Nothing was like it was supposed to be that day. Mummy walked into my class while Mrs. Ganley was taking attendance. She did not even look at me. She whispered to Mrs. Ganley, who got up from her desk and hugged her. I wondered what had happened ‘cause Mummy usually stayed in the sofa bed all day in her nightie. Having babies made her sick and I stayed home from school a lot to help her. She would tell the teacher I was sick, but I knew that I wasn’t. On that morning Mummy was up and wore shoes that clicked on the floor. She didn’t look sick at all.
When school was over and we were waiting to hear our streets called over the intercom, Mrs. Ganley told me not to leave. I heard my street called and watched all the other kids go. It felt like they forgot me.
“Union Street, Pass Quietly Please, Union Street.”
Mrs. Ganley told me that I was going home with her, as she picked up her keys and shiny, black pocketbook and pointed toward the school parking lot. Mrs. Ganley did not say a word. I watched out the window and saw people raking leaves in their yards and thought of Daddy and me jumping into a big pile of golden leaves and laughing; the incense of burning leaves, four o’clock autumn darkness, and winter chill approaching.
The car pulled into the driveway of Mrs. Ganley’s little, white house. She led me down the flagstone path to a side entrance as she got out her house key. It was an old-lady-smelling house and even though Mrs. Ganley turned on the lights it was dark. White, snowflake doilies rested on the arms of the chairs and sofa. She sat me at one end of a long dining room table and brought me a glass of milk and Saltine crackers. The only sound I heard was Mrs. Ganley quietly moving from room to room as if the silence and dimmed lighting would keep news of my father’s accident at bay.
In the heyday of on-the-air personalities my father was the youngest Disc Jockey ever hired by a Boston station with powerful bandwidth. He began taking me to work with him as soon as I could talk.
In the car he would tell me stories:
“Do you remember the Cyclops?” he would ask.
“He has one eye right here!” pointing to my knit hat-helmeted forehead.
“Where does the Cyclops live?”
“In a cave.” Then suddenly remembering, “And he has some sheep in there!”
“Do sheep live in caves?” he teases.
“At night they do.”
Radio was “live” back then and radio announcers were evolving into unique program personalities to attract listeners. On my father’s show, I was his wisecracking, pint-sized sidekick:
“Come on Phil, It’s time for a station break!” I would chirp.
“Right, Chief! He says. “This is Station WERI, New Haven– 103.6 on your dial. You’re listening to The Phil Christie Show.”
“Phil, it’s time to play another record! Play another record, Phil.”
“Okdokey Smokey!… We have a request from Tammy in Wallingford…. Number 3 on the charts this week …,” his voice fading as he carefully drops the needle into the groove of the black vinyl disc spinning, ‘Bye, Bye, Love.’”
It was dark before Mummy came to get me at Mrs. Ganley’s house. The younger kids were asleep in the car.
“Your father had an accident,” she said, urging me drowsy-footed to the car. “He is in the hospital, but it’s not serious.”
But the next morning I heard Mummy talking on the phone, “He’s on the Critical List. His head went through the windshield. His nose is broken, his jaw is wired together, and he has a hole in his throat.”
I try to picture my Daddy’s throat with a hole in it, but instead my mind drifts to the sun- drenched side of our garage where a pair of plywood stilts is leaning.
“Wanna try them? Come Awwwwn! It’s fun…! I’ll help you,” he would say.
Other kids had shadow fathers — suited men who climbed into cars that left their driveways at 8:00 a.m. and returned at 6:00 p.m. My father told me stories and played with me.
Ridgeland Road is covered with packed snow. Daddy and I whoosh down the long, curvy hill on my shiny sled with red runners. I sit up front with my feet tucked in and Daddy jumps on behind me after giving us a pushing start like bobsledders. He steers with his feet on the metal cross bar and holds the rope, whooping as we speed down to the end of the street. Frosty laughter as we trudge back up the long, gradual hill for another run. Other kids bring out their sleds and Flying Saucers. He is the only daddy sledding. He pushes the other kids’ sleds and saucers. The few cars that come down the hill make way for us.
“The car was a total loss,” I hear Mummy’s voice on the phone again. “Oh My God! You should have seen his relatives, all around his bed moaning and praying when they saw him lying there connected to all these tubes. Their precious son,” she spits. “He insisted on buying that stupid car!”
A silver and black Austin Healy sports car is parked in our driveway. It has two “bucket seats”. One of us gets to sit in front while the others sit on the back hood, top down, as Daddy drives down the main street of town, showing us off. If it rains, we all jump out and help snap on the canvas roof.
In a photo from the accident, the little frog-eyed car looked like a squashed can.
Mummy is getting Daddy from the hospital. I race to the front door as soon as I see the car, but then stop because the man in the passenger seat does not look like my Daddy.
“‘Poula (little dove)’! It’s Dad,” he calls, as he rolls down the window. But he doesn’t sound like Daddy.
He is trying to walk with wooden crutches. Mummy is waiting behind him carrying a suitcase and a shopping bag as he struggles to the doorstep where I stand frozen. There is a bulging, white patch over his eye and I wonder if his eye is still there.
“Let your father get in and get settled, Karen,” Mummy says, pushing by me.
Daddy leans on his crutches and looks at the kitchen like it is the first time he has seen it.
“It’s so good to be home,” he says.
Now I can see a white bandage wrapped around his throat. Mummy pulls out his chair at the head of the table and as he sits down his smile becomes a grimace bracing against the invisible pain of broken ribs. The crutches shatter the silence as they crash to the floor.
“It’s okay, Honey,” he says, motioning to my chair as I hug the wall. “Don’t fret. I’m still your Daddy. Come, sit down.”
I cautiously take my seat next to Daddy. Tiny, black threads travel the curve of his forehead underneath the hairline, weaving in and out of raw flesh. His nose is crooked.
“It’s just some bandages, Honey,” he says, except it’s as if as if his tongue is trapped in a cage of teeth and wire. “Don’t be afraid. I’m still your Dad.”
Mummy has cooked a roast because he is home. She has made something in the blender because Daddy can only sip food through a straw.
“It smells so good. Let me just try,” brightly pleading with her.
“Phil, you can’t chew things.” she says, reluctantly serving him a small slice of meat. He tries to slide the bite of meat between jaws in lockdown and then gives up, sadly. I run from the table and lock myself in the bathroom, sobbing so deeply I can hardly catch my breath.
“It’s alright, Honey; it will be okay; Daddy’s getting better,” he tries to console me from the other side of the bathroom door. But my handsome Daddy is broken and looks like a Frankenstein monster.
In the weeks that followed, my father slept long hours in a darkened room that seemed miles away. The man heard by fans as far away as Australia and Guantanamo, Cuba now had to ring a little bell from bed in order to be heard.
“Do you remember the story of how Odysseus escapes?”
In the darkness of the memory I see a mountain of bones in the Cyclops’ cave. Odysseus and his men are huddled together, trying to avoid the giant’s searching eye.
“What does the Cyclops do every morning?” he asks.
“He lets the sheep go out.”
“Annnnddd….?” he prompts.
“He feels their backs to make sure the men aren’t escaping.”
“So how do they escape?”
“They hold on to the fur on the sheep’s tummy and all the men get out. And the Cyclops is so mad he makes it thunder.”
“The giant bellows, ‘I’ll get you!’ But it is too late. Odysseus and his men have safely reached the Argos and set sail.
When I was nine years old my father fell asleep at the wheel on the way to work and crashed his sports car into a flatbed trailer, plunging his career into free fall and joining the tribe of angry, one–eyed giants. As he went through the car windshield it was though he took us all with him because nothing was like it was supposed to be again.
About the Contributor
The Prospector - J.M.G. LeClèzio
The Prospector is a beautifully written, evocative story of the protagonist’s mission to recover his family’s wealth and an idyllic childhood in Colonial Mauritius. LeClèzio tells an adventure story depicting life aboard ship, the devastation of a natural disaster, and the horrors of trench warfare all the while posing the question of whether and when loss can become gain.
More from Issue Nine:
- The Place That He Can Never Return To
- The Cyclops
- The Girl with Many Names by Kristin LaFollette
- Three by Deb Scudder
- The Mourner by Louise Burgess
- Margot by Marni Appleton
- Pebbles on a Shore by Lynne E Blackwood
- blindfolded minds by Rachel Hawkins
- Phantom habits by Blakeley Bartee
- Dementia’s Mantra by Mike Ferguson
- Pack Animals