THINGS MY FATHER TOLD ME
Ahora mire. If your brother calls, hang up the phone. If you see him walking down the street, turn around and go the other way. If he tries to talk to you, don’t say anything. If you see him at school, tell your teacher. If you’re walking home from school and he offers you a ride, keep walking. Call the police if he follows you to the house. Don’t leave the back door unlocked. Don’t leave the cars unlocked. Don’t give our phone number to his friends. If you see his friends by the school or they come by the house, say you don’t know him. Say you don’t know where he is or if he’s alive. Don’t give his friends any money. They might give it to him. Don’t pet any dogs. They’re dirty. If you see a dog and it belongs to him, leave it alone. If he comes to the house and I’m not here, don’t open the door. Don’t look out the window. Even if he knocks on the door and asks for a drink of water, don’t give it to him. If I’m asleep, wake me up. It’s okay. I don’t want him here. He is not welcome. If he wants some money, don’t give him any. If you come home and he’s in the house, run to the store and call the police. Some girl might come by and say she has his baby. Say you don’t know anything. We don’t have any money. If your sisters, mother or other brothers talk about him, you walk away. If they ask you about him, say you don’t know anything. If they want you to give him something, throw it away. Check the mail. If anything comes for him, don’t open it. Tell the mailman he doesn’t live here. He never lived here. If you get a Christmas present or a birthday present from him – I don’t care if it’s a bicycle, one hundred dollars or what – throw it away. Throw away any of his comics. I know you have comics under the house. Throw his away or I’ll throw them all away. Don’t want to hear his name or see any pictures of him. Don’t think about him before you sleep. You might dream about him.
The day your brother Augustino left home is the day I died.
In the Days after Religion
‘We are moving into a totally non-religious age in
which men as they are will no longer be able to
take religions seriously’
The messiah, in disguise, he
will arrive; but how, now, will
he be able to reintroduce him-
self? by holding up in front
of his face man’s failed face upon a
stick! and by ignoring it, the sound
of clay now cracking to escape
our ancient mould; so who else
would be affected by all this?
Well, the saved, yes, certainly,
tensing themselves in heaven for the
slow burning return of their flesh!
as at the burial of all human
beings it is the ashes of the
rib thrown down onto the coffin,
not soil, no; -But of course
the theologian will begin to panic,
unable now or in the future to pull
out the God-faced rabbit from
his hat! while the Christian,
with no hope now of redemption,
save in the form of words, he
exhales it, Christ’s last breath,
to see the eyelids of angels shut,
and to watch it, the atom, turn
into a tear upon God’s cheek…
botching the last body born into
our hearts! But the atheist
would be the most perturbed by all
this, no longer now having to argue
his case, or check his own
stone wrist-watch to confirm
himself alive in ‘dead’ time;
-And with his rib, the only
extant flint, unused, as yet, by
Satan in hell…for the path from
sin to salvation it will pass…
But what hope then for the pope,
retired, and in perhaps now
some other job? none! having
now no celestial creatures to conform
to; and none now also for those other
believers of the world, whose
various different guises, head-
wear, mesh, veils, would not
now cover even one sacred part
of the flesh; -And with faith only
an incongruous twinge in the heart,
So, if not through the perplexity
of prayer, just how might our
bodies be realised? by taking
a needle and thread and stitching
up the evidence of each failed
wound, and by sending a slingshot
of our atoms back up into the
sky, and daring to ask again
‘why?’ for with the last page
of the last bible removed, and
all bent nails now removed from the
bone, the horsemen, rehooved, they
trot back into the barn…As
the believer, no longer now
a religious man, he turns into it:
a nobody, incomprehensible to
himself, wearing God’s skin?
“Mummy,” Stapler Boy whined. “I want a sultana!”
“Now now, my dear Stapler Boy, you will get your sultana when you have finished blow drying your socks! It’s only fair that you do your chores when you three brothers and six fathers slave all day washing their long putrid hair. It’s the least you can do.”
On the other side of town, Hoedy was delivering a pizza.
“Curse you!” howled the teeny tiny pizza man. His foot was caught in the revolving door and his intestines were strewn in a perfect line behind him. Retracing his steps, as you would for any lost item, Hoedy retrieved his intestines and carefully replaced them. He sewed the seeping wound neatly shut.
“There,” he said, eyes beaming with pride. “A job well done! I think I shall go and rake some leaves.” So Hoedy went to rake some leaves. It was very boring but, as the pizza delivery man noticed, nobody was watching. So he began to strip – slowly at first, then faster. When Hoedy had successfully undressed down to his underwear, he cast another look around to make sure that he was still alone. When he was certain the coast was clear he picked up a handful of leaves and shoved them deep into his Y-fronts.
His initial reaction was one of most pleasure. Each time he took a step, the crunchy brown leaves would crumple, leaving him in ecstasy. He picked up another handful and rubbed them down his face and chest, moaning.
“Mister Hoedy, what are you doing?” came a small voice.
Startled, Hoedy tried to think of an excuse. He was ashamed, it was true. “I dropped my ring down my pants… Did you bring a straw?” he asked lamely. When he saw that this simple explanation wasn’t going to work, he head butted the little neighbourhood boy.
“ARGHHGHGHGHHGHGHG,” cried that little boy. “My little stapler head is throbbing!”
It was the boy! The very same boy that had asked his mother for a sultana that morning and with great pleasure he was glad to tell anyone interested that he had enjoyed that little brown raisin. Mmmmm.
At that very moment an ugly man joined them on the deserted street.
“Narrat, get your ass over here now. Don’t harass nasty perverts!” It was Stapler Boy’s mother.
Hoedy drooled to himself as the Ugly Man swept her son into her arms. Hoedy followed in awe. This man shall be mine, he promised himself. The man, the little boy’s mother, was tall but she had no feet and only a little penis, dragging along on the floor behind her.
“You might want to pick that up,” Hoedy said referring to the genitals, “It might get dirty.”
“What would you know about housework?” the man said, looking Hoedy up and down. A prurient smile spread across her lips. “Why don’t you come over to my house and help my spank my naughty boy?”
Hoedy’s sexual desire was almost killing him with desire. He nodded eagerly, hardly able to contain himself. Narrat’s eyes widened in fear, but the promise of a shiny new sultana to add to his collection silenced him. Together Hoedy and the man ran home, dragging behind them the small child.
When they reached the man’s little shack, Hoedy locked the little Stapler Boy in the closet and proceeded to take of his underpants. Leaves littered themselves onto the floor but Hoedy didn’t care. Naked, he stood before Stapler Boy’s mother. But the man he had come to make love to remained seated on the floor, staring at the wall.
“Get out, you stupid, evil man. I don’t like sex.”
Hoedy left, filled with pain and rejection. Suddenly he tripped, rupturing his spleen and left nipple. “Oh dear,” he sighed and then died. He died that day, I’m sure he did. I died that day, I’m sure I did. They missed me, I’m sure they did. Now that Hoedy was dead and gone, the world was at peace from such a horrible, horrible person.
Narrat was still locked in the closet, whimpering and alone. When his mother realised, it was the morning. She let him out just in time for his lessons.
“When little puppies are born, they come out all gooey and smelly. The mother will lick the puppies clean with her tongue and then go vomit in the back garden.”
The class of grade four was listening to their teacher Ms Afganananastanalyrantum read a story. Only two of the children in Ms Afganananastanalyrantum’s class were paying attention to the enriching story of how dogs masturbate.
One of the two children that were paying attention raised his hand. His name was Narrat.
“Excuse me Ms Afganananastanalyrantum,” said little Narrat. “But I was wondering if you could tell me how to masturbate?”
Ms Afganananastanalyrantum stared blankly at little the Stapler Boy. “I shall show you later my little pumpkin piddle. If you’re lucky. Now back to the topic; flower buds. Does anybody know how many are down my pants?”
Narrat raised his hand again, though hesitantly. “Five thousand and… twenty?”
“NO!” the teacher shrieked, hurling a piece of chalk at the frightened little boy. “There are in fact four.”
Narrat peed his pants in fear.
“Wipe that up sonny, I don’t need more mouldy carpet.”
As Narrat pulled on his neighbour’s sleeve and mopped up his mess, thirteen little minds wandered to other things. Ms Afganananastanalyrantum was an awful teacher, she yelled far too much and had an odd fetish for flora nestled against her privates. She reminded Narrat of a man he had known once… the local pizza delivery boy, who had died in a tragic nipple and spleen accident the day before.
Narrat had barely had time to mourn for the late Mister Hoedy. He felt it his duty to leave some flowers at the funeral site. And he knew just who would have an endless supply… “Miss?” he raised his wet hand.
A little insane blonde girl slapped him and bit off his nose at that moment. Narrat burst into tears and fled from the classroom. His tiny footsteps echoed through the hallways as he wept and wept, running all the way home.
What a week he had had! Narrat had been made to do all his chores, been head-butted, locked in a closet and lost his dear pizza man all in the same day. And today, he had been yelled at, slapped, and had his nose bitten off! He needed his mummy.
Narrat reached his street, heart and head pounding. A salty, sematic stench flowed from the gaping hole where his nose used to be, but Narrat of course could not smell it. As he raced into the middle of the road, he noticed some potatoes on his shoes and reached down to peel them off. The bus had not seen him, nor had he seen it. It ran raggedly into his bottom as he was so very busy with the potatoes. But he didn’t die, oh no, Narrat didn’t die. He was simply paralysed from the waist down.
Clawing his way inside, Narrat was beyond tears. He could see his mother, a shimmering man in the distance of the kitchen. She was silhouetted against the cold white of the fridge and Narrat knew he could make it. He knew there was one thing, one thing she could give him to make everything okay. Everything would be okay.
“Mummy,” Stapler Boy whined, tugging her shirt. “I want a sultana!”
Living outside the law,
he shouldered the
back pack of
died hitching rides
Like always, Evelyn wanted a perfect result. She asked the teacher, “So we have an hour and a half.” When trying to attain information, Evelyn spoke in statements because she thought asking questions was a sign of weakness. She was constantly concerned with a set of rules or secrets that people neglected to share without being quizzed. Evelyn really did not belong yet but never questioned herself.
The year’s chemistry efforts were culminating today, through a Molecular Solutions Aptitude Test better known as The Sludge. Each pair of lab partners were assigned a vial of mystery goo and forced to spend class working through the potion, dissecting and diagnosing elements in the secret mixture. These were the days near the warm end of the school year, after drivers licenses had been handed out like lollipops to good patients.
“Can we have class outside?” Fred joked. Fred had an old man’s name but was born ten days after Evelyn. They were lab partners because Fred had not failed out of school but was not expected to do much better. He was not a trouble maker, but a frequent accomplice. On the outside, his facial features were difficult to concentrate on even when making eye contact; pale, brown, and plain. But he was quietly secure for a teenager no one noticed.
Perfect sludge results for Evelyn meant a scholarship across the state line. Not many classmates made it to that point, gradually descending close to home on the initial flight from high school. There had to be something on the other side of a state line for a girl like Evelyn who had not much on this side of the imaginary border.
“You switched flavors.”
“Your gum. You’ve chewed original all year and now…spearmint?”
Fred attempted small talk in their corner of the room. He tagged along as she drove the experiment. Statistics and chapters flew through Evelyn’s mind and fingers as she boiled, Bunsen burned and extracted facts. She separated liquids, cleavaged samples, splattered small splashes of what emerged to be pretty much unlabeled salad dressing on her school administered apron.
While happily ignoring the experiment, Fred noticed the fact that Evelyn’s hair, her nose, her freckles did unexpected things. They felt attractive, though no one ever told him to admire them. Later life would teach him that these were acceptably tender thoughts, even if they felt more like sympathy for an ugly girl. When did he start paying attention to the gum she chewed, anyway? He noticed that her handwriting was jittery and childish. Unsightly but sweet. “Strange that we got matched up here.”
“That is -” She preferred him to say it.
“You try, you’re smart-”
“I’m not that smart.” She was shy.
“You’re not that dumb.”
Evelyn had difficulty concentrating on the facts she recorded. He was staring at her with a soft look as though they were in the middle of a conversation they weren’t having. He wasn’t that dumb, she felt against his attempted performance. And he seemed to tolerate her, in a way that he wasn’t required for a lab partner. She recorded the boiling curve and plateau of vinegar on graph paper, letting Fred’s bold shoulder touch hers as he copied her results. Their results. Evelyn felt a strange rise in her serotonin. A rush of blood through the back of her knees. “Do you follow sports, doctor?” He asked her in the useless white coat and goggles.
“I try to avoid them. No offense.”
“Name me a hobby.”
Their report was finished early. They watched the other pairs of lab partners lazily complete their tests. No scientific breakthroughs to share with the journals or newspaper. No discoveries here today in chemistry class. Yellowing posters and tools of their high school surroundings make no advancement toward common sense or practical knowledge. Just random useless facts to pass the time.
“You’re the horse to pick for the scholarship.”
“I’d bet on you, lady.”
“That’s nice. I have to get one.”
“You don’t have to do anything.” Her parents would hate him if they met. She liked that.
“I guess I don’t. But I’m sure I will.”
She was so sure, so sad and scientific, that Fred came across the courage to kiss Evelyn on her neck, on the axis below the ear. It was soft and quiet, as if her skin were built for his lips. He wants to make her feel better. She does too. But it is quick and no one notices them like always. They are happily ignored. The blood in the back of her knees freezes. He feels warmth where she touches him. Water boiled over onto a notebook and she excuses herself for a trip to the bathroom to catch up with her thoughts. “Don’t touch that while I’m gone.” She asked.
Fred set out with pure heart and intent. A pinch of salt in a beaker here, a decimal point there, an adjustment of sediment luster noted on the worksheet. The results of the sludge were ruined, the scholarship gone, the state line off the map. He would take a stand in the way of getting the score right, just this time. There was more at risk than a perfect answer.
“Do you remember where we were?” She re-entered the room, and cared so much already. She was no longer alone against the rules she never knew. She was craving information about this boy, about his breakfast cereal, the posters in his room, his thoughts. For a significant change, there was a lot she wanted to learn.
Fuck the State Standard. He would kiss her in hallways and locker rooms and twenty yard lines and other places their parents would never look to find them. He would never make her ask a question. They could face the world together with this one wrong answer.
At the Bar
He sat down at the bar and ordered a pint. Removing his gloves, he turned and nodded at his pals.
“You seen any of my brothers?”
“Not since yesterday,” replied the bartender, serving him his Budweiser. “But it’s not even noon so I expect them soon enough.”
Chuckling, he buried his mouth in the froth, the beer warming the bitter cold that still lingered on his lips.
“They cancel school today?” he asked.
“Nah, two-hour delay,” answered the bartender. “Have you seen your girls?”
“No, Barbara* won’t let me.”
“That’s a shame. You need anything else?”
He ordered another pint and then joined his pals for a few rounds of pool. Several victories later he approached the bar, bumping into the jukebox on his way. He used his winnings to pay his tab and then struggled to button his dull brown jacket.
“You OK, Greg? You need a ride?”
“No, thanks, man. I’m going for a walk.”
Eileen’s mother, Barbara, went into labor at a local bar. She delivered Eileen at the hospital, but raised her in the bar, which provided her with more maraschino cherries than should be eaten in an entire lifetime. When she was seven, she told a man sitting on a stool that she was a midget and lied about her age. He laughed so hard that cigarette smoke erupted from his nose, like a monster, or maybe a bull.
And he walked. He walked the 4.2 miles down Springtown Road with his jacket buttoned to his chin and his hands buried deep in his pockets. Cars passed. Cows glanced up as he walked by the fields. Finally, he arrived at his ex-girlfriend’s house—against court orders.
The front door was locked. Angry, he kicked it once, twice, three times. The wood splintered and the hinges tore loose.
His heavy steps climbing the stairs alerted her. She grabbed the phone and hid in the closet.
“Barbara! Barbara! I’ll kill you!”
She heard a crash. He had thrown the stereo system against a wall.
“Oh, God, he’s gonna kill me,” she said into the phone. “You have to hurry.” She was crying. She was praying. She was hoping he would notice the dog was missing and assume she had taken it for a walk.
“The police will be there any minute, ma’am. Just be silent and stay on the line.”
He left before the police arrived. Three days later, he would be arrested at the same bar he had visited that day, claiming he didn’t remember a thing.
“Oh my gosh Daddy! I beat your pinball score! Can I get that gumball now?”
Eileen jumps up and down, proud and eager for her prize. She climbs onto a stool to tell everyone what she’s finally accomplished. No one seems to hear her. The bartender brings her crayons. A friend of her father’s is trying to show her dirty pictures, “Educational material,” he claims. Her father laughs while her mother puffs on her cigarette, telling them to stop before she exhales.
He walked into the courtroom with his hands cuffed in front of him. The bailiff told him to sit down. From his seat he could see his daughters. Eileen, eight and the oldest of the girls, was sitting at the end of the row with seven-year old Marie sitting beside her. The two youngest, Ann, five, and Nicole, four, were sitting with their mother coloring. He mouthed, “I love you,” and turned away.
Marie looked up at her older sister. “He just said something. What did he say?”
“I don’t know,” Eileen mumbled.
Marie looked at their father again. “Why is he wearing that orange suit?”
“I don’t know. Because he’s supposed to.”
Their mother interrupted, “I told you girls to be quiet. Don’t embarrass me.”
The two sisters looked at each other and then at the floor. The police chief walked over to them and said something to their mother.
“Stay here with your sisters,” she told Eileen. “Don’t move.”
The girls watched their mother go to the front of the courtroom. She was speaking to the judge. Both attorneys were at her side.
“What are they talking about?” asked Marie.
“I don’t know. I can’t hear anything.” Eileen turned toward her two youngest sisters who were now fighting. “Ann, Nicole, be quiet,” she scolded.
“Ann said she would trade me her lollipop for my Starburst, but now she won’t give it to me!”
“You’re gonna get us in trouble. Stop it!”
“But she stole my Starburst!” Nicole started to cry.
A woman the girls did not recognize came over and sat down next to them. She played quietly with the two younger sisters until their mother returned.
“OK. We can go home now.” She was smiling at her daughters.
“Can we go say good bye to Daddy?” asked Marie.
“No, he has to go, too.”
Their mother hugged the strange woman and gathered their jackets. The girls looked at their father, who was being led away. He waved with both cuffed hands.
He never saw his daughters again.
Eileen watched her father go to prison this morning, and she’s watching her mother celebrate tonight. In a black-and-green-striped mini-dress, her mother almost looks like a bumblebee. Her hair is freshly bleached. Eileen bleached it herself. Someone she knows by face, but not by name, is giving her and her sisters some quarters. The four of them race over to the jukebox.
“I’m the oldest. I get to pick first.”
“No, no! That’s not fair!”
“Eileen!” Her mother gives her a stern look. “Don’t make a scene.” Eileen surrenders and returns to her cup of cherries.
After twelve years in prison, he finally gets a home-cooked holiday. Standing in his brother’s kitchen, he learns about his eldest daughter from the pictures that decorate the fridge. There she is with Marie, taken at Thanksgiving nearly a decade before. He admires her prom dress in one and watches her graduate from high school in another. He points to a more recent photo, “She cut off all her hair?” He sounds disappointed.
“Yeah, she donated it to Locks of Love. Said she needed a change. It’s grown out a little now.”
His nephews came running into the kitchen screaming for Grandpa and Uncle Greg to join them in the living room. It’s time to light the fireplace.
Eileen drops her half- brother’s name at the door and the bouncer lets her in—the only bar in town where the remaining men in her family are still allowed. Her friend’s band is playing tonight. She’s glad she didn’t have to pay to listen to such crap. At the bar, she orders a Captain and Coke and turns around. The jukebox is still there. She mingles awhile, but decides she doesn’t really want to be there. Trying to push through the crowd, a fight breaks out in front of her. She makes it to the door, though not before noticing blood on the floor.
He’s sitting next to his grown nephew, Henry, trying to make idle conversation. “Happy Thanksgiving,” he says, “And, hey, congratulations on the new baby—she’s beautiful.”
“Thanks, man. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.” Henry doesn’t make eye contact.
“Yeah, it’s my first in a while.”
Henry takes a sip of his beer. “So what are you doing now? Working or anything?”
“No, I can’t really work because of the throat cancer. But I’m living in a group house—condition of my parole.”
“It’s been OK. Food’s not bad—and the meetings aren’t as much of a pain as I thought they would be.”
A few minutes later, he is sitting alone. His brother walks over.
“Listen Greg, I just spoke to Eileen.”
“Is she coming?”
“No, no she’s not. She’s decided to stay home.”
“Why? Did you tell her I like Scrabble too? ”
“Yeah, I told her.”
“Well, what did she say?”
“Greg, she didn’t really say anything, only that she had decided not to come.”
A moment of silence passes. He looks up at his brother. “Well,” he chuckles, “there’s always Christmas…”
Eileen opens his letter, still strangely familiar with his handwriting after all these years. He tells her how much he loves her, how much he worries about her, and how proud he is of all her accomplishments. He confesses that it breaks his heart that they are strangers and claims that it is not his fault.
Although he apologizes for his mistakes, he denies his actions on that cold, bitter day—but she remembers the police pulling her out of her classroom at school. She remembers the splintered wood, the broken glass, and the lack of sound coming from their only radio.
She doesn’t want to trace the blame. She resents that life has made her older than she is and wonders if things will ever change. She closes his letter and hides it in the back of her closet. She hasn’t read it again and probably won’t.
Another year has come and gone,
this is the time we make goals for ourselves.
Resolutions that we fail to keep that are,
just another way of lying to ourselves.
Plans to lose weight and not stay up late,
that we will save money and spend less,
and not make our lives a terrible mess.
That we will be more peaceable,
and not always feel we’re right.
That we will admit to our wrongs,
and not try to fight.
That we will try hard to live and not die,
that we will be truthful and not lie.
That we will love and not hate,
that we will be early not late.
Why do we fool ourselves into making resolutions?
Because, we are human.