The day after my thirteenth birthday chunks of ice bounced off the roofs, off the cars, off the sidewalk and I watched, overjoyed with the world. When I ran past empty thorn bushes to share my joy, I saw Dad walking up to our front door, talking to himself, pointing a forefinger at our car and at the door, chuckling and for a second I thought his excitement was about the hail.
“Isn’t it grand, Dad,” I said. “The plonk, the bounce, the sting on the skin,” but he kept walking and saying “pow.” He’d been out of work for three months, and I realize now that he and Mom were shrouded by an unseeing fog.
I followed him into the kitchen. “Easiest thing in the world, Evie,” he said to Mom. “No idea why I didn’t think of it earlier. All I had to do is put on my Al Capone scowl, tell him I have a gun and he handed over all the bills in the cash register. Look at this money, Evie. We’re rich. And when this runs out, why, I’ll just go to another town and get us more.”
Mom was shaking her head, wiping flour off her hands and I realized she was as stunned as I was. He threw a cascade of bills into the air, beaming and I had a sense my life would never be the same. When he grinned at her and pointed his finger at me, I could tell he wanted us to say that he’d done well.
Mom’s face scrunched, but her eyes focused at a point just above his ear, as if a dark moth were hovering around. The oven crackled with roasting chicken, seeping that crisp smell of sizzling skin and warm sage in the dressing. Then Mom’s mouth opened wide and she wailed. The noise went on and on and Dad looked at her with manic eyes. Time speeded up, or is it slowed down? In seconds, the front of our house pulsed with police cars and every car’s siren was blaring and its lights flashing. Mom’s wail was as loud as the sirens and burly men poured in with guns drawn. Mom and I held our hands up, way up and Dad rolled on the ground, bloodied and handcuffed.
He was never free again. Soon he was moved to the asylum – for observation. For two weeks I went to school as if nothing had changed. Once Mom visited Dad, she said they would not let me in. “He’s pumped with tranquilizers, Sam, and he wouldn’t know you. It’s like a coma.” Then one day I found her at the kitchen table, her head in shaking hands and I knew he was dead. She had blue dark circles around her eyes over the next few weeks and told me about seven times every night that we’d be fine.
I stayed in bed and ate dry cereal and read the encyclopedia articles from the set Dad bought. I began with the article on Aardvark and read every entry in order. Oné evening she shook herself like a sheepdog coming out of the rain and said, “We have no choice,” and we moved to Grandma’s. I stopped trying to figure Dad out and thought about baseball and girls and going out for the swim team. When I went away to college, Mom married Fred Vojta.
I didn’t see her for years. I determined neither my father nor she would be a part of my new life. I printed resolutions onto cardboard which I pasted above my desk. The first read “Always look to the future.” The second was “Family is past.”
The other day I realized I’d been seeing Stella for over a year and no longer felt bound to my cardboard resolutions. I was telling her again about the day of the robbery and told her that you get used to anything, even to your father being a failed robber and dying in an asylum.
Since Stella told me I’ll be a father soon, I’ve been pondering that man who looked through me, who promised to teach me to hit a ball but was always too bushed, who never joined me in the backyard when I was looking at the stars, the man who pointed a gun at a store clerk and died alone.
I walked barefooted through morning dew on my uncut lawn one Thursday and I thought, “Why, it was the hail, the hail that day made him do it.” I chuckled at the lovely simplicity of that answer. I called and made a date with Mom.
We sat together in her quiet sunroom. We sipped sweet sherry and I said, “Mom, I’m getting married. Just ahead of the baby.”
She laughed. Her hair was lighter now and laughter came to her easily. She said, “Well, that’s good timing, Sam. I do hope you’ll be happy.”
She asked about Stella’s family and we crunched pretzel sticks. Sooner or later, I knew, we’d talk about Dad.
When she leaned forward, she said, “Your father was ill, Sam. Something in his brain, an aneurism or a node, burst. He believed in order and cause and effect and logical explanations. Being out of work was a dead end, a broken line. Someone had to make amends, he told me. Then his brain exploded.”
It’s a theory that made her comfortable. She has convinced herself of this the same way she convinced herself that garlic will ward off a cold. The other alternative was less palatable. She might have to acknowledge that she lived for many years with a man who lacked a conscience.
Mom embraced a rational explanation of Dad’s irrational behavior and I was leaning towards the mysterious. Dad died but we both concluded that it did not matter very much. It was the past and we were eager to look to a future, to exposing our faces to the hail, to soaring with the screeching seagulls. I refilled our glasses. “Let’s have a toast, Mom,” I said. “To happy children.”
Andrew Stancek’s work has appeared in Tin House online, FRIGG, jmww, Peacock Journal, Journal of Compressed Creative Arts and many other fine publications.