That day, the first day, she didn’t believe me, and it would be another ten years before she finally would—and then only after she was dead.
I knew she’d be in the kitchen. She was always in the kitchen. She was cooking grits in a small pot, and had the radio turned up, listening to the old timey music she liked to listen to. I tugged on her arm to pull her away. She was thirty-three, still young, still pretty, and still willing to listen. I was only ten years old when I told her about the voices and the lights that came to visit me at night.
She gathered her purse and keys and bus pass and told me to stay out of trouble while she was gone.
There was this lake I used to ride my bike to. It was only about a mile from our apartment, at the edge of town, and I liked to ride my bike out there and think long and hard about the world around me, the images and feelings which consumed me. Never learned much—just sort of sat there and wondered what it meant to be a boy with a dead dad?
I took my shoes off and dipped my feet into the water. I felt the minnows down there, darting around my toes.
I pulled my feet out of the water and dipped my hands in. I held them under a good long while and waited. Then I felt this chill run through me and clamped my fingers together. One small fish out of hundreds was now writhing in my hands. I threw him up on the bank and watched him flop. Then he was still. I looked skyward and picked him up and slowly lowered him back into the water. I massaged him a bit there until I felt some movement, and then I let him go.
I went back home and cleaned the grits from the pot. I shouldn’t have let them sit so long. I wanted to pray and fall asleep on the spot. I wanted to be visited. I wanted the strange voice to come and tell me that there would be a day when the world would be delivered. And that would be the day when we’d actually be born.
And there was Joe. Joe was the second person I told about the angels and the voices and the light. I thought he believed me, too, though now I’m unsure. He was a couple years older than me, and was the only other kid on the block. He told me once that he didn’t care so much if his reputation was ruined for hanging out with me, and even though my feelings got hurt, in that moment I felt I needed him more than I ever had before.
I didn’t know much about the bible and such and Joe told me he’d been to church a few times and would show me a few things. He didn’t mind, but he didn’t want his mom finding out. She would give him a long hard whipping if she ever found out, he told me, so I went over there when she wasn’t home.
When I got there he took me into his mom’s bedroom. There was purple, paisley wallpaper on the walls. I told him I thought it was cool. Thanks, he said, came with the place, and as he said this he lowered his jeans and boxers to the floor. I started for the door, face flushed red, but he said, No, don’t go. This is it. This is what I wanted to tell you. You said you wanted to learn about God and the Bible. Here it is: your first lesson. In the Bible it says this is okay, in fact it’s a duty. I said, Okay, because I believed him. Then he told me to take him in my hand. I did. It was so small and hard in my hand it reminded me of the fish. Joe closed his eyes. He was breathing heavy, and within a minute or two he made a face like dying. When I wiped my hand on the carpet, Joe screamed, Damn it, don’t wipe it off on the floor, and he stormed out of the room. He came back and wiped it up with toilet paper. On his knees he looked up and he said, You can do it to yourself. It feels amazing. Some guy my mom knows taught me how to do it.
The only other person I told that summer was a girl named Marilynn. She lived in the trailer park near the elementary school. I met her one afternoon after straying farther into town than usual. She was hopscotching, alone, across the street from the school, when I ran into her, the tree above her casting tiger-stripe shadows across her face. She was a cute girl, too, nine years old, with long hair down her back, all blonde and in a ponytail, and she seemed to cling to every word I spoke.
I told her everything—from the visions to the grits to the fish to my hand on the floor.
She listened and nodded, didn’t offer words of advice or approval, didn’t even smile. And it was nice, because it let me know she was really listening.
That’s when I did it. I finally got up the courage to ask her something I’d wanted to ask somebody for as long as I can remember.
What’s it like having a dad? I asked her.
She shrugged, let her eyes fall to the ground, and once again spoke in silence, kicking her foot into the sidewalk and tracing a circle into the dust with her toes.
Please, I said. I need to know.
Her eyes came up to connect with mine, and then she frowned. You’re not missing nothing.
I couldn’t stop thinking about all the awful things he must’ve done.
After that day, I stopped thinking about my dad, because I realized that he’d always been there with me, I just couldn’t see him. I was my own dad and he was me, and we were one and not alone and never had been, not once, ever.
That night Mom cooked up the second fish I caught. We ate it with white rice. We were always filling up on rice in those days—grits and rice, anything that’d stick to our ribs. We ate on a new tablecloth she’d brought home from work. I didn’t notice it at first. And I tried to make it up to her by being overenthusiastic when I finally did.
Look at that blue! I said. Where’d you get it?
It’s not blue, she said. It’s teal. She smoothed out a small area of the cloth with her hands and told me she’d gotten it from a guy at work—told her he’d bought a new one for his wife and thought he’d bring the old one to his favorite waitress. When she was telling me about it, she kept fidgeting with her hands beneath the table. I wondered what he looked like. I could tell she liked him. I wanted to ask her if she liked him, if she thought he was father-material, but didn’t.
I cut into the fish and took a bite, swallowed it down with some water.
Must be a nice man, I said.
Mom didn’t say anything. I watched her for a minute. It was a strange thing. It was as though she’d lost herself inside that strange color, moving her hands in small circles over the table.
Troy James Weaver is responsible for Witchita Stories (Future Tense Books), Visions (Broken River Books), Marigold (King Shot Press), and Temporal (Disorder Press). He’s been published in/at places such as Fluland, The Nervous Breakdown, FANZINE, Lithub, Everyday Genius, Heavy Feather Review, Atticus Review, and many others. He lives in Wichita, Kansas, with his wife and two dogs.
Image: xandert, morguefile.com