of the essay collections This One Will Hurt You, published by The Ohio State University Press, and This We’ll Defend, from the University of North Carolina Press. Other work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Pushcart Prize, Oxford American, Glimmer Train, and Tin House. Follow him on Twitter @PaulCrenstorm

Essay first published in Hobart Pulp

Image by W.S. Coda on Unsplash