At twilight, driving Route 8, my father refused the headlights, saving, he said, the bulbs. Three lanes, that road, passing a dare. Always, the oncoming cars would flash the code for fear, but still he blinded us, ready, traveling Route 8, to hoard the minutes and challenge the darkness, proving, by the mile, he could see to drive by passing the brightly lit.
She was flicking the headlights on, then off, sending some signal into the game lands where we’d parked, creating, before I opened her blouse, the evening and the morning of the first day, telling me we were alone as Adam and Eve, reciting the passages about births from clay and rib, God’s recipes so simple, yet perfect, flicking the lights again as if she wanted God’s finger pointing at us as I found her breasts in the dark, secretive as the newly created, in love with the knowledge of her body, saying “yes” to whatever she believed about dirt and bones.
Twice in twenty years my father had laughed. I admit that he may have chuckled when I was absent, when he became his secret self, free of the need for work and the God of restraint. More than once, more often than he smiled, my father said he felt sorry for me, meaning I would live to experience the world’s end by God or man. Hopeless was a thing he saw in others. What’s said and done was proof.
Because she sang soprano in a church choir, my father worshipped her visits and never tried my room’s closed, but unlocked door. He blessed our privacy, turning up his television so we could hear approval played by the champagne music makers while her thrumming pitched into a shriek I fractured with my urgent hand.
When the road seesawed, narrow and choked by forest to the shoulder, my father slowed for stories, each one ending with “I meant to” as if expecting a huge migration of the dead to cross the road from one wooded darkness to another, his parables meant as headlights. “Wives are meant to be widows,” he said, the night shaking its shaggy head as it shredded a skinny album of ancient photographs.
Always, she said, the worst thing is safety. Warnings are exhausting, I said, and watched the road testify, tirelessly perjuring itself. Always, I thought, the worst thing is loneliness. That day’s driving was an examination. My symptoms were caution and concentration, the radio loud and without mercy until she unzipped me and sang “speed” to my body.
My father dreams my bones, wakens to trace my face with his fingers, telling me how scientists reconstruct the faces of the ancient dead from their salvaged skulls, and I overhear his wish to be a curator for immortality, arranging selected photographs throughout our house until my mother is perfectly displayed,
Sometimes, I’ve learned, the eyes of birds weigh more than their brains. Sometimes their bones weigh less than their feathers. Sometimes, while touching her face, I became a boy who believed her eyes exclaimed “Yes, go on,” because, sometimes, undressed, she felt so light her body lifted toward me, extraordinary as the moment she became an etched inscription on a mausoleum plaque—she was, she loved, she would have–an odd conjugation of loss, a wound in the private museum of the past, the corridors for longing where light is interrupted by the stunned levitation of her accident.
Even as we park beside the house sold twenty years ago to strangers, even in the front yard so small a child could hop, skip, and jump across it, I can’t hear one word from my father who has made me drive here to remember. Traffic coughs its constant jargon. At the end of the street, two houses down, the world ends at a cliff blasted one lot closer for a widened highway. My father, from where we’re standing, tries to distinguish an old path become a wide, astonishment of air.
Where my father and I are now, the wires are down, and the rain manages the back road. A channel opens beside us. The squall hoards our light. Pulled over on the shoulder, shuddering in the dark, I am asking Siri for directions. Please repeat, she says, I do not understand you. My father whispers, “Who is that, someone you know?”
Gary Fincke’s latest books are The Infinity Room (poems, Michigan State, 2019) which won the Wheelbarrow Books Prize for Established Poets and The Darkness Call, a collection of personal essays that won the Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose and was published by Pleiades Press in 2018. His most recent book of fiction is The Out-of-Sorts: New and Selected Storie (West Virginia University Press, 2017. He Co-Edits Best Microfiction, 2019 along with NFFR’s Founding Editor, Meg Pokrass.