New Stories for June 17, 2019
When you tell stories about your father
Hopping trains, you leave out any mention
Of the snake with ball bearings in its mouth,
Or the bird made out of cherry blossoms
Tossing it’s head like it is seizing
From going days without booze in the hotel.
You don’t talk about finding the floor wet before
You have even had the chance to unpack.
You distinguish the scent as sweat,
As his. You feel him everywhere, your father,
Generous with how he annotated his volumes
About the civil war and all the theories
About Kennedy and his head, breaking apart like a bad pie,
Like a crow pecking at it while it’s on the windowsill,
Harpooning a loaf of bread, drawing the scene up on the easel
With those same convenient colors, as he remembered
Seeing it on the news when he was a boy washing dishes
At the diner.
Houses fall on little girls all the time,
Girls with real curls,
holding dirty fingers from the bruised ladders between their thighs.
Peter built this house,
welded the doors shut, sparks crackling against his mask
but my mother
opened the windows
and birds flew in.
Stiff feathers, ink and oil,
hid in the rafters.
Until the wind shifted and creaked
and we were buried, twirled, stacked and seeded.
Aptly named at the end of the road:
Crossed off the list of places
You, sled master in yards
of sloped streets in
lowlands of Puget Sound,
The paved Paradise lot. A mile
up the mountain. Your sled set free
from our trunk’s clutter.
Your frozen face, bare in an
otherwise bundled body, froze me,
transmitted its fears.
I trailed your gaze to the peak,
the way pockmarked by ice,
crevasses. Rocky outcrops of
Nisqually Glacier between it and us.
I said, “You think you’re going there?”
Your silent reply: a barely thawed nod.
I said an encouraging word, “No.”
You’re not going that way. Not this day.
You loosened up, had a blast
in safe, groomed snow,
maintained for your play,
“Joel the Great isn’t great!” I snarled to myself, as I pulled into my parents’ driveway that afternoon. Although I knew that my parents, actually most of the town, had a different opinion.
Joel the Great was my brother. He was simply named Joel when he was born. At some point, kids in school started calling him Joel the Great, and the name stuck. Of course, he was still usually called Joel for the sake of convenience. But even at those times, you could still hear the Great, even if it was unspoken.
Most people in town probably thought Joel the Great was a perfect name. He was certainly my parents’ favorite child. And almost everyone in our small town thought he was the greatest thing ever. In high school, he’d been the star athlete—a big thing in a small blip of a town. Even years later, he was still idolized because of his time playing school sports. Sooner or later, I figured, his birthday would be a legal holiday in town.
Over the years, however, I came to realize that there was something wrong with Joel. He always had a violent temper. He also had always been a bully. He’d always been selfish and self-centered. He’d…well, the list goes on.
Of course, his fans denied that there was anything wrong. At least until that week. It was pretty hard to deny that Joel’s girlfriend had turned up dead. It was also hard to deny the evidence that showed that it was likely she’d been killed by Joel. Even the sheriff, who apparently had misty-eyed memories of Joel’s last big basketball game, when our team won by one point, had to admit that “things look mighty bad” as he arrested Joel.
“I’m so glad you came home to visit. It’s been so hard,” Mom said, after I entered the back door.
There was no hello. No hug. Just straight to the point. I looked at her. She looked older and more worn than she had the last time I’d seen her. “Are you OK?” I asked.
“Oh, I think so. I will be.” Mom sighed. “I’m just tired. So tired. I can’t get any comfort. I just saw the pastor…and, well, he didn’t help me. Not at all. Of course, he’s right. If Joel…did this, he sinned. And he probably will be cast into the fires of hell!” Mom wiped a tear off her cheek. “By the way, the pastor was worried about you. He looked up the church you go to, and, well, he says you’ve strayed. Have you thought about coming back to your church?”
“The church I go to now is my church,” I said, sounding a bit childish. I paused, and took a deep breath. “But that’s not what’s important. Right now, what I’m worried about is how you’re doing—”
“Joel is the one who was arrested!”
“But it has hurt you. And that’s what I’m concerned about right now.”
“You don’t even care about Joel, I suppose.”
“I wouldn’t say that.”
Mom shrugged. “Oh, I guess you two never really got along.”
Dinner that night was terrible. Mom’s cooking wasn’t as good as usual. Past that, I could sense a dark cloud hovering over my parents that night. Dad was dead quiet, and his eyes were focused no further than his plate. He didn’t even finish his dinner—something I had never seen before. Mom kept fluttering around, trying to force more potatoes, more rolls, more everything on us. At times, I thought she was about to start buttering my roll for me.
After dinner, Dad disappeared out the back door while I helped Mom clean up.