I began as a child, an infant. I was born.

My father was a natural born lover’s man, like myself. He started before I did because that’s what god intended, according to him, my father. He said it was part of a divine plan, praise his name. My father invoked the divine every day and always ended the invocation with praise his name.

He probably didn’t realize he would spawn someone who would talk this way and in front of everyone.

The man had no sense of timing his whole life through. For instance, it might’ve been better if instead of bearing me I bore him.

The father is child of the man or however that is supposed to go.

I never knew my mother. My father told us she died of consumption or was killed in a car accident or ran off with a quack doctor.

I have always had a hard time with how things should go and at what speed. I always find myself rushing home and then when I get home I have nothing to do. I sit on the sofa and wait for something like inspiration. I don’t listen to music, watch television, or read. I don’t think about the people I know or the things I’ve done. I sit and wait, a blank, an empty.

Then I get hungry and I have to figure out dinner, what to do about it. Should I try to prepare something or have someone do that for me or forget it altogether.

Then I find myself rushing through dinner and when I’m finished I have nothing to do again.

I don’t know why but I think it’s my father’s fault. I think I remember my father eating this way and I probably wanted to compete with him so for this I blame my father. In all other respects the man is blameless.

Past that I never saw him dance because he said it was beneath him. He said there was no way to dance and be dignified at the same time.

I never saw him alone because he was always beside himself.

Sometimes I have no idea what goes with what. If this shirt goes with these pants, those shoes with that outfit, my head with my body. Sometimes it takes me hours to get myself dressed in the morning.

I don’t think I get this from my father as all I can ever remember him wearing is that one drab suit, almost but not quite black, not quite blue, white button-down shirt, skinny tie, walking shoes.

This is who we’re talking about, my father, who was in most respects blameless. I have only vague recollections of the man but I think this says more about me than him.

I can remember fighting with him but not over what. He almost always disapproved of me, I think. I tried to play baseball but he said I wasn’t good enough. I tried to play piano but he said I was talent-less. But I don’t remember fighting over these things. He was right and I was a realist.

It may’ve been my poor study habits and attendance. I think he objected to my performance and behavior in school and my getting kicked out of it.

I couldn’t understand what purpose school was intended to serve other than getting children out of the house every day.

My father was out of the house every day, but I never knew where he went or how he earned a living. Sometimes he’d be gone for months at a time and when he’d return it was as if he’d been in the shower. No one ever missed him or noted his absence.

My father was a rolling stone who never left the natural use of the woman, at least that’s what he told me. He never said what that meant exactly, but I always liked the sound of it.

Every time I look at a woman I think what can I use this one for, what’s natural here.

Most of the time I’m stumped.

I know they feel the same way, so no one is disappointed.

I don’t have a crowd or scene, though I know it looks like that from the outside. People assume things about me because of how I dress, where I go when I do decide to go out and what kind of people happen to be there.

My father always talked about this. He said I’d fallen in with the wrong crowd and it was a bad scene.

Maybe I do have these things, a crowd or a scene, but I don’t feel like I’m an actual member. I’m more of a guest, unsure if I’m staying long.

I had lunch with my father only once. It was a hotel restaurant somewhere in the American south. They served us pan-seared whatnots in a whatsoever sauce. I think it was quite good but I can’t remember. The waitress was from Alabama. She didn’t apologize. It was awful.

He told me he didn’t understand what was happening in the world. He referenced faraway places and faraway people. He talked about men burning in their lust for one another. He railed against the philistines and sodomites. He talked about marriage and civil disobedience. I think he implicated me in this, but I can’t be sure.

I told him he should look both ways, that he should glance leftward and rightward and then left again to make sure. I told him if he sees someone on the ground convulsing he should step softly around. He told me he didn’t understand what I was talking about but he would pray for me all the same.

He told me he never understood me, the things I did, certain behaviors.

Some of these included substances, yes, and dress and comportment and those I consorted amongst or around.
I don’t understand, either, and never have but I didn’t tell him this because he didn’t ask. My father didn’t want to know too much about me, the way I lived and talked in front of everyone, for instance.

If he’d asked I would’ve told him there’s no shame in it. He might’ve disagreed and I’d of gone on to say that there’s no shame in substances and sodomy or mixing the two together. Then I would’ve concluded about trying to understand such things. I would’ve said that this is our biggest problem, that we seek understanding but understanding will always be ten miles from no place no matter what direction.

I think this is why my father tried hard to have a sit-down with god or one of his minions. My father wanted answers, he wanted assurances.

He spoke often of the family line, the family name. He said it was important to keep it going.

I told him I wasn’t that sort of bloke.

Last night I tried going to a party in someone’s loft. I didn’t know this someone, but was told it should be a good time. I picked out an outfit and even selected a hat, this brown bowler I sometimes don in the fall.

But halfway down the block I realized I wasn’t up to this sort of thing, whatever that sort of thing was.

The lunch meeting was a mistake. It was through a friend of a friend’s sister. She arranged the whole business. You had to see this one. I’m talking six feet tall and it was only morning-time. She probably had great use to someone.

I decided to wear a double-breasted but for no good reason. I stuffed a red handkerchief out of my breast pocket which matched my suspenders. I don’t often wear suspenders, but it’s good to mix it up sometimes.

We were there to come to a new understanding, nothing grand, I don’t think, but between us, father and son, the child of man. There were things he wanted to discuss, to get straight, out onto the table.

He was the one who contacted the friend of a friend’s sister, who then made the arrangements. It was a backchannel communication, yes, which was typical.

When I was a kid I’d be out in the world or maybe at school and someone would come up to me and say your father wants to speak with you.

I’d stop them and say how do you know and what’s it to you and where am I supposed to meet him.

Before this last backchannel overture there were years of radio silence. I’d thought the man was dead or otherwise indisposed.

It’s true I choked on the pan seared whatnots. I remember everything was fine until I realized that I forgot to use my knife in an effort to eat more quickly than my father. I could feel the food getting lodged in my throat.

Then I think my father called the waitress over and she got behind me to do the maneuver.

Then I think I was on the ground and all of them were taking turns kicking me and going through my pockets.

I looked at my father and said I expected better from you.

He apologized and said it wasn’t personal.

I didn’t know the man was planning to jump out of his hotel window, that he’d already composed a note stating such.

I can’t remember any of it and that’s the truth. People ask me and I can’t remember. I do remember the waitress was about to bring the house confection when my father excused himself to use the facilities. He told me he had to heed the call and I thought I knew what he meant. That’s the last thing I think I remember.

Then I think I remember everyone screaming and yelling and others laughing and choking after he’d jumped off the balcony and made a mess of himself on the sidewalk.

I think maybe there were a lot of questions and I tried to provide answers.

The answers always came down to your guess and mine.

Instead what I do remember is a kitchen floor. This is what I think about. You keep your grand plans and big ideas, your sit downs with the almighty and his minions, your aspirations about family names and lunch meetings culminating in public freefalls, but somewhere there’s a sponge and bucket, maybe in a closet or under a sink. I think about these things because thinking about mopping is better than actually mopping the kitchen floor, which is in dire need of a once-over.

I think about what the kitchen floor says about you.

My father mopped the floor daily. I’d have an accident and he’d be there with the sponge and bucket. He talked about cleanliness and its proximity to the divine. Later he would shame me into making dinner for everyone. He said no one should have to clean up after another and not get something out of it.

He called it the right of return.

It was the right of getting something in return, that nothing is free in this quid pro quoforsaken world.

He said we all had to divvy up the woman’s work because our mother decided everything was too much for her.

He said in the end all you have is the natural use of the woman. He said other than that everything is hopeless and too much to ask. He said we should never leave it and we’d burn in damnation if we did.

Otherwise we weren’t permitted to talk about women or our mother, god rest her soul if she is actually dead.

But he was always about the grand plans and natural uses but I preferred the kitchen floor. I think that says it all right there.

I do remember the day my father wanted to fish in the river but we didn’t have poles or bait. I remember he took us down to the river and was excited about it. He said that Jesus was a fisherman but that he fished people instead of fish. He said that’s how great Jesus was, that he could fish people. I didn’t understand him, like always, but I went to the river anyway. He looked around for skinny branches to make a pole out of but I asked him about wire and he said let’s go swimming instead. He said that Jesus walked on the water and it was a miracle. He said that we couldn’t walk on the water ourselves but we could at least swim in it. He said that god made water for us to swim in and we insult god if we don’t. He said it was about god’s glory, praise his name.

I watched him strip off his clothes and jump in. He kept on his shorts and told me to do likewise. He said god wanted us to be decent at all times particularly in front of each other.

I’d never been in a river before and no one ever told me about the currents. You’d think a father would tell his son about the currents but it’s clear you’ve never met my father. It was maybe two or three seconds before I started drowning. I was getting sucked under and pulled away and I swallowed a lot of water by the time my father saved me and dragged me to the shore. I think he had to pound on my chest so I could breathe again. This is when my father asked if I’d forgotten how to swim and I said I’m not sure I ever learned.

I think this was the first time I could hear someone choking and others laughing.

I think I was the one choking and my father was the one laughing, but it could’ve been my brothers, too.

I haven’t mentioned my brothers because they aren’t worth mentioning, not a single one of them.

This isn’t about my brothers, so let’s forget I mentioned them at all.

I never thought my father would end up this way, all over a sidewalk, and I’m sure my brothers never thought this either, if they are still alive, god rest their souls.

The police said they found a note but it wasn’t in a language anyone could recognize or read.

They gave it to me after they were finished with him and their investigation. I keep it in a drawer somewhere, but I’m thinking about hanging it up on a wall.

This language my father created, it looks beautiful. There are lines and symbols and figures and it goes on for pages and pages.

When everyone was still a kid our father would talk about my brothers and rail against them. He called them philistines and sodomites. He told me I’d see how they’d turn out but I never did.

My father was a complicated man and I don’t know why he did what he did or said what he said so fuck it.

In this respect it’s like me and the breathing and the people who either step around or don’t.

If I have one last thing to say about the matter it’s news to me.

I will say this, though, the man lived and died like everyone else in the world.

For instance, my father made us hold hands and say grace at the table before dinner. He’d pray for us out loud, in front of everyone.

He prayed that this brother could field a ground ball, that brother would finally take his hands out of his pants, another to someday adhere to the sense god gave him.

I’ve forgotten what he prayed for in my direction. I was always last and by then I’d stopped listening.

By then I’d started on dinner because if I didn’t there wouldn’t be anything left to eat. It’s that way in every big family I imagine. If you want anything you have to fight for it.

 

 

 

Robert Lopez
is the author of four books, including Asunder and Good People, due from Bellevue Literary Press in January, 2016.
Filed under: Fiction

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