Word Count 500
By Sam McManus
My dad died when I was five, so I don’t have any solid recollections of him. Sometimes I have flashes of work boots, worn and muddied, standing sentinel near the back door. Every once in a while I think I remember his laugh, guttural and deep. But that’s it. My mom says I can’t possibly remember his laugh, that those boots were long gone by the time I would have begun forming memories, but I think she’s wrong. I think she’s wrong about a lot of things.
He was a big man, my dad. His leather gloves were godlike to me, as if he were Thor, just waiting for his giant hammer. I don’t recall ever seeing his hands, yet those gloves gave me something to aspire to, something to hope I grew into. My mom says he had cold hands, that cold hands meant a warm heart, and that his was the warmest she had ever known. It makes me saddest when she talks about him because of how things ended up.
Apparently it wasn’t easy living with him, though. Through the haze that is my memory I sometimes make out times when they yelled at each other, but every time I ask my mom about it she says I must be wrong. I’m not wrong. Maybe she wants to believe in the redemptive value of thinking the dead had done no wrong in life. I know better. It doesn’t make me think any less of him. Maybe she’s worried I’ll think less of her.
Two weeks ago, I found a letter he wrote to my mom, one filled with regret and consequence. The missive was stuck between my mother’s mattress and box-spring. It was obvious he didn’t write much. His handwriting was atrocious. But it was also clear he had taken as much care as he could to make it legible, as if he knew she would keep it. As if he could have known. His words were succinct, probably much clearer than his thoughts could have been in the moment.
Every moment since I found that letter I wanted to confront my mom with it, to press her into admitting what I finally knew to be true, despite the lies she had fabricated to make me feel at ease. But something staid my tongue. Some infinitesimal thing, some incongruous thing, gave me pause every single time. Perhaps it was better to leave things as they always had been, at least for her. I had no pretense that she was blameless in it all, but what good would it do to dredge up so much pain? I asked myself that selfsame question every night before bed, when I was supposed to be saying my prayers.
I’m not sure if I ever really arrived at an answer. There were two things I knew for certain. My dad was dead. My mom wasn’t. Maybe god had been playing roulette with them, and I was lucky no bullets were left over.