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November 2023

Remember
by Roger D'Agostin

          I told Dad it’s like when we were kids and used silly putty to pick up the imprint of newspaper comics.

          Dad scratched a stain on his pajama bottoms. I corrected myself and said, when I was a kid. “Then you stretched out the images and they looked really funny.”

          He shook his head, stared at the stain, which I noticed was not a stain per se but a bleach spot. “I’m too old to be stretched out,” he snapped.

          “It’s not going to hurt. Just press your thumb here.”

 

***

          The next time I didn’t explain. I removed the silly putty from the egg and broke it into pieces. I pressed his left thumb, back of his ring finger, the tattoo on his wrist, his right palm. That was enough. He started referring to me as his brother. “Tommy, Mom doesn’t want us to bring the fish in the house. We need to clean it out back and then put the fillets in bags.” I told him Mom’s coming later and he said she never comes. “Goes to see Tommy, though. I knew he was her favorite.”

***

          I stuffed silly putty in his slippers but that didn’t work. It was there the next day but no indentation to speak of. I got the rest of his fingers, and his left palm, the one with the scar, but he didn’t let me touch his shoulder and get the other tattoo. I knew the face was out of the question.

***

          I asked about the pictures. “Dad, remember the albums. The ones in the attic.”

“She put them up there.” I couldn’t tell if he was referring to mom or grandma. I asked, if he thought Uncle Tommy had some. But this started him on the fish. “I have to clean Tommy’s fish because he leaves too many bones. Mom says she can always tell who cleaned which ones.”

***

          I wonder if that Kodak fellow knew his film would blur and yellow after thirty years in a stifling, dusty attic. Perhaps he thought it would serve as a convenient excuse when one couldn’t remember

          “I told Mom that Tommy didn’t catch the biggest fish. That fish is mine and I should be able to hold it for the picture.”

***

          I’m not doing this to my son.

          I digitize everything. I have local drives and cloud storage. I keep old phones and their chargers in plastic bags with silicone packs. My wife says I’m obsessed. But she has photos of her past. Communions, Fourth of July, the time they went camping when she was a girl scout. She told me she was a girl scout for only one year. And her mom slept on a rock every night. There is a complete album dedicated to this one trip.

          I’m working on plaster casts, too. I have many impressions of my hands.  

          But I couldn’t attempt that with my father. Out of the question. Silly putty was the best I could come up with. But two weeks ago my son found three pieces on my dresser and stretched and rolled the impressions away. So I tried storing new ones in the freezer. They cracked.

          I now take pictures when Dad’s sleeping. Same expression. Same clothes. Same hospital bed. I remind myself that sometimes when you take pictures and demand everyone’s attention someone’s blinking or moving or not looking at the camera. Even for important occasions like weddings and graduations. It happens. But you keep them. They get stuffed into the albums with the good ones and decades later when you crack open the albums you remember.

Bio

Roger D'Agostin is a writer living in Connecticut. His most recent work has appeared in Washington Square Review LCC, Third Wednesday, and DASH

Steven Deutsch
 
Pluviophile

Walking the steamy streets

of Alphabet City

after two days of heavy rain

 

I hope will never end,

the sidewalks smell

of a city left behind.

 

Friends lived here once

up on Avenue C

in a roach-filled, sixth-floor

 

walk-up protected

by three massive locks.

Yes, it was deadly here,

 

and the walk I take this evening

would have labeled me insane

or desperate. Yet I miss

 

the days when I might

meet a friend on any corner—

catch up over beer

 

and peanuts in that bar

on Avenue A —the one that catered

to roughnecks, punks, and poets.

I want to be the next Picasso, to complete this masterpiece before my eight o’clock bedtime.  I tilt my head to the side, small dog beside me does the same.  It needs something else, something to make it next level.  The lightbulb moment strikes.  I leap from my chair, steps filled with purpose – until I reach the top of the staircase. 

 

My legs tremble, mouth dries up.  I peer down at the closed door; its foreboding presence staring back, daring me to venture down.  It usually doesn’t end well - the man on the other side dislikes interruptions, but I need the tape and this is where it lives.

I creep downstairs; careful, timid movements.  My feet edge closer to the door, entrance to the study.  I clench my little fist, gingerly raise it to the wood and pause.  Heart races.  I knock gently.  Nothing.  Seconds pass.  I knock louder.

Door swings open.

“WHAT IS IT!”

***

I could buy my own tape, avoid the angry man, but this requires money.  I’m lucky to have kind grandparents who send birthday cards filled with cheques.  I’m unlucky the man downstairs takes them.

“I’ll put it in the bank for you,” he says.  “Be safe there.”

I never see the money.  Years later I learn they go on school fees.  I pay to attend the school of horrors.  I’m paying to be bullied.

I fall to my knees at school, cup hands beneath my mouth and catch the blood.  My small hands shake as a front tooth joins the bloody mix.   

Bryce laughs, admires his handiwork, and takes a seat.  I start to cry.  I want my mum. 

“Will you please be quiet!” the teacher demands, undisturbed by a bleeding child.  “It’s nap time.  Find yourself a beanbag.”

“We need a meeting with that teacher,” Mum says that night.  “Need to protect him from those thugs.”

“He needs to fight back,” says Dad, who then takes me outside, suggests we kick the football. 

“They put me in a garbage can when I was in school!” he says.  “Rolled me down the steps.”

I nod, make note to watch for garbage cans next. 

“They flushed my head down the toilet!” he continues.  “Had to get changed before an exam.”

I don’t understand how these anecdotes will help.  Am I meant to feel grateful my face was punched instead of flushed?

He kicks the ball towards me, it slips from my grasp. 

“Hold your hands out!” he demonstrates. 

I kick the ball back with pinpoint accuracy.  He doesn’t say anything.  His leg launches into a spearing kick, sending the ball hurtling towards me with speed.

THUD.

I’m on the ground, clutching my mouth, imprint of the ball on my face.  I start crying.  I want my mum.  He rolls his eyes.  Game over.

***

My younger sister randomly cries as many children do.  It’s not good when I’m in the same room.  Heavy footsteps up the stairs are the first sign.  My sister cries louder, I grip my G.I. Joes harder.  The door swings open and Dad looks at my sister.  He grabs me by the hair, drags me away, filled with rage, red in the face.

“But I was just sitting there!” I beg.

I don’t know why I plead my innocence each time, as if honesty and truth even matter.  I’ll always be guilty in his eyes, the wrongfully convicted for life.  In the same way my sister can do no wrong, I can do no right – at least to him.

It’s not my ass that hurts each time I’m smacked - it’s my hand.  Instincts are such that I automatically shield whatever part of my body is under assault.  My hands receive the worst of it.  It’s not even the pain that makes me cry, it’s the shame and injustice. 

I’m forcefully shoved into my bedroom, stagger across the floor, struggle to halt momentum.  As I turn around, the door slams shut.

“Don’t come out!”

I lay on the bed, stare at the ceiling, rub my hands and sob.  When I gather enough courage, I will slowly open my bedroom door and peer into the hallway.  Too soon, and I run the risk of it happening again.  Too late, and my dinner grows cold.

This happens for years and most of the time I don’t know why.  Home isn’t the only place it happens.

Sun sparkles over calm blue ocean, people on holidays laugh, ride bikes on nearby trails.  Seagulls stand watch on the fence, observing an unhappy family inside a house.  Despite being on holidays too, we are not calm like the ocean and we are not laughing like others. 

Voices are raised, adults fight, faces beam red.  No heavy footsteps on stairs, but the signs are the same.  He lunges towards me, arms outstretched, anger out-of-control – but something changes.

I’m eleven-years-old now.  Instead of cowering, retreating for cover, I push back.  My hands fly forward, land on his torso; the force knocks him backwards.  He staggers in disbelief, grips a wall for balance.  He stands there stunned, processing the strength of an eleven-year-old. 

“I said this would happen!” Mum yells.  “One day he would fight back!”

Parents split-up.  One house becomes two.  I visit sometimes, stay other times.  He doesn’t know how to cook at first.  I’m hungry and need food, so I look for money.  I open draws, cupboards, wardrobes, and then I find it.

I’m not old enough to know the thing taped to the inside of the wardrobe is a vision board.  But I’m wise enough to know it stands for everything he wants, the things he most desires in life.  I stare at the picture of a house and then the picture of a woman.  I know her.

“Just a friend,” Dad would say to Mum during her many visits to the house when they were married; the visits she was expected to tolerate.

Beside the woman’s picture is a photo.  It’s a baby boy.  A son.  The one he currently has apparently isn’t good enough.

***

21 years later.

The hospital bed appears to swallow up the shrinking frame of the old man. 

“I’m not too good,” he says, clutching the bedding.

His eyes leak fear, a sense of disbelief at the situation.  Anger bubbles under the surface, unable to manifest, disease acting like a straitjacket. 

“Did you bring the grapes and Kit-Kat?” he asks.

A bag is placed on the table.  He nods, coughs, and starts crying. 

“They stole money!” he says.  “Thugs!”

I look around at the clinical setting, the friendly nurses working hard, caring for others on the Acute Geriatric Ward. 

“I don’t see any thugs,” I say.

“Thugs!” he yells.  “They’re everywhere in here.”

I shrug my shoulders, help myself to a grape.

“Well,” I say.  “Perhaps you should fight back.”

Just Wanted Some Tape

By R. S. MacDonald

Bio

R. S. MacDonald lives in Australia.  His writing has appeared in a variety of literary journals across the US, Australia, Canada, UK and Ireland.  When not writing, he enjoys spending time with his dog, sipping cups of tea and enjoying the words of others.

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