Hardly Noticeable

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

It still continues. Perhaps there is someone who cares

When I entered the house it was infected with silence. I didn’t smell eggs, there was no sound of coffee percolating, and I assumed that my father was still asleep. Since he had purchased the rooster he had lived on the same schedule as it. Yet, on this particular day, with the sun shining down like a sardonic grin on a massacre spattered in relief on the straw-colored ground, he had not awoken. I was the only one outside to see each of the minor horrors create a bloody masterpiece. The destruction that existed in stasis outside the back door left me unsure what to do: ought I to creep into my parents’ bedroom? Could I, the phantom, tell my father what happened? No. The best thing for me to do would be to creep back into my room, pull the blankets over my body, and try to fall back asleep. Perhaps I was afraid of what would happen if I told, if I broke the silence.
My feet instinctively avoided the noisy spots on the floor as I wandered back to my room. I clung to the wall like a catburglar, but when I reached the living room I saw my father sitting in the easy chair that looked out at the road through the big picture window in the front of the house. He looked huge, his shirtless back swelling over the top of the chair. He was picking at the peeling skin on his shoulder with his dirty fingernails. Could be that they weren’t dirty. In this story they are dirty.
I tried to speak, but faltered. Instead, I cleared my throat and tapped the wall. He looked at me without turning around. Staring at the surface of the picture window, he saw me in my reflection. I think I may have caught his eyes for a second, but then he turned all the way around and broke the link.
“I think you should come outside,” I said, the words like rocks in my throat. I had trouble articulating things to my parents. I didn’t talk much until I was four years old. My stubby hands could do addition and subtraction on paper before my mouth could form six-word sentences. At first my parents thought that I was developmentally disabled, since I spoke only to answer questions. But, during the summer before kindergarten they sent me to my grandparents’ house near the Canadian border, and by the time I came back I was speaking almost normally. They were quite relieved that they wouldn’t get labeled as parents of a special-ed kid, and also that they wouldn’t have to consult a doctor to see what was wrong with me.
My father set the glass of water he was holding upon the oak endtable next to his easy chair and stood up, stretching his hands above his head and locking his fingers together at the apex. He scratched the back of his head with one hand and then grunted, “Yep.” I was quite surprised at the time that he didn’t continue staring out the window, instead taking what I said as gospel and defeating inertia by standing up and stretching.
I led him, my hands in the pockets of my jean shorts, one hand scratching a mosquito bite on the outside of my thigh with the ragged edge formed by the seam in the pocket. I had thrust the rose petals into the other pocket and they surrounded my fingers. My toes caused tiny eruptions of dust volcanoes in the carpet, and the sunlight became alive with miniature dust beasts swirling around in constant battle. The beasts curled around my body, catching updrafts off the heat from my skin or the swing of my arms, flying upwards towards my head, some continuing towards the ceiling while others began to float back down. Because of their tenacity, I didn’t know if these beasts were alive, as they seemed to stay in the air without any help. I wondered for a moment if my father could see them.
We walked through the family room, through the hallway, into the back entryway; the whole time I stared straight ahead. The house was still silent, and I remember being afraid of what would happen when we got outside. I didn’t know if I would be able to stop myself from crying, and I didn’t know what my father would do. It was obvious, even at this point in my life, that he didn’t care for me. It would be wrong to say it was hatred, because hatred implies some sort of bright spark of emotion. There were no emotions, no orange sparks lingering even under buckets and shovelfuls of dirt. It was life at absolute zero: all was still, there were no moving parts. If I began to cry, he would stay impassive, a statue. We were immune to Newton’s first law: I acted, but he never supplied the reaction to balance the equation. At the time I questioned such things, but I’ve given up by now.

Or perhaps I lie. Perhaps I still stare at the ceilings on weeknights trying to let the sounds of dogs barking congeal into some sort of answer.

I opened the back door while my father put on his muddy work boots. They must have been muddy. My hands shook at the sheer insanity of it all: the decapitated chickens, their feather rosy with the stain of blood; the rooster with its comb cut off and stuffed into its beak; my father’s necessary reaction to the events. For, although the he-I pair were outside of Newton’s grasp, the physical world and he were well acquainted with reactions. I had seen the anger that existed just below the meniscus of his psyche, and it was almost mystical. The explosions directed at God, the weather, the shopping cart that left a scratch on his car, were exciting to see, because I had never been on the receiving end of my father’s wrath. I had never experienced the anger and hatred that he cultivated, the curses and blasphemies that grew like weeds. On two separate occasions I had seen my father grab a steel golf club between his two meaty hands and snap it in half as though it were a popsicle stick. One time was when he had hooked a drive into the water on the eighteenth hole in a company golf tournament. The other was when he picked me up from golf lessons and someone had put a shoe-sized dent in the side of his new Mercedes. The club pro asked him why he did it, and my father answered, “What else could I do?”
We stepped outside. The white sunlight reflected globulous shapes off the shining silver wind chime my mother had hung just outside the back door. My father and I were speckled with flawed circles, squares and rectangles, all the shapes looking only vaguely like the Platonic forms they were supposed to represent. The tears were beginning to burn behind my eyes, but I held them in check. I wanted to see with unglazed eyes the reaction that my father would have to this massacre. Something inside me thought that the sadness I felt and the rage that he would feel could somehow exist together and create a moment of mutual recognition.
But I was waiting for nothing. My father’s breath rushed inward, whistling as it went, and he exhaled with a narcotic groan. There was no rage, no anger. Both emotions were left sitting listlessly in the anteroom. The whole experience was so anticlimactic that I had to force myself to look at the scene again in order to be sure that I had originally seen was actually there. The scene was the same as I had left it moments before. The chickens were still dead, the plants destroyed, the rooster posing with its comb in its mouth.
I was going to speak, but I couldn’t. Instead, I walked over to the garden and put on my work gloves. At first I had planned on cleaning up my land, but it felt cursed, a place of ghouls and demons, so I walked over and began picking up chicken parts. My father was still standing by the door, still picking at the peeling skin on his shoulder, wearing muddy boots. When he saw me begin working he walked into the garage, grabbed a pair of gloves, and started cleaning the garden.
The chickens were difficult to extract from their wire armor. I worked slowly, taking great care not to pull out feathers or further mangle the bodies. My father worked in the garden, taking all the plants that had been uprooted and smashed and throwing them into a pile on the lawn. He worked quickly and efficiently. After a half-hour he had stripped the garden, while I had merely separated the chickens from the fence.
I lined up all the chickens in a row. I planned on taking each of their bodies and placing them separately in a grave in my garden. I had already imagined what the whole scene would look like: little crosses stuck into the ground like acupuncture needles trying to heal the tattered earth, to give it life again next year. The little crosses would stand until the next time I planted, at which time I would take them down and put them in the chicken coop as a reminder of the first summer. I even thought that my father and I could perhaps work on the crosses together: instead of looking shoddy and pitiable, they could be carved out of beautiful wood and lashed together with leather straps. Although I had resented the chickens, the massacre erased my feelings of ill will and replaced them with a desire to make amends for my evil will. The little garden tribute would be a way to show my father that both enterprises were noble, both deserved to be remembered.
My father exited the garden and gathered together as many plants as he could in a handful. He mashed them together in his meaty hands and carried them to the garbage can like refuse. As he was carting them to their final resting place, I straightened out the wire fence, having released all the chickens from their barbed suits. I picked up each headless chicken and carried it to the edge of the garden. My father was in the garage wearing his muddy boots.


Post a Comment

<< Home