I could see Dad sitting out on the front porch. Still—silent. Gazing out on Elm Street. Generally, I never got up quite that early. But after a night of staring at the ceiling, I padded my way down the stairs as soon as it would be fitting. When I finished navigating where the squeaks hid on the stairs, I looked up. Yes, I looked up the hall before entering the kitchen. That’s when I saw Dad reclined, cigarette in hand and an ever-lightening blue on the side of his face. It set my spirit at ease. Just being there with him, noticing him without him knowing. Seeing him just be without the demands of social responsibility. He looked down at something. I couldn’t quite see, considering the distance as well as the slight haze built up on the lower corners of the window. I took a reprieve from my pursuit of coffee to just watch him a little while longer. I leaned up against the living room’s pale door frame. My robe tie slunk down from my waist, so I haphazardly adjusted it. The daze of sleep lingered in my skin, and my motor skills were not exactly efficient.
Dad just sat there puffing smoke and reading something. He and Nicky sure did look alike from the back. Their thick dark hair and hard-working shoulders looked the same, but the real similarity was their common essence—the way they sat, a relaxed confidence that could easily be mistaken for arrogance, stroking the hair on the back of their heads while flicking their cigarette butts like ex-pat bar owners waiting for a plane of tourists to descend. It was a real father-son miracle.
I hadn’t seen Dad too much in the past few months. He had taken some extra shifts down at the mill to finally pay off the hospital bill, outstanding since Mom left. In fact, he was usually off on his bicycle by that blue hour, on the way to the mill. I hoped he had the day off. He didn’t.
I wished I knew him better. But he was just so quiet, and so was I. I thought he was a good man, though. From what I could tell, I knew that he loved us, but it was like he had twenty million things to say and for some reason he kept them all locked away. Or he feared saying them. Saying anything at all is pretty scary. I had no space to lament his silence. I knew it all too well then. My own secrets began to imprison me, and I wondered if Dad had seen such horrible sights too.
I’ve grown to see mouths as more or less replicas of our gigantic bay window. Strung-back lips reveal windows that lead directly to you, the real you, the you that you are not real sure that even you know. The worst part, I’ve found, is you never know how people will react. You can never really tell what will happen after you talk. Sometimes you take the time to open up that window to yourself’s self and people don’t even care.
He puffed another cloud and set down his cigarette hand on the arm of the chair. His right hand went up—head, chest, shoulder, shoulder. Perhaps it was horror that made him pray. The lingering smoke swirled around him like silk. After putting out the flame, he stood up and carried the book to the front door. I dashed into the kitchen, started filling up the kettle and tried to be as usual as possible. What an embarrassment it would be if my sentimentality was found out. I waited for the sound of the door. The water was on the stove, high heat. But the floorboards never creaked.
Cover image by Stephen Hocking