Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Ten Fictions about My Father

Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Ten Fictions about My Father

Article excerpt

1

First he went down to Pappy's pasture. The pasture was a strip of marshy land down the hill fromour house, sandwiched by the interstate and train tracks where Pappy kept his cows. My father shot some birds there: amale red-winged blackbird, a female red-winged blackbird, and a starling. Then he stuffed the birds. He didn't stuff them properly with the styrofoam molds Uncle Bart used. He slit the birds open with a pocket knife and took out the guts and packed them with sawdust. He closed them shut with safety pins and put them in Nana's freezer until he needed them for a class at school- you could do things like that for school back then.

He spent a lot of time at the pasture, watching cattails until he knew where one bird's territory ended and another's began. He took those frozen birds back with him and stuck them one at a time on the cattail tips. He stuck the female up. Female blackbirds are brown. A male blackbird perched next to her, singing and beating his wings. Next Dad perched the male. The live bird f lew at it and knocked it to the ground and pecked it. The bird dove at the starling too, andmy father. It dove at anything that came near.

I know because he caught it on 8 mm. One Monday night, he tacked a sheet to the wall for a screen and brought a projector home from the library. Monday nights were family night. My mother and I arranged the kitchen chairs in the living room like a theater. Dad cut the lights, and the white square on the wall became birds and reeds. Everything was a shade of yellow and silent but the projector puttered. Birds f lew across our wall.

2

I bathed for Sunday on Saturday night. Sitting on the toilet seat, wrapped in a towel, I watchedmy father undress. He stepped into the bathwater my mother had drawn for me. The room was pleasantly hot with steam. The mirror had gone opaque. I stayed in the bathroom after my bath because it was warm and my father was there. He covered himself with a pink washcloth and leaned back in the hot water.

"At work," he said, "they showed me a room stacked full of gold bars." My father worked for Kennecott that summer. It was the world's largest open-pit mine.

"Was it a big room?" I asked.

"Not very," he said. "Like the kitchen but taller."

I bathed only on Saturdays, but my father took a bath every night. He came home black as a chimney sweep, streaked on his face where the sweat had dripped. We didn't have a shower, and my father didn't shower with the other men at the mine.

"You have to walk into the mine naked," he said. "And out. They have locker rooms."

"Why?"

"They make you take off all your clothes and walk past guards," he said. "So no one tries to steal the gold."

I would have liked to see the room full of gold, but I didn't want anyone to see me naked.

"At the mine they make you strip coming and going," he said. "They make you wear company jumpsuits."

His breathing became even and slow. I thought maybe he was sleeping.

"What's a pinup?" I asked him.

"Where did you hear that?" he said.

I had overheard him tellmy mother the night before about the pinups in the locker room. He had told her he pulled them down and f lushed them when he was alone. I shrugged.

"It's a picture of a naked woman," he said.

"And they have them at the mine?"

"Yes," he said.

"Why do you take them down?"

"Because they're dirty," my father said.

My father was uncircumcised. His body was brown where the sun had touched it: the forearms, the face, the back of the neck. He'd worked only a few months at the mine. Otherwise he was ivory white and spotted by moles like constellations across his back. He scrubbed the dirt off his skin with the pink washcloth. He cleaned himself.

I thought everyone in the world must be cleaning themselves for Sunday. Nana and Pappy. My cousin Lee. And Jamie who wore skirts to class every day. …

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