Anthony Varallo

The Fan

With the mon­ey he’d got­ten for his eleventh birth­day, William bought a fan.

Is that sup­posed to make me feel bad?” his father asked, as William heft­ed the fan into their shop­ping cart.  William and his father were at Home Depot, push­ing a cart full of paint cans, paint rollers, and brush­es.  Their air con­di­tion­er had bro­ken at the begin­ning of sum­mer, back when William’s moth­er still lived with them.  Back before William’s father began repaint­ing all the rooms in the house.  William’s room, once white, was now corn­flower blue with laven­der trim.  “It’s just a fan,” William said.

Because it seems like you want to make me feel bad,” his father said.

William turned the box so that its price tag faced out.  “It’s on sale,” he said.

I no longer under­stand what any­one expects from me,” his father said.

On the dri­ve home, they passed a chick­en truck with tiny white feath­ers trail­ing behind it.


The fan had three speeds and an oscil­lat­ing head, which made it some­times turn air upon places where William and his father weren’t, like the cor­ner of the kitchen, where his moth­er used to lean her mop, or the space behind the TV, which his moth­er had nev­er allowed them to watch dur­ing din­ner, as they did now.

I’ve about had it with that fan,” his father said.

Keeps things cool,” William said, and the fan, as if to prove his point, turned upon them both, and blew William’s nap­kin from his lap.

I’m not a fan of that fan,” his father said, but William didn’t say anything.


At night, William put the fan at the foot of his bed.  He liked the way it blew his cur­tains against the win­dow and flut­tered his posters from behind their tacks.  He liked the sound it made.  In the morn­ing, William was always sur­prised to find he’d turned the fan off dur­ing the night.  He could nev­er remem­ber doing so.


William’s moth­er called him on Saturdays.  William’s father let him use the phone in the study he was nev­er allowed to use oth­er­wise.  William sat at his father’s desk and wait­ed for the phone to ring, which it always did at exact­ly four o’clock, since this was the time his moth­er had arranged with William’s father.  At four o’clock on Saturdays she would call William and William would answer the phone he was nev­er allowed to use oth­er­wise and say, “Hello?”  William always felt a lit­tle fool­ish say­ing hel­lo since he knew who was call­ing.  His moth­er must have known that it would always be William answer­ing on the oth­er end—who else would it be?—but always answered him by say­ing, “William?  It’s me, your mom.”  Then she would ask him what was new and he would say noth­ing, even though he was hold­ing his face just inch­es from the fan.


One morn­ing William and his father paint­ed the mas­ter bed­room.  William’s father allowed him to stir paint with a wood­en stick and lat­er had him hold one end of a king-sized mat­tress as they scoot­ed it out into the hall­way.  “This mat­tress is heavy,” William said.

This mat­tress is where you got your start,” his father laughed.  William felt embarrassed.

By after­noon it was rain­ing.  Hard.  William moved the fan away from the bed­room win­dows, posi­tion­ing it towards the dry­ing walls.  “That’s not going to do much,” his father said.  William shrugged.  It felt strange to be in the bed­room with his father.  He kept expect­ing his moth­er to walk in, but that was a stu­pid thing to expect.  He set the fan to the high­est speed and watched his father paint the ceil­ing with a long roller.  The ceil­ing light flick­ered when­ev­er light­ning fell near­by.  The storm worsened.

The elec­tric­i­ty went out.

William looked at his father, but his father was watch­ing the fan, which still turned along its course, defy­ing log­ic, defy­ing sci­ence, defy­ing every­thing, until its blades whirred to a halt, and William knew she was gone.


Anthony Varallo is the author of This Day in History, win­ner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award, and Out Loud, win­ner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize. His third sto­ry col­lec­tion, Think of Me and I’ll Know, will be pub­lished by TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press in Fall 2013.