Togo, je t’aime

You meet the Togolese nurse in a small café on the piedmont slopes of North Carolina. She swirls stories out of her coffee and onto your hand, places and people long forgotten. Animists animated from memory, voodoo curses, and the way black magic can determine the fates of men and nations. She tells you of child merchants plying their trade, un-hagglable, fierce at what they do these children. Of women dipping their babies gently into whorling ocean, surf clinking their anklets and reflecting dazzling light. She speaks of pre-med days caring for the old, the light that appears in the eyes of those so close to death, the way it changes you to see that. You tell her stories of unincorporated life on the edge of Chicago, swinging across creeks on strung-up rope, sledding down hills on the lids of trashcans. Of food trucks and the vendors who sell elote en vaso. Of skaters skitching behind cars, faded white Adidas running black from the tar they kick up.

You walk with her down to the mural carved out of an old tobacco factory’s broad wall, brick chimneys reaching up to black clouds now bleached white, white brick lettering to spell out the old company’s name, all of it condemned. You sit on the grass beside these paintings and run your fingers over the roughness of the brick made smooth. Take her hand in yours and guide her to the mortar. She tells you she hasn’t felt a man’s touch in years, since she left her little land in the west of Africa. Had forgotten its simple roughness, the firmness of it. She colors her stories with dabs of French, and you keep pace with what you remember. She smiles at your pronunciation and you want to kiss her forever.

She tells you she wants to take you to Lomé, wants to live there with you. You consider this great going away, this leaving everything behind, the homes you’ve settled before left like anthills abandoned on the cracks of a sidewalk, the cultures you’ve collected, languages half-spoken, as if in a dream. You study the stitching of her dress, form fitting, red and green and yellow with black trimming each edge where the colors meet, like mortar on a brick wall.

She goes with you to your house. You collect your things into suitcases and bags and trunks, crickets calling out into nothing, to a sky that grabs the stars and pulls them down to where they can be seen. Dew sits on grass blades and red clay earth sinews down gravel road where the woods line the boundary of your land. You take her onto the suitcases, sliding onto the floor, dress rising over hips as you do this thing together.

You picture the way your family will react when they see pictures of her, after you post them to your feed, her royal cheekbones and skin the color of the coffee she swirled onto your palm. Of the confused smiles and words muttered just out of earshot. Of this body she’s been given, and the one you’ve been given, as shells housing soul, and the millennia of hurt done to bodies by other bodies, l’extase et l’agonie, all for remediation of generational hurt that’s unfounded, passed through the ages, a taxonomy. And now, alleles of hate giving way to love, all of it sliding past and out of view, to the Buddhist concept of Pure Land, the animists giving wind and shape to the same thing, hard Chicago Catholicism and its state of grace, none of it different. Of joining together as you’ve done now, on top of the suitcases, and getting your ticket out of here. Of leaving your land, red clay kicking up under the tires, gravel after it, her hand in yours. Of going. Of arriving, having never left.

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Big H, Little M

Hangups get a big H in the center of the card. It’s okay if it covers up the name of the person you called. The ones that go to message get a little m. You put it in the corner. It wasn’t like working at the suicide hotline, or the telemarketers, or even the sex line he’d gotten involved in in college. This was different.

What they did was sell people another life, one phone call at a time. The first call was the hook. You’d do best at midday, Wheel and Jeopardy! time, when prime customers were likeliest to be by the phone. There was a script they gave you, but it was best to memorize it, do something new with the material. People could tell when you were reading off the page. They wanted a human conversation. They wanted reality. They wanted a new life.

He’d turn colostomy-bagged Vietnam vets into NFL players. Lonely widows into supermodels. Shut-in octogenarians into movie stars. The trick was to make the free trial believable enough, but to hold onto your best cards for the paid subscription.

What they paid for were the galas, the sold-out premieres, the grandsons who called. Someone to read them something, anything–the phone book, receipts, junk mail. Didn’t matter what.

After a few weeks of briefing Presidents on foreign policy, mentoring chess prodigies, and flirting with Oscar-winning actresses, he got this one lady:

“Describe where I am.”

This was breaking protocol. The scenario was always agreed upon ahead of time. The client was never to refer to the scenario once it was agreed upon. Suspension of disbelief and all that.

“You’re, uh… You’re in a sprawling mansion nestled in the hills. Sipping daiquiris.”

“No I’m not. I’m in a doublewide my husband left me after he passed. I’m thirsty, but if I stand too quickly to fill a glass I might faint. I’m hypoglycemic.”

“A… Um, a butler greets you in the foyer. He asks what you’d like to have the chefs prepare for dinner.”

“Wrong again. My WIC card finally got refilled, so I can Uber over to the grocery store with what’s left of my social security for the month. Get a bag of frozen peas. Maybe potatoes if I’m lucky.”

“You’re, uh… What is this? Um, as the butler leaves, you catch a glimpse of the Olympic-sized swimming pool in your backyard, perfectly-manicured hedges behind it.”

“Try the city dump. I can see raccoons from here, fighting over a bag of rancid Mickey D’s. Can smell it, too.”

“Once inside your lavish bedroom, you peruse, uh, your walk-in closet and pick out a tasteful sundress.”

“Honey, the only dress I have left is the one my husband picked out for me fifty years ago. April 4, 1966. Our one-year anniversary. Got it at Macy’s, on Fifth. Had to sell the rest to thrift stores.”

“You pause for a moment at the bathroom’s mirror, apply lipstick. Gather your earrings.”

“Doctors tell me it’s fungus. The heat only aggravates it, and I haven’t had AC all summer. Can either afford the antifungal medication or the repair, but not both. Damned if I do, and if I don’t.”

“You slip on the dress, admire the way it clings to your frame.”

“I knew what it was before I even bothered going in. The right one was bigger. Bigger than usual. Painful, sometimes, too. I felt the lump, so the only news I got from the doctor was how long I had. A couple months, if you’re wondering.”

“You glance to… I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

“What’re you apologizing for? You didn’t put the lump there, did you? It’s fine. It’s all right. Everything is.”

“I can’t even imagine.”

“Well, you’d be able to. You’d be able to pretty quickly.”

“I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to.”

The quiet of a line being held, only air flowing over mics. The sterility of an office. Stifling heat of a doublewide.

He quit the job that night. Hopped on a Greyhound. First one he saw. Didn’t know where it was headed, when it would get there. But then again, maybe he didn’t have to.

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Anterograde

Try Luvox. Try Buspar. Try Prozac, but that’s too obvious. Don’t try the benzos. Any of them. They’re what got you into this mess in the first place, you’re sure of it. So try CBT. Try EMDR. Try ECT and play therapy and art therapy and Rexulti and ecotherapy and journaling. Don’t try Fernet-Branca. Or Montpelier. Or PBR. Or the wine that comes in the little box at the convenience store. They’re what got you into this mess in the first place, you’re sure of it. You can try casual sex, although the science is lacking in re: to its effectiveness in treating what you’ve got. But it can’t hurt. Just be safe. Be smart. Try picturing your brain as an endless field of untouched snow, you standing at center, taking steps but not leaving any. Looking ahead and seeing chips of undisturbed light. Looking behind and seeing same. Knowing you got here somehow, but the details eluding you. Slipping from your grasp. A robber of sanity, these memories. Memories are what got you into this mess in the first place, you’re sure of it.

Try starting a fight in a Walmart. Take a big bouncy ball out of its ballcage and whip it at the first person you see. Spike a second ball just to see how far it’ll bounce back. Try to take out a ceiling tile with one if you can. But try not to get caught. If you do, tell them you don’t remember why you did it. You’ll be more right than you know. Try stealing the 92 bus when it inevitably stops at the Dunkin’ Donuts and the driver steps out for a medium coolatta. Maybe the adrenaline of the steal will help clear things up. At the very least, it should be interesting. Again, try not to get caught. Try hopping your neighbor’s fence; commandeer their swimming pool when they’re not home. Try putting seran wrap over the top, tight, with weights at all four corners to keep it in place. You may need a willing participant for this one. Try holding your breath for as long as you can. Try squeezing your face past the wrap, to breathe, without puncturing it. Try to feel alive. The next time you see an ambulance, try following it to the hospital. Try getting inside with the EMTs. Wear scrubs at all times just for this possibility. Try sneaking into the pharmacist’s. Try taking everything you see, especially the antipsychotics, the psychotropics, the antidepressants, but NOT the benzos. They’re what got you into this mess. Etc.

Try visiting your mother in the home. Not her home or your home, but the home. Even our pronouns get taken from us with age. Try holding a conversation with her. When she thinks you’re her father, try going along with it. Try letting her air all her grievances out. Try apologizing for all the things “you” did, taking the heat for decades worth of shit you weren’t even alive for. Try playacting her childhood, with pet rocks and hula-hoops and silly putty newspaper comics. Try telling her you miss her but catch it in your throat, like a popfly in centerfield in little league, sun in your eyes, squinting to see it but it’s no good, it’s already in your glove. Etc. Try not to notice when she shits herself. Try to seem casual when the CNA asks if you want to come back when they’re done with cleanup and you tell her no, you’ll stay here. Try to look out the window, where there’s a mama bird attempting a feeding. Attempting because her regurgitation falls past her baby’s mouth, splats half on the ground, half on an unfortunate passerby. Try to explain the situation to the CNA, but stop because she’s already got enough to deal with, thank you very much.

Try to make it easy when you say goodbye. Try to pull your fare out of your pocket and step on without looking back. Try to sit next to an expectant mother and stop yourself from picturing all the possibilities lying dormant inside of her: president or scientist or murderer or… Try to feel what it was like without the haze, the fog, lens out of focus, a human camera is what you are. Try to remember something. Try to remember something. Try to remember something.

You don’t have to try to forget.

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Playing in Reverse

They put us in charge of a petri dish in fifth grade life science. Made us mayors of our very own amoeba city. At home I set the microcosmopolis on kitchen counter uncluttered by hospital bills, unplugged the toaster to make room for my microscope. They consumed their prey the way I imagined the disease was taking my father: closing in and around, enveloping, like a nurse encircling him in curtain on bad days when I’d “just have to come back tomorrow.”

I did my homework in the waiting room. When it rained, the drops became paramecia; a hidden universe, something you couldn’t see but knew was there. I asked Dad if amoebae could contract AIDS, if he thought they’d have hospitals and single-celled doctors and nurses and sons. He looked out the window and laughed so I couldn’t see his eyes. Sent me off with a buck to get a rice krispy treat.

Mom took to sleeping on the couch, blanket as shawl. She’d go out only to drive me to the hospital, stopping in front of the entrance and letting me out. Said she had things to do when I’d ask. After a while I stopped asking. I showed Dad the sketches I made in between sips of water I’d help with, Dad’s lips contorting to find the straw, cheeks caving in on themselves. He’d pencil in party hats, villainous moustachios.

Dad’s face had a tributary system of veins running down the edges of his eyes, pooling in bags, skin melting like an ice cream on the sidewalk with gumballs for eyes. I asked Dad if he fucked another man like I was asking for an extra bag at the grocery store. I filled in some cilia, labelled cell walls. He asked where I’d heard that, but his voice quivered. We looked out into the rain, at the drops racing each other to nothing down the window.

In the onset of summer I watched puddles evaporate from the outside in. Dad was a hundred pounds, subsisting on grapes and coffee, the only things he could manage to keep down. The wrinkled hand of evolution had brought us to shore, onto land and out of our burrows, into the trees and out of them again, through huts and under blankets in hospital rooms, taking in energy and putting out our own, teeth chewing and eyes seeing and voices carrying. Withering in beds but telling stories anyway.

Together we wrote a story about an astronaut marooned from his ship, still in radio contact with the rest of the crew but with no points of reference to guide them to him, only endless black punctuated by a few blinding pinpricks in all that emptiness. Of space-swimming with no propulsion to help, just drifting wherever. Another about a man who lost his face, condemned to a life of wandering endless countryside in search of it, all the land indistinguishable to him, just one big canvas his steps would paint on. We wrote fast.

I was home when they called. Mom picked up, told me to go in the other room, play with my science experiment. The silence of her listening as I eavesdropped from the kitchen. As I took a napkin and brought darkness to the petri dish. Mom’s breath like a punctured tire letting out its air. Me grabbing the matches from the cupboard they were hidden in. Running the tiny flame around napkin’s edge till it was burning from the outside in. The fire fizzling out in spots but me putting more napkins on, paper plates. The fire rising. Catching the curtains and travelling upward, like opposite raindrops playing in reverse.

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Shingleknight

The last thing we buy with money is a box of assorted seeds, as if that’s supposed to be some grand metaphor or something. The house we pick to squat in is an old Craftsman, paint peeling, shutters falling over drunk. It’s a house for a grandpa to watch Wheel of Fortune in.

We rip the shingles off first thing, toss them in the front lawn as late-season cicadas laugh at our efforts. The shingles that don’t break we repurpose into a suit of armor. A knight who’s always on duty. We lay the dirt and seeds on the roof, and some of the seeds stick to your feet and in between your toes and on the backs of your thighs when you bend down to poke the seeds in with your pinkies and I spritz you so it looks like you’ve peed.

I make a raft out of an old armoire door and use it to navigate the flooded basement’s treacherous sea. I trawl the ocean floor with a rake, paddle with a shovel. Turns out there’s a plug in the ground. Like your average garden variety bathtub plug. You watch the drain slurp the water into a whirlpool, laugh and throw popcorn at me. I imagine the Wheel of Fortune grandpa plugging the drain, flooding the basement, and taking laps with floaties on. You say he must have a Speedo too. A glorious banana hammock. I add it in.

In time we claim our bounteous roof harvest, plant more seeds, and construct rooms our childhood selves would talk about as they poked holes into jar lids and prepared lightning bugs for their new homes. There is, for instance, an astronaut room. Just a shit ton of space stuff, really. A bedroom we convert into a rolling meadow with tiny trees and dewy, sloping hills, complete with papier-mâché shepherd tending his clay sheep. It is, as they say, something.

We don’t work, unless you consider building this home work, and we don’t.

A heckler arrives on our front lawn at the end of the month, insists our creation is an eyesore. There’s a sign and a slogan involved. The day after, we get a counter-heckler wearing a pretty sweet T-shirt with our shingleknight on it. Our guy live tweets the whole thing, draws a small crowd. Their guy recruits family, friends, and a sizeable chunk of the neighborhood’s octogenarians.

The police arrive next day. By now the protesters and counter-protesters number in the hundreds. They brandish signs and flags and effigies. Chants cancel each other out. Threats are made on shingleknight’s life. A circle of people link arms around him to offer protection. The other side stages a hunger strike and burns little shingleknight figurines that a vendor’s selling for two bucks each. The cops plant a troublemaker in the crowd, deploy rubber bullets and tasers once he does his thing. There’s a melee involved.

Shingleknight goes, and then the house does, and we watch it all burn from the backyard.

It is, as they say, something.

We leave when the fire burns out and everyone else decides to go home.

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Till Next Time

decay


There’s a place for mooring on the sunset end of my block where forgiveness can be swapped for a perfect circle. Forgiveness is a schedule I, so narcs gather on block’s periphery where the postindustrial pipe overhang hides them in shadow to make their busts.

Sometimes I dive into the waterlogged places where the concrete’s gotten through and dip and bob as the deals go down, with artificial waves lapping at pavement’s edge and erosion doing its job. There’s room for a gullfamily on one of the rock rafts, and they watch with me.

Here’s how it happens. The dealer puts forgiveness on little acid slips and little acid slips put forgiveness on little tongues and little tongues put forgiveness into little mouths and little mouths put forgiveness down little throats and then the little minds take their cut.

One lady offers everything she has to a circle scalper, but they’re going for five hundo each sans inflation and she got a family to think on and he should be ashamed of hisself for runnin that shit on this block. I kick away my shoes underwater. An unseen fish eats one and saves the other for his fishfamily.

Another guy dismantles his house and offers copper wiring, flaky mortar, withered brick. He says he’ll stack it into a palatial thing for the dealer, but dealer’s not buying. His son camps out in a tent nearby with his muddied feet and seaweed hair and starts every sentence with once upon a time like his daddy taught him to do.

I saw a human being take himself to pieces and give of them for a circle for forgiveness. He diced his ankles into bite-sized cubes and garnished them with powdered kneecap. Kept saying take my patella. His body stopped homeostating around neck level and the dealer turned down the talking head.

Now there’s a line stretching onto building-flanked fire escapes, crumbling mud rooftops, neighbors that are waiting their turn in water up to their necks beside me, baptizing tattered clothes and feeding the gulls the offerings they hope will put them on the dealer’s better side.

And here are the dogs sent in in couplets and quatrains, jaws snapping on denouement and not the type to pet on doggy beaches but here now, narclight sidling in as bodies scatter past and I’m here floating, amniotic as the flotsam gathers in wisps and draws and the dealer closes up shop till next time.

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How It’ll Happen

Whoever claims that childhood is a happy time, has never been a child

This is how it’ll happen. You’ll catch me peeking over some Penguin on public transit, gathering coins for the homeless who want to fly south for the winter too, and you’ll get off at the next stop. I’ll see your whispering prints erase themselves in the snow as soon as they come.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll be in my inbox, considering that ‘90s email catchphrase and implanting forgiveness into requests from the prince of Nigeria, pills for impotence. It’ll be said and you’ll never read it.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll dab mashed potatoes from your chin like you used to do from mine and hold up your bird elbow so you can touch my face. The bones that threaten your face’s skin will frighten me and you’ll put on a program. Program, not show.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll be rewinding old VHS tapes and catch the time Dad alluded to eating you out later as you watched me scutter down metal slide. It’ll be partially taped over and I’ll stay tuned for a brief word from our sponsors.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll break into the shack the neighbors kept the feral dogs in and wash up. Gather a little rabies foam and scrub it over the places where the light peeks through. I’ll see you through the cracks, but you won’t see me.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll show up with the Halloween costumes that never were and we’ll trick or treat together, decades removed. I’ll change costume after each house and you’ll egg the bastards who slashed our tires that one summer when Dad double-parked.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll be on the toilet swiping through my feed as they pull the tubes out. You’ll have glorious visions then, beautiful visions, and I’ll wonder why my internet’s so slow.

This is how it’ll happen. You’ll give me my answer right before you slip away and it’ll be a clean sweep. Presto change-o. I’ll see you through the foggy bubble world of tears and admire the pattern of the curtain the nurses have propped open because your skin could use the sun. Could’ve used.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll sit down and guzzle some rooibos, use my teeth as leaf filter and write you as I remember. You’ll hate it and maybe even me, but it’ll be there where you aren’t.

This is how it’ll happen. I’ll bend down to earth with the little boy you never met and whisper things he can understand. He’ll wonder why he can’t go home and play and I’ll go to the ground. He’ll join me, his tinyfingers tracing whispering prints that erase themselves in the dirt as soon as they come.

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Alone Together

infinite jest

His alone and her alone had several vital differences.

His alone had matted hair, gnarled and tangled knots on sides where stale mattress intaglioed body-shaped initials in all the spots he’d see on bloodshot mornings when the faucet’s water was brown and sluggish and pseudopodded in his hands when he tried to make a cup. His alone laughed too loud at stories on the bus and traced profiles to collate and scan genetic material against known ancestry. His alone talked to the descendants of kings and prophets relegated to stooped bus shelters with overhang too low and fickle sunlight sliced open by 747s. His alone input data to watch blank, expectant white slide to green as voices tintinnabulated and grew calm as the day gathered age. His alone could be counted penny for penny at fortnight’s end and hummed in the quiet spaces he left for himself. His alone had sophisticated charm and allegorical weight; it liked to chew through the garbage can every time he took it out.

Her alone was different.

Her alone kept a four by four by four subterranean circadian rhythm with nightwatch to gather drops in the pots she kept outside. Her alone had all the markings of prolonged captivity and none of the benefits. Her alone contained jaundiced dabs and gamboge heat playing on palimpsested canvas where the figures once were. Her alone had a quiet dignity she’d picked up from racial memory transmuted through pretty little tasks she set for herself: dappling leaf edges with pot contents and reloading seed. Her alone was as virtuosic as it was myopic and she wasn’t about to get it corrected: a wheelchair for the eyes. Her alone donated plates with roses on them and counted tile chips on floors microscopic in stores whose names always ended in apostrophe S. Her alone gathered antebellum stories and ripped them to confetti for festive traditions just begun in place of waiting for a one who might never come.

Their alone was different.

Their alone was parched to cracking and sustained with clever shared sips at terminal hours croaked “…in the morning.” Their alone stole all the blankets and wrapped imaginary infants up in swaddling clothes. Their alone felt the bone underneath, neat and trim little rivets set on fault lines whose time was up and whose place was in the swollen belly with rotundity past seeing and feathered touches laying eczema trails. Their alone was a Nemo it’s a Nemo mommy in silver dollar waiting rooms with shirt tugs and defective physiognomy laid out neatly on clipboard ticks. Their alone was the cry past sound on muffled shoulder and the balloon tummy letting out its air. Their alone was sacrificing sleep for gathering seed at night with the light haloing and motors Dopplering past–silly little umwelts moseying on down. Their alone was fingers grazing past in all that dark, laying new seed to ground and pressing earth down pat.

Just like that.

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An Aesthetic/Anesthetic

alleyway

She came out of sewer grates, alleyways, locker- and bathrooms. Anywhere she could get equal footing. Had a stink about her. About was the best word because it was more descriptive than odorous: talcum powder sprinkled on week-old vomit. Feversweat collected under fat folds. Rank was kind. Rank was polite.

Followed behind, step for step. Would vanish when he’d turn around; fly into air ducts or toilet bowls or sticky corners. Stink would stay, though.

But she was A. listening B. watching C. smelling while he was 1. talking 2. walking 3. fucking. Hasty scribbles on pages where the answers go. Guess all of the above.

She’d put proofs in his head: “If God is omnipresent, then He/She/It is in the asshole of every diarrhea-addled creature.”

He wandered widely and sought answers in all the traditional places. Shared chifrijo at a greasy spoon down Avery with a Californian Zen master on Sundays. Said master heard what he said but didn’t seem to see her. The lady from the sewers. Suzuki and Watts on pages and tongues. Zen in the Art of Insert Here. Kids these days. I’ll get the check.

Would walk the cemetery alone most nights, looking for names he knew. She’d cling to his shadow and modulate to something like centuries of rot. Another proof: “If God is both omnibenevolent and omnipotent, then H/S/I isn’t good with definitions.”

He’d walk into Catholic Mass like the old C & E days sometimes. Strictly for an aesthetic reason, he assured you. Came out as anesthetic on the days when Father over-commited with the blood of Christ and didn’t want to drink alone. They’d fill paper cups to the brim and chat through the latticework. “You wouldn’t believe the things people tell me.” (After a couple cupfuls.) “Judas wasn’t as bad as we’d have you think. Someone had to do it.” (After half a bottle.)

She’d take the screen opposite Father and sit still, stare ahead. He couldn’t see her eyes, but he knew they were watching him.

Stood on ledges of old haunts and called appropriate ex-friends. Invited them to reunion hangouts while they tried to talk him down. Got a few free lunches this way. Nothing too snazzy, but hey. When he ran out of ex-friends he moved on to ex-girlfriends. A few suggested he jump. One just hung up.

He collected surfaces with which to reflect her. Phone screens. Parked cars’ mirrors. Those little plastic bubbles that quarter machine toys come in. Could’ve sworn he saw her this one time, but it turned out to be a half-naked homeless woman at the bus stop, trying to read texts over his shoulder. He was so relieved he let her finish reading. Used her suggested response, too.

Anyway, the bus stop lady said maybe he wasn’t suicidal. Maybe he was just sleepy and needed a nice nap. I could use a nice nap, she said. And he liked that, so he wrote it down and saved it for later.

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NO SUCH LUCK

85f0e7c6b656ea011782cc6c26697d79

My father’s become a giant baby. That’s not a metaphor.

Right now we’re gathering old bed sheets as swaddling. Turning jungle gyms into cribs. Swimming pool inner tubes to pacifiers. Should hold him till his next growth spurt, but you never know. My brother’s been taking off work just to change his diapers. Each load’s a couple shovels full.

He’s been teething on bald tires, babbling insensate and thrashing branches off trees. I’ve been trying to get him to say his new first word, but I’ve had no such luck.

On Saturday nights I load him into the back of a rented pickup and revisit old haunts. Last week was fishing at Busse Lake. Made a game of jiggling babyfat with mudstomps that sent up ripples. He swallowed a walleye whole, along with my pole. We don’t fish much anymore.

Doctor has terms. Physical abreaction. Recursive physiognomy. Maladaptive hyperthyroidic temporal stasis and/or reversal. Says he might go back to normal, or it might be terminal. Only time will tell.

Responds to nostalgic stimuli. Give him a keg and he’ll crack it open canwise, plop down right where his treetrunk babylegs stand and guzzle freely. Start screaming at you too, but it’s only babbling for now. Who knows what the future will bring.

Keeps me up most nights with his crying. I live down the street. Rattles jungle gym crib bars till I coo and shush and burp, which requires boxing gloves and some well-placed spinal jabs. Cross. Uppercut. One two. Haymaker. Barely shakes him. Used to shake me.

Show him VHS home movies and disposables sometimes. Have conversations like we used to, with baby silence to swap out the adult kind. I tell him he’s a fuck and he needs to stop growing. He laughs when I say fuck. Latent memory.

We’ve looked at homes. Most facilities are wanting, so they say. Not that they wouldn’t love to have him, but they’re just… wanting.

I’ve weighed the options. Adoption wouldn’t be too bad. There’s got to be someone out there who wants a sixty-seven-year-old giant baby. I’ll troll forums.

* * *

Something in him knew. Gave me a look as I fit him into his parachute onesie. Wasn’t a hint of baby in that look. A man’s look. Even opened his mouth to say something. Thought better of it, or else didn’t think at all.

* * *

Gave him a party before the adoption. Gallons of Gerber. Fridge-sized cake. Party hat that could double as a traffic cone. Couldn’t call him Dad. He was Baby. Baby he was when I signed him over, and Baby he is now. Just Baby.

Lot of space now. Plenty space.

Quiet, too. Plenty quiet.

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