01 March 2006

Dancing with the Wolf
Dad was standing in the middle of the living room knee high in cardboard boxes and newspaper and even before he opened his mouth I knew it was a bad day. “Where in the hell is Dances with Wolves?” he asked me.

“What?” I tossed my keys on the table, wiping my dirty chapped hands on my jeans. “Dad, how’d you get all these boxes out of the garage?”

“Answer me dammit, Walter. Where’s that Kevin Coaster movie where he plays with the Indians.”

“Costner, Dad. It’s with the rest of your movies in your room.”

“No it aint. I looked there first, Smarty Pants, and it’s not there. I want my movie.”

“The movie’s in your room, Dad. Let’s just go in there and—”

“You stay the hell out of my room! I know you’ve been in there. Trying to get up in the crawlspace. Climbing up in the attic! I can’t leave the damned house for one day!”

Too tired to hold my tongue I shouted back, “I haven’t gone into your damned room! Why would I need to go in there!”

“To steal my tapes!” he yelled back.

I couldn’t help myself and started to laugh. “Dad, if I wanted to watch a movie I’d go rent one.”

“Yeah, with my money.”
“I have a job, Dad,” I said.

“Moving boxes. Jesus! I preached college for what!”

The familiar ball came to my throat. I’d never been the best student in the world, but I’d had some college offers. I just didn’t take them. I wasn’t ready. So the fall after high school ended I took the job at the JCPenny loading dock. I was under qualified but they hired me because their stock was three months behind and the holidays were sure to make things worse. I couldn’t explain this to Dad, knew my voice was weak, but I managed to say, “So I should quit my job then, Dad? Is that it? You want me to sit around the house all day, counting your videos?”

“No, Smart Ass, I want you to stay the hell out of my room. I don’t give a shit what you do out of this house, but here you stay out of my stuff. I don’t begrudge you of anything. I just want you out of my things.” He sauntered out of the living room, lighting a cigarette and leaving me in the middle of the mess. I stared at myself in the large mirror over the fireplace—tall, stocky, eighteen-year-old kid with cardboard debris all over his flannel shirt and dark circles under his eyes. I’d changed so much in four months, I hardly knew myself. I spent the rest of the night stacking boxes back in the garage—stuff I hadn’t seen in years like Mom’s clothes, her combs things Dad wouldn’t throw out. Elvis 45s, framed photos of Bob Hope, Ronald Regan, Johnny Carson—all autographed—sat among Mom’s hairpins and rollers.

When I found an envelope full of Bazooka gum wrappers, the comics brittle and flaking from the waxy surface, I remembered my middle school graduation. I was eleven, a year younger than everyone else, and Dad rewarded me with a BMX bike that I’d thought was a bunch of crap. I didn’t want a bike. But Dad made sure to keep an eye on what was going on around the neighborhood. It got into his head I needed one and that was the end of it. Even though I tried to convince him a membership to a book club was better, he wouldn’t have any of it.
I was thirteen the first time I fantasized about Dad’s funeral: It was a hot day and we all wore shorts and Hawaiian shirts. The casket was closed. Dad had been attacked by a wolf he’d been trying to tame and there was nothing left of his face. We lowered him into the ground, next to where we buried Mom just after I was born, and Jimmy Buffet played from the speakers set-up behind us. We drank Mai Tais. Then I came home, the place all to myself. This fantasy got me through my early years. Especially on days Dad accused me of doing things I’d never dream of, like climbing onto the roof and pulling off the tiles, tinkering with the gas meter, flushing out the water heater. A couple of times I thought about leaving: I’d stand in the kitchen and tell Dad, “I’m tired of your shit. All we do is fight. You’ve never got nothing nice to say to me. I’m leaving.” But I was the star of the varsity tennis team so me leaving didn’t make too much sense.

Dad hardly ever talked to me back then but he’d spend the weekends at ball games with friends telling them whopper stories that began, “When I was working in The Blue Café in El Paso, Elvis Presley came in and left me a one hundred dollar tip on his way to Hollywood.” If anyone stopped and thought about it they would’ve realized two things: Elvis flew to Hollywood when he made Blue Hawaii; and even if he did drive, El Paso is in no way on the road from Memphis to Hollywood. When I figured these things out I said, “Those guys are stupid enough to believe you? Or are you just making an ass out of yourself?” Then we tied up for days. You can only take so much bullshit before it all hits the fan and spatters back at you. It wasn’t until a long time passed that I got tired of being covered in Dad’s shit. I never understood why he just couldn’t admit that he’d gotten the signed records when he installed the fifteen phones Elvis had in his Beverly Hills house. What difference did it make when he still ended up with the records?
JCPenny’s had trucks and trucks of boxes off somewhere and everyday they drove up three or four of them for unloading. I spent my time tossing boxes from the trucks to the conveyor belt that took them into the stockroom. It was a cold dock; I wore two pairs of socks and the women in the stockroom had heaters at their feet. Three times a day we took a break. It was the only time I talked.

Because I was always reading—a novel, the paper, Newsweek—they called me College. “You’re a quiet one, College,” they said.

I shrugged. “Not much to say, I guess.” They all smoked cigarettes and drank Pepsi, throwing their butts and cans into the box crusher. “Smoking will kill you,” I said.

“Well if that’s what you’re gonna say every time you open your mouth, keep it shut.” This was Shelby—a longhaired, Native-American woman who wore flannels and gold boots. Like most of the women in the stockroom, she was in her late thirties and had never been married. If I had a friend, she was the only one.

We were only supposed to take three breaks, but working on the dock there was no way for our supervisor to know when we went outside. That dock was a strange place—dark, windowless, and cold. But it was more comfortable than home. We each had a locker back there and some radios. The sales room doors squeaked badly, so when any salesperson made their way back, we could hear them coming and get back to our stations in plenty of time to look busy.

“What do you do all day, College?” Shelby asked one day. We were on our second morning break. The other women and dock boys huddled in a circle, lighting their cigarettes.

“Move boxes,” I said.

“No shit? I thought you were here with the union.” She snorted. “You’re too quiet, College. You don’t talk to the other guys.”

“Not too much, no.”

“You don’t think your shit don’t stink. You just don’t like to talk.”

I didn’t know how to tell her I spent most of my time thinking about Dad. I was on the dock from six to three and most of the time I thought about coming home and finding him dead, choked on a piece of bread. I’d been thinking of ways I could put him out of his misery without anyone finding out. The only thing I could think of would be suffocation, since that’s what the lung specialist said would kill him anyway. But there was something about offing Dad with a feather pillow that didn’t sit well with me. Poison was out, so were the obvious like shooting and stabbing.

“Hello?” Shelby moved her gloved hand back and forth in front of my face. “You in there?”

“Sure I am,” I said, shaking it off.

“You’re doing it again. What the hell you thinking about?”

“Nothing,” I said. “Just worried we’re gonna get caught back here. And about you smoking.”

“Don’t worry about me. We work damned hard,” she said, stuffing her hands into her flannel jacket. “Those suits can give us a break once in a while.”

She was right. I moved more truck then than I would for the rest of my life. I still think of that time as the most honest work I’ve ever done.
After the emphysema diagnosis came there wasn’t a day that went by I didn’t plan on his death. Every morning I’d wake up and the first thing I’d think was today could be the day. I’d spend my time in the shower thinking about what casket to buy. There were days I was okay with him dying and I’d picture myself at the podium delivering a eulogy to a crowd of his old pals from the Phone Company and the ballpark. I’d say profound things about Dad and get everyone crying on each other’s shoulders. On other days I’d be pissed because he’d accused me of hiding the mail from him or pissing in the potted plants and I’d tell myself there was no way I was going to go to the funeral, helping with the flowers, or picking out slacks to bury him in. I wished he would die that day, just so I could protest, boycott his funeral procession with a sign that read He Never Met Elivs! I imagined an empty mortuary, a big hole in the ground with no headstone.

He’d had all his front teeth capped years before I was born, and plates replaced his missing back teeth. He hadn’t worn his plates in months, complaining they kept falling out, so he’d chew his food with his front teeth. At dinner they’d be covered in food when he tried to talk.
One night I said, “You planning on going out to the ballpark, seeing the end of the season?”
Just as he opened his mouth to answer, an incisor, no bigger than a pinkie nail, tinkled onto the plate. This was something his doctor warned us would happen; with a loss in body mass, his gums would shrink. “Shit,” he said. “Dentist told me these would only last fifteen years. Seems like it’s been twenty at least.” He picked up the cap and inspected it, then ran his pinky finger along the row of top teeth until he found the rotten hole. “Shit,” he said again.

He wouldn’t leave the house after that and sent me on his errands after I got home from work. He said he was too ashamed to go out in public and smile with a rotted tooth. “Lots of people are missing teeth,” I told him. “Especially older people. I doubt anyone would even notice.”

“I’m not just another person, I’m me dammit. How am I supposed to smile like this?” He grinned and where the cap had fallen out a greenish-black nub of a tooth was exposed.

“Just don’t smile.”

“I swear, son. No wonder you work a shitty job. You probably never smiled a day in your adult life.”

“Let’s not start this up, Dad.”

“I’m not starting anything. You’re the one telling me not to go out.”

“No, you made that decision. I’m just the errand boy.”

“Errand boy? If that’s so how come you come back with all the wrong stuff?”

“I won’t buy you cigarettes.”

“It’s my money!”

“The doctor told you to stop—”

“To hell with them, what do they know? A little ash-ma and they think I should stop smoking? I’ve been smoking my whole life. Besides, I don’t inhale.” Another tall tale, akin to the El Paso Elvis. Dad liked to say he smoked Lucky Strike Non-Filters but the reason he didn’t have cancer was because he only puffed. Sometimes I wished he did have cancer just so the doctor could make him wrong about something.

“Dad,” I said, “if you want to buy cigarettes, if you want to buy anything, go do it. I don’t mind, but don’t feel like you have to stay in the house all day.”

“‘You don’t mind.’ I’ll decide when to stay in the house. I’m the father, remember. You’re still the child, no matter how old you are.”
When two more caps fell out he finally made the decision to see a dentist. On the night before his first consultation, Dad stormed out of his room throwing a dozen videocassette sleeves on the floor in the living room. “I want to know where the rest of my videos are!” he yelled. “Goddamned if I haven’t given you everything and now you’re stealing from me!”

“What the hell is wrong with you, Dad? Where’d you put the movies?”

“Don’t play innocent with me,” he said. “You know damned well where my movies are. You’re the one stealing them.”

“Why would I steal your movies?”

“I don’t know. You’re just greedy. Haven’t I always given you whatever you wanted?”

I wanted to say At the cost of constantly reminding me about it but held my tongue. I fought back the urge to push him down, to hurt him in a way that could be blamed on an accident, but that might actually make him die. I squeezed my thoughts closed and managed to say, “Dad, when did you last see these movies?”

“I don’t ever watch them. You’re the one who watches them.”

I got up from the couch and walked down the hall. Inside his room the air was thick with smoke. The picture above his bed of Mom was harly visable, the glass yellowed with nicotine. His television blared and when I tried to turn it down, the channel changed. “Need to get those buttons fixed,” I said.

He stood at the door. “It’s fine when I use it. Just what in hell do you think you’re doing in here?”

“Looking for those videos.”

“They’re probably with the dancing wolves one I’ve been looking for.”

“I told you I don’t have that movie.”

“Just like you didn’t take Young Guns.”

It was just like him to have a moment of lucidity when it came to remembering something I’d gotten wrong. “Okay, I had Young Guns,” I said. “But I checked my room. I don’t have Dances with Wolves.”

Instantly, he was completely calm. “Is that the name of it?”

“Jesus, Dad!” I choked back my anger again then flung open the drawers to his video closet and rummaged in the very back of each row. It wasn’t until I got to the last drawer, where he hid a dozen Reeses Peanut Butter Cups and two cartons of Lucky Strikes, that I found the videos. I tugged them out and threw them on the bed. “There! The next time you want to accuse me of stealing something you better damn well be sure you know you haven’t hidden them somewhere!”

“I didn’t put those there.”

“No, Dad, of course you didn’t. The movie elf did.”

“Don’t be an ass.” He picked up the movies and returned them to their cases. I stood at the door and watched where he put them—into a cardboard box in the corner of his closet. It was like watching a kid stack their toys neatly in a toy box. When he was done he said, “That wolves movie wasn’t in there.”
“I’m going with my dad to the ballpark this weekend,” I told Shelby. “I’ve got an extra ticket.”

“You asking me out, College?”

The rest of the stock workers were huddled again, laughing and talking loud about the bonus they weren’t going to get again this year.

“It’s the end of the season, you know? Dad has box seats every year. Some of his pals from work will be there. Dad hasn’t been a lot this season. So I thought you’d go.” She took a long drag from her cigarette. “You really should quit smoking,” I offered.

“Look,” she said, “if I go to this game will you get off my case about smoking? You sound like my father and I’m old enough to be your mother. Lay off.”

“Okay.” I hung my head and she squeezed my shoulder.

We picked her up that Saturday afternoon and Dad was having a good day. He didn’t smile and tried to hold his lip over his top teeth when he spoke. “You know anything about Elvis, girl?” he asked. So began his stories and Shelby listened all the way to the park.

Some of his pals were in our seats. “You guys never thought you’d see me again, huh?” Dad joked. I didn’t know their names, or if I did I didn’t remember them. They were all Dad’s age—hairless, wrinkled, age spots on their hands and necks. And all four of them had a look on their faces as if to ask me Why the hell did you bring him here?

“Get your butt out of my seat, Harry,” Dad said to one of them. “I want to sit down before they throw out the first pitch. You always did want that seat because it’s the best. Every time I’d use the john you’d be in my seat when I got back.”

“One time,” Harry said. “One time.”

“We thought you’d died,” another of them said, half laughing, half asking when he would. Shelby and I exchanged glances before we sat down next to Dad.

“No, no, boys. I’m here. Been taking care of my son. You all remember Walter?” I shook their hands, trying not to notice how none of them looked at me while they did it.

Two of the men smiled, forcing it. “Yeah, yeah,” one said. “We’ve all heard about him.”

“You want anything?” I asked Shelby.

“I’ll take a Coke,” Dad said. “And bring the boys here something too, Walter.” He handed me money, as if I were a child.

The men declined, still not looking at me, watching the game as if at any moment it might disappear.

I didn’t make it back until the top of the third inning. Shelby was watching the game much like the men by then and Dad was saying, “Tommy, you still chasing after that little gal who works here. The one with the popcorn?”

“Chasing? You mean you were chasing her, like a damned fool. I’m married, Max. You know that.”

“Oh, now, Tommy. We all know you’re not the most faithful man.”

“Dad,” I whispered, handing him the Coke.

“Thank you, son.” He took a long swallow and for the next three innings remained quiet. I eased up, released the tension in my neck that always creeped up around Dad. Shelby and I shared popcorn and during the seventh inning stretch we belted “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” There were times growing up I felt as at ease as I did at the ballpark. Back then the world was a perfect place. Like the summer when I was ten and everyday it was almost one hundred degrees in the shade. Dad would turn on the sprinklers—even in the drought—and I’d lay in the grass letting the water tickle my stomach. I’d close my eyes and breathe in deep the smell of grass and dust, and almost feel the earth turning beneath me. It was a time when the house seemed to be normal and we weren’t fighting.

Just when I’d gotten comfortable with the smile on my face Dad said, “Your boy still working the plant, Harry? Did his wife get smart and leave him?”

“He’s doing fine,” Harry said.

“I ever tell you guys about the time I worked at the plant with Johnny Cash?”

Shelby sat up, smiling for the first time since we’d arrived. “The Johnny Cash?”

The four men looked at her as if they’d not noticed she had been there before. “Oh god,” one of them said. “He’s got a new audience.”

“What is it this time, Max? You write I Walk the Line and he took all the credit?”

“Or did you get him and that wife of his back together?”

“No, this time he’s gonna tell us how he taught him to play the guitar. Right, Max. Which is it?”

My ears burned. The smile fell from Shelby’s face and she was scowling at them. The ballpark seemed filled with silence. The pitcher finished off the inning, striking out the final batter. Then Dad said, “Well boys, I guess these seats will be yours.”

He got up and Shelby and I followed. We didn’t talk on the way to Shelby’s house except when Dad said, “I did know Johnny Cash. I did. I remember knowing him. It was Cash, wasn’t it, Walter?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know Dad. That was before I was born.” Shelby looked out the window.

“Your mother would’ve known,” Dad said.
He was every kid in the first and second grade who lost their teeth and got a complex about it. But instead of putting his caps under the pillow for the Tooth Fairy, he hoarded them after the dentist pulled them all and stored them in a jar atop his bedside table. He put the plates in too, insisting, “I’m gonna melt down all that plat-knee-um and make a money clip or something.”

“Platinum, Dad.”

“Maybe a nice plat-knee-um ring.”

“And who would you give it to?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Some pretty young gal I find down at the ballpark. There was one there who always flirted with me. I think I have her number somewhere. When I get me my teeth I’m gonna call her.”

I fantasized about a small casket, the size of a baby’s, and a tiny headstone. I saw myself like a tree, standing next to his grave. It was always raining at that funeral and there were only a handful of people there. Water would run into the hole and people would shift their weight under the muddying ground. Everyone wore galoshes. The preacher would be the only one standing under the awning, everyone else would have umbrellas. Except me. I’d stand in the rain. I wouldn’t cry. I’d be the pillar. The pillar that fell on him in the middle of the night and choked him to death. I’d gotten it over and done with.

But once all his teeth were out he calmed down. We didn’t fight as much. I didn’t mind going to the store for him every night. He ate pudding and soup, softened crackers in milk and boiled chicken until it was mush. The dentist told him it would be a month before all the swelling went down in his gums. Then he could be fitted for a full set of dentures. Dad took antibiotics to ward off a mouth infection and I think they helped with his lungs. He was lucid most of the time and remembered who he talked with on the phone and when they called. He even cut back to half a pack of Luckies a day and got used to wheeling around an oxygen tank. Then one morning he came into the kitchen and started to fry himself some eggs and bacon.

“You sure you can eat that, Dad?”

“I’m hungry dammit. I haven’t eaten anything in days. Damned doctor, what does he know? He damned well better give me my teeth this week or I’ll sue him.”

“It’s only been two weeks. You have to wait a month. He told you that.”

“I’m starving, can’t you see that? I’m wasting away. Look at me.”

He’d been skin and bones for years. It’s why I first thought he might be sick, why I thought it was cancer, why I took him to the doctor for a check-up in the first place. The only thing about him that was large, that looked normal for a man his age, were his broad shoulders. And what made his shoulders so broad were his lungs expanded inside his ribcage, pushing out in front and back. They were filled with brackish goo.

“Let me get you some applesauce,” I said.

“A man can’t live on applesauce, son. I need some real food, dammit. I’m starving. I could eat a whole cow if that doctor’d give me the teeth to do it with.”

“We’ve got the check-up today at three. We’ll see what he can do.”

“Damned foreign doctors. I should’ve known better.” He cracked three more eggs into a bowl and started to stir them. He took out another pan and began to scramble the eggs. “Now get out your plate and eat these eggs.”

“I already had cereal.”

“What did you fry these eggs for?”

“You fried the eggs.”

“I did?” he asked, staring at the two pans popping on the stove. The bacon was reduced to four black strips.

At that moment, and for the first time, I was afraid he’d hurt himself—that while he rummaged through boxes and movies in his room he’d set himself on fire with a cigarette he’d left burning. Or that he’d forget to turn on the cold water with the hot before taking a shower and be covered with third degree burns.

I wondered what he thought about all those hours he spent smoking at home while I went to the dock. I wondered if he fought everyday not just to breathe but to remember what he’d done the hour before, the morning before, the day before. What if he left the house for cigarettes and forgot how to get hom, or worse got into an accident and died on the side of the road? What would he do all day besides sit in front of the television in his room, watching videos. Would he pick up the phone to call someone only to forget who was on the other end? Would enyone want to talk to him?

I should’ve asked him how he was going to spend his day, but I didn’t. Instead I plated the eggs, threw out the bacon, and sat down to breakfast for the second time.

I watched Dad eat, pulsing his gums to grind the little bits even finer. He didn’t say anything, concentrated on putting the eggs into his mouth without poking his gums with his fork. He lit a cigarette halfway through the meal and let it burn in the ashtray. I should’ve asked him if he was worried about anything, if there was anything I could do for him while I was out that day.
It took me a long time to apologize to Shelby about the ballpark. I took my breaks without the rest of the stockroom, retreating to the JCPenny break room, surrounded by suited and skirted salespeople. I imagined what they saw when they looked at me—a young, dirty stock guy covered in dust. Someone hired right off the street to do nothing more than get their product on the floor for them. No one spoke to me. No one even asked my name; they already knew me.

The holidays came and went. Dad and I didn’t put up a tree because he was convinced I’d hidden the Christmas decorations. The only thing he wanted for Christmas was teeth, but the dentist told him his gums were still too swollen for plates. I made a small dinner on Christmas day. The next morning I went to work. Hanging on my locker was a stocking with the word “College” stitched across it. Inside were pens and a leather bound notebook. The card from Shelby read Maybe you could write down some of your Dad’s stories for me. Still, it took until the new year before I apologized and thanked her for the gift. By then I’d gotten my walking papers.

Shelby was outside with the others. “You’re gonna work yourself out of a job if you don’t take more breaks,” she said.


She snorted. “You know, College, I never met someone like you before. Most people want to talk your ear off back here. It’s so noisy.” She puffed her cigarette. “I didn’t get it. But I think I do now. You’ve got a lot on your mind.”

I thought I could trust her with the truth, that I could maybe even ask for her help. “I’ve been wanting to tell you—” I began, but she cut me off.

“You think about your dad a lot,” she said.

I shrugged.

“You sure do have a lot to think about,” she said again. Then she put her hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “You’re a good kid, College.”

That afternoon my mind wandered again to Dad’s funeral. I thought I’d come home and find him in his room, propped up on a stack of pillows, the television turned off. The windows would be closed, the blinds drawn, and the smoke in the room would be like molasses cotton candy. I’d wave some of it aside and make my way to the bedside. At first I’d think he was asleep, taking a nap before his dentist appointment. But then I’d smell him and see how blue his face was, how his eyes bulged, the vomit and drool running from his mouth.

He’d have soiled himself and the room would stink of piss and shit. I’d open the window but leave the blinds closed, afraid of looking at him in the half-afternoon sunlight. I’d go into the living room and dial his doctor. I’d go back into his room to wait for the paramedics. The smell will have dissipated. I won’t want to move him but I won’t want them to see how dirty he is so I’ll take a blanket from his closet and cover him with it.
Then I’d notice the movies stacked behind the blankets, hidden away from the casual eye. One of them would be Dances with Wolves. I’d throw it at the bed, to show Dad he was wrong.
That afternoon Dad died. I can’t help thinking all these years later that he wanted to die. He chose that day to do it. He made his bed, put on a coat and tie, put in his old back plates so he’d have some teeth in his head, wheeled his oxygen into the bathroom and lit up a cigarette. End of story. He’d figured out a way for it to look like an accident. He knew if he flubbed things up and the explosion didn’t kill him he’d have time to get a story all figured out. He’d say, “That damned tank shouldn’t be so flammable. Like I’d stop smoking from a little ash-ma.”

“Asthma, Dad.”

“Damned doctors, what’d they know.” He’d spend the rest of the night in his bedroom, the reserve oxygen tank next to the window and an extra long tube running across the floor, to the bed, and ending at his nose. Over the next few days, he’d be careful not to have an open flame anywhere near the tank and if I tried to cook while he was in the kitchen he’d say, “Caint you wait until I’m outta here? You wanna set me on fire?” Then I’d picture him blowing himself up: I’d come home one day and the house would smell like an electrical fire. I’d yell from the front door and race around the house looking for him. The doorknob to the bathroom would be cool, but when I’d open it the smoke would leap out and he’d be lying between the toilet and the tub, pants still up, a pack of Luckies next to the bar of soap on the counter. The towels would be ash, the bathmat gone, pieces of metal from the tank lodged in the walls and floor. The mirror would be black and broken, the shower curtain a plastic mass melted around the tub basin. Dad’s face would be pink and black, his feet melted to his shoes. I’d pick up the phone and, without dialing a number, scream and scream, for help.


Blogger The Damned said...


Now I have a problem with the ending, for some reason. I think it's the fact that the last few paragraphs move in and out of reality so much, that I'm not sure how to read what I'm reading. I realize it's very similar to the earlier draft, but looking at it now, it seems confusing somehow.

So am I reading it right, the way it is here? The dad commits suicide lighting a match in the bathroom with his oxygen tank on; then Walter imagines what would have happened if it wouldn't've worked; then Walter starts imagining what we've already been told actually happened. Am I misreading this?

Why not have that actually happen (have the Dad die and Walter show up like he does in the last paragraph), or, don't let us know whether the father dies or not, but let us see Walter imagining the fire in the bathroom just before he steps walks in the house after work. Maybe let him enter with the smell of something burning (Leave it ambiguous, you know, so the reader has to decide: is it bacon or is it Dad?).

I hope all this confusion amounts to some kind of valid suggestion.


10:44 AM  
Blogger The Damned said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

10:46 AM  
Blogger The Damned said...

okay, so here's what actually happens:
walter talks to shelby, then imagines his dad dying (again) and finding him in bed this time--notice it's not the funeral, it's his actual DEATH

when walter gets home that afternoon (notice the repetition of that phrase, although i don't think i'm going to keep it) he finds his dad in the bathroom, victim of suicide

we're told the story as if it may or may not have happened this way (walter picking up where his father's left off)...but if it's that confusing, i'll work on it some more

12:49 PM  
Blogger The Damned said...

I got it now. In the last paragraph, Walter is imagining what would've happened if his father had failed to kill himself. But what he imagines is that his father fails to kill himself and then goes in the bathroom and kills himself exactly the way (we assume) he actually did kill himself.

Is it just me or is that weird for some reason?

9:59 AM  
Blogger The Damned said...

yes, you've got it, Watson and it's supposed to be strange/surreal/like the tip of a story and we want to get the straight answer but walter won't give it to us (just like his dad wouldn't ever give the straight/correct story)

10:31 AM  
Blogger The Damned said...


Some line revisions first:

Page 1: "Answer me dammit, Walter...." might read better like so:
"Walter, dammit. Answer me. Where's that Kevin Coaster movie where he plays with the Indians?" This way, with the name first, it feels more natural, and it emphasizes the frustration a bit more.

If Walter is "too tired to hold his tongue," would he shout? If he's exasperated, wouldn't he sigh, deliver what he has to say with less, well, un-tiredness?

Cut "back" from "'To steal my tapes!' he yelled."

Things I like a lot:

"What difference did it make when he still ended up with the records?"

"'Okay.' I hung my head and she squeezed my shoulder."

The memory of the sprinklers Walter has at the ballpark.

"Your mother would have known," Dad said.

And, about the ending:

In your last section, I'd cut that first sentence: "That afternoon Dad died." The next sentence lets us know the same thing and does it a bit more eloquently.

Also, might consider starting a new paragraph after "Damned doctors, what'd they know."

And the last line: "...scream and scream, for help." I don't like it. It feels weak. I like the fact that Walter picks up the phone and speaks into without even dialing a number, but the screaming's a bit much. Maybe he should say something a little more low-key? Something that registers with us on an emotional level. As is, the screaming seems out of character, though, granted, it's a horrible death. It just reads weakly, is the main thing. Doesn't quite put the story to bed.

As for Adam's confusion at the end, I see where he's coming from, but I didn't have the same problem.


3:07 PM  

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