Daddy

Daddy

By A. Grant

I sit on my windowsill and blow smoke out into the air. The heater is blowing on my back, but I put on a jacket for the private part of the night. It’s a tight squeeze in the small frame of the window, so I hunch over and let my legs dangle. I hope that my neighbors can’t see me looking like this. Or smoking. Sitting in the silence with my bedroom behind me I watch the clouds move and I think about the cliché of “the night is darkest before the dawn” and how that isn’t really true tonight because it’s damn near 3:30 and I can see my hand right in front of me just fine. I think I should follow the moon’s patterns so I know about things like this, since it’s overcast and I can’t tell if it’s a full moon or not.

I figure I should go to bed since I am so tired I’m about to pass out. Sometimes when I lay down too early it’s like a little red devil has wrapped itself around my brain and it’s biting at the folds of it until I sit up or do something else. My heart beats too damn fast to sleep. My cousin is sleeping in the top bunk across the dark room, but he doesn’t mind me smoking I don’t think. He steals his dad’s cigarettes with me sometimes. His dad Chuck is a son of a bitch, but he’s sober now, so mama lets him stay. He keeps the house running a little bit—works some odd jobs to buy a little food for us when he’s out of jail. He fixed our back porch since it was so dry rotted. Him and my cousins took apart our pool for scrap metal, though, and that pissed me off. Even though there was a big elephant ears plant growing through the liner.

My stomach is rumbling, but I won’t eat that canned food the church left us. I flick my cigarette into the yard by the front porch steps, trying to get as close to the big pile of my mama’s cigarette butts as I can. It’s been raining; it won’t start a grass fire if the yard is all puddles. I climb back from the windowsill and I stumble down one foot at a time into my room. I take some of my mama’s gin from under my bed. I swig a bit, and it burns so bad I cough a suppressed little wimpy cough into my hand before I climb into bed.

*

I did too much thinking on that car ride, but I couldn’t cry anymore and I refused to cry in front of my brother. I just looked out the window at the trees of late fall as we passed by tobacco fields and corn fields and cotton fields, some abandoned houses, nice houses, and barns, dying trees through little droplets on the window, uniform until they streak on out of sight, cold and grey.

I step out of my brother’s car and climb up my porch steps, I know I have forced a cross into a new phase of life, maybe. But I don’t know what I’ll face from here on out. As I pass through the doorframe I see uncle Chuck sprawled out on the couch with a fleece blanket wrapped around him.

“Hey boy,” he says.

“Why don’t you shut up,” I say to him. He comes back with a ha ha.

My mother is sitting blankly in front of her computer with 60’s pop music playing soft, swingy and kind.

“Hey sweet baby, did you enjoy your trip?” She asks.

“No, Mama.”

“What happened?”

“Have you talked to Daniel or Daddy?”

“No, why?”

“Daddy’s doing his shit again.”

“You watch your mouth. What happened?”

“Daddy did something bad again.”

*

“Are you going to teach me to swim, Daddy?” I say, looking back from the steps of the pool, taking a break from running my hands through the water, fast, a perfect jetstream around my hands creating bubbles in the shallow. I don’t like my floaties, so I stay on the steps while my cousins swim around. I am embarrassed.

“I can’t today,” he responds, going back inside the house from the porch.

I relax all my muscles and let my arms float on top. I slam my hand into the water as hard as I can, not mad, not disappointed, but to carefully watch the water fall back into form around my hand, my fist breaking its perfection faster than it can reform. The bubbles go up again, tickling my skin. It is so beautiful I can’t stand it. I look up at the trees in my yard with green leaf caps so high up and I wish I had a treehouse.

 

He’s pushing me on the swing, higher and higher. His hand is gigantic on my back. Falling back into his hand, I am safe and my heart races and I can’t keep a smile from my face. The wind brushes my cheeks and I can feel gravity and air resisting me as I go up into the sky, safe but so thrilled, giggling at nothing, for no one but myself and him. I focus on my legs, they stay constant while the rest of the world blurs around me. His hands are rough and old and I know his wedding band. Silver, big, like something you could build an engine out of, something you’d find where trash pools in an intersection, or a rivet on the side of the road after a car wreck. It is tarnished from the time spent wearing it.

 

Some day he’s beating me on the couch in a room with no one else in the house, as far as I know. I’m naked, I am wet. I’m crying—his scaled and warred right hand back and forth against me. It’s a sunny day out.

 

I’m in the back of the car on the way to the beach, Mama and Daddy are up front. There’s country music playing and I fall asleep happy.

*

I run to my room, I’m scared of myself I’m so goddamned mad. I put on death metal music and listen to that for a while, shaking some. I get up and rear back to punch the wall, but that’s only going to make things worse for Mama so I do some pushups on the carpet. I see red. I see red. I see red. I heard that expression somewhere and now I can’t get it out of my head. I do see red. If I see him, I’ll kill him. At least choke him out, easier now that I’m taller than him. But I can’t get back to him any time soon. I can visualize my arm wrapped around his neck in this new way. It’s so vivid, I just get right up behind him while he’s stealing money from Mama or fucking that stripper and I take him in a headlock, the front of my arm crushing his Adam’s apple, I can feel the stubbly beard hairs of his neck stabbing into my arm like cactus on his rooster waddle. I can feel his breath slowing down, I can see myself punching him in his fat face while he won’t look at me. I had made Mama cry before, in the grocery store. The frozen section. I hated my cousins so bad, I wanted them to go away so bad, that I just couldn’t take it anymore and I started yelling at her right there in the middle of the aisle. One of them tackled me into the ground earlier that day and I was still mad about it when I was mean to her. All I remember is squealing like a brat: “I don’t know them! I don’t know them!”

I think about saying, “It must be easy for Daddy to do the things he does when he doesn’t have to face the consequences. When he doesn’t have to hold this tiny old woman in his arms and listen to her cry into his chest. He doesn’t have to feel her tears soaking his shirt just above the breast. He doesn’t have to feel her shaking, wailing and inconsolable. He’s a five-hour drive away, up there on the second floor, in his shabby tower. I hope it floods high enough to get him when hurricane season hits. That door of his burned into my head, the carpet out front in the hallway that soaks every time it thunderstorms, squish squish, gross under my feet. Him living out on that golf course, down by the water-trap lake. How fancy he must feel to his girlfriends, dazzled from hard lives. They don’t see the cracks his windows get from stray golf balls behind his blinds, though they might notice the cracked fake wood of his bedframe when it’s creaking.”

I think about my cousins saying, “Calm down, stop being such a faggot.” So I hold it back this time.

My mama was making a playlist for her car, CDs I had been meaning to burn for her. She was looking up songs she remembered and writing them down on a little note pad so I could make them up for her later. Most of the songs are their songs, the type you accumulate in a relationship. But I’m holding her by the swinging music and the soft blue glow of her computer again, my shirt wet, her letting go of the censure. Strong in her thin and tiny body but let loose now everything she had repressed, the veil lifted from the mother-child relationship, that iron casket of a veil lifted from the denial she maintained through everything that’s happened since I was old enough to talk. I see it all. She smells like cigarette smoke and I like it, I try to focus on that. Her music is a little louder up close, it’s a song I don’t remember but it swings back and forth like prom night in some movie. Uncle Chuck left the room but I didn’t notice, I’m not sure where my cousins got off to.

I’m gonna put all the hits on those CDs. Patsy Cline, Wayne Cochran, Tommy James and the Shondells, some others.

*

Daddy drops me off and walks up with me to change into his work clothes. I walk in to his apartment, recently cleaned and off-white, his few small effects and knick-knacks scattered on his shelves and counters, some with price-tags still stuck on. It has been so long new children have grown. But how long is six months. A baby’s photo is left out, tucked into a picture frame. A glamour shot of a child I do not know tucked into a massively reproduced, fake gold, gilded frame. “For William, Love Tiffany,” it reads on the back when I pick it up. I’ve heard her name before somewhere. Met her somewhere, maybe on the beach. In the photo is a nameless and unremarkable baby, as they tend to be. He notices me looking as he leaves for work, mouth agape for a second but turning, turning to walk out. I don’t know why I can’t say anything to him right now. I look around in his apartment laughing bottled-up. I find more baby toys, a full diaper bag, colored plastic keys, miscellanea. I wonder if he paid for this stuff. I sit on his couch for a while and read some pamphlet about retirement or nursing homes on his table, but I can’t read it too well. I decide that since I am alone I could go out and smoke a cigarette, I have some hidden in a little pocket of my travel backpack, the same I take to school. But when I get outside, I can’t think about anything and my eyes can’t focus on anything either. I start bawling, and I can’t stop. I’m crying so hard that I’m sniffling and my breath is pulling in on its self, my chin twitching. I go inside and grab all the baby toys I can find, and the picture of that stupid little baby and I throw it all off the balcony without looking.

I call my brother. I say to him, “Daniel, I can’t stay here any longer.” Pouting out hot tears with my chin forced into a hard frown, hot tears dripping off my cheeks and onto my jeans. I hear them pitter patter on the fabric. It is killing my pride to cry and I feel dead, myself. I knew there were some letters, some other women. My brother told me about those but we forgot about it.

“Don’t cry, buddy, calm down, what’d he do. I’ll drive down there to get you, calm down,” my brother said to me.

I stared out across the expanse of the green before he came to get me, not thinking about very much at all, leaning arms crossed on the balcony bannister. I looked at the little puddles down there on the ground in some green and brown loamy land two stories below where I stood. Toy ducks from the diaper bag bob in the muddy water, and golf balls roll around half-buoyant beside them.

*

“Please don’t call your daddy,” she screams. “Please don’t call him. I know you’re mad and you can be mad but please don’t say nothing to him right now, she howls from her soaking face, shaking her head against my chest. “He’s suffering, too,” she says.

“Are you going to leave him,” I ask

“I don’t know, I don’t know.”

“I’m just sorry as hell I didn’t do anything to him when I had him in front of me.”

*

In a dream I appear on a bright stage, a stage on which the lights shine down bright in my eyes, burning them a little. I’m wearing nothing but a hospital gown, maybe some hospital socks. I’m toting an I.V. stand with a blood bag attached to it in my right hand, and a microphone in my left. “Hello?” I ask into the crowd of darkness past the oppressive lights. My microphone isn’t on, but I don’t think to let go of it. “Hello,” I say, louder. I can’t see anything but drinks and whites of eyes, bubbly champagne refraction and sclera glare. There’s a feeling washing over me in wave after wave that the people in the crowd will not just boo me if I fail whatever it is I’m doing, but they will hurt me, they will break their glasses and cut me up with the fallen pieces. I say hello. Suddenly, like a laugh-track, they shriek with laughter all together. All at once, as if someone above those devil lights pouring down on me mashed a button and forced their laughter. I say hello and each time I do, before the words leave my mouth and float down to them, the laughter begins, getting louder and louder. By the time I’ve said my last hello it is at a roar. It makes me deaf and sucks the air out of my lungs, and with TV static noise in my ears, I can’t suck another breath. My stomach goes in and out and I hear my name over and over again. But I’m deaf, I think. “Please help,” I think. “I’m drowning.” I look up and see my mama hanging from a noose in the rafters. I cry out with my soaked lungs and just a squeak comes out.

I wake up and she’s in the doorway. “It’s 7:50 in the morning,” Mama says. My cousins are up, brushing their teeth in the other room and my uncle is laughing his mean little laugh at something on TV across the house.

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