portion of the artwork for Alec Niedenthal's stories

Father Speaks
Alec Niedenthal

They received the father they did, Father 750194259, who seemed worn at first too tight for fatherhood, because this season was a busy one for fathers. Their request had been submitted so late for a new father. Though Father 750194259 did not disappoint, was not an inferior father. Instead he was mainly attentive, knew with which of his limbs to perform, and what to bring them when they missed strongly the father.

He brought them batteries, soup in bread bowls he had baked himself, sneakers studded with green glowing lights on the heel, brought them into the air; he threw them out his thin and tapering hands and gently into the bed where he spent his sleep, though the bed was not mostly his bed but the fallen father’s, and perhaps the bed of the mother somewhat absent from his grammar of raising the children.

He then would happen in the bed with the son and daughter, fall in on his stomach, laugh with them while they walked bouncingly on his back even though it would physically hurt. He would point them out of the window and fly them zippingly around. He would sometimes forget Monday.

Mostly Father 750194259 was good to have around.

He fixed the rooftop satellite so that someone would know where they were. “All fixed,” he said.

The son and daughter watched the channels that were not channels but radio stations.

“Why don’t you watch real TV?” Father 750194259 asked.

“This is real TV,” the daughter said. She blinked then the channel, or station.

He squatted to distribute high-fives, to bring closer their heads to his delicate body.

For breakfasts he etched fried eggs in a bed of sourdough bread. The son and daughter screamed when it was served to them. Why they screamed it is not clear.

“Thank you for being a father,” the son said.

“Thank you for being a son,” Father 750194259 said.

The father came to find them in the night, though he knew where they would be. The son and daughter heard the call of his van in the driveway. They left Father 750194259 pressed into the couch, bewildered, paralyzed, unable to retrain his bugging eyes on the game show where someone had enviously won only to cry over someday dying. The son and daughter stood on the stoop, watching the father, silhouetted by the headlights of his van, heft a rolling suitcase, stuffed, inside darkness. The father was very round and had been built now rounder, assumed a new layer.

“My children,” he said. He deposited his suitcase on the concrete. The father stood, possessing himself. He let out a storm of air. He opened his mouth long, cough-riddled, like taking the son and daughter in there. He pulled off his hair, showing a glistening globe. He thought I wish I did not have the mother’s body in the van. He unfixed his arms and, coughing once, rearranged them to fit in the children. The children stood still on the stoop, shivering. The father gave a “come here” gesture with the tips of his fingers.

“Come to your father,” the father said. He approached them and stuffed them full of him on the stoop, the three bodies lit as one by an overhead porch light. The father pounded foully down his feet. Father 750194259 watched the credits roll on the game show. Nobody in the end had won.

“I missed you boys,” the father said. The son and daughter felt him curl into a smile. His skin was scented like a fire.

After the credits it was a new show about police. Father 750194259 did not care about police. He rose himself and went to the foyer, where the son and daughter culled and sullenly pulled the father, folded over, laughing and coughing at once.

“Who are you in my home?” Father 750194259 said.

“Who am I?” the father said. "I’ve come back to my home, to my two children. Do you see them?”

“No,” Father 750194259 said.

Father 750194259 wanted to unlatch his outside and reveal the man lining his inside, who would confirm how he was finally the father for all their lives.

I will not have been these two children, ever in repetition.

The son and daughter took the father off. They stripped him thoroughly into another room, while he lumbered and mistook himself for others, coughing still. Father 750194259 asked would he retain the house in his name.

“What’s your name?” the father said.

The father amputatingly hunted or fished, like a true father, for the other man’s hand with his own.

Father 750194259 gave the series of numbers for his fatherhood.

The hand of the father, surrendering searching, found a child’s head and wiped it.

Father 750194259 slept on the couch. He watched game shows on mute instead of sleeping.

In the morning, Father 750194259 filled the attic, the basement, the roof, all fringes and outer parts of the house, with the electricity of his sobs. In the afternoon he was decommissioned.

After two months a new father was assigned to the son and daughter, only this one was packed full like the body of the father, and had been accused, though never convicted, of two suspiciously minor robberies, which took place in the same night, and perhaps in the same house. He and the father were very much alike. There was no need, in the end, for the father to return.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 28 | Spring 2010