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Father at work

Small desk. Imitation maple. Father smokes menthol Benson & Hedges, French-inhales because he likes the way it tickles his nose and upper lip, wears undershirts stained coffee-brown and nicotine-yellow. Marketing says menthols are for pussies. Father says marketing's for pussies, says fuck them and their ten-hour days; opens left desk drawer and takes hearty gulps of Smirnoff straight from the bottle. If he had a window in his office, he could have plants, a fish tank. Thinks he'd like that. But tiger-oscars and hibiscus don't thrive in artificial light. Father would rather be watching TV, thinks he's watching TV, watches TV. He's in a windowless office feeding the fish and watering the foliage.

Son in class

Small desk. Particle board sandwiched between strips of lacquered pine. Son smells like gym. He does not shower with the rest of the class, can never wipe away all the perspiration, hopes no one will notice. Everyone does. His clothes always bond with residual sweat in history, stick like important dates: A.D. 44, 1066, 1848. Son scribbles with a ballpoint, squared spirals on the Windex-clean desktop, yawns, hears someone talking, thinks it's teacher.

How will you organize this education in the transition period?

All children will be educated and instructed in state institutions from the moment they are old enough to dispense with the first maternal care.

Son falls asleep, gets detention. Third time in two weeks.

Rhea at home

Small desk. Solid oak. Stacks of unopened envelopes on left, opened on right, usually. Mostly COD boxes and envelopes, invoices and wadded bond paper strewn about like artifacts waiting to be numbered and shipped to museums.

God, I need to get in order, Rhea thinks. She sifts through the "no return address" stack, thinks she sees a green LCD screen, digs further only to find an empty bottle of Midori. Goddamn it, she thinks, not in my office.

"My office!" says aloud.

Throws bottle into recycling bin, breaking it into shards of green confetti, opens left desk drawer, remembers she left adding machine there. Rhea cuts her BLT in half, eats a couple of potato chips, starts totaling orders: Mr. Kristov Wierheim of 43 Swanny's Way, Boulder-$17.95, Ms. Lisanna Caldasto of 748 Foil Street, Phoenixville-$55.15.

Son after school

It feels good to slide his backpack off his right shoulder into the backseat. Son sits on deep blue leather, fastens seat belt. Father puts the car into drive, starts home looking in the rearview mirror once in a while, not at Son. At the first red light, Son reaches into backpack, hands pen and folded paper to Father.

"Sign this." Son knows the red will change soon, watches for yellow in the crossing street's green light. Just sign it.

"What is it?"

"Uh, it's just some stupid form you gotta sign." C'mon, don't look at it, sign it.

"You get detention again?"


Father grabs Son by the hair, turns head toward him. Son's eyes tremble, look at rearview mirror, seat belt buckle, graphic equalizer. Something near Father's feet is glowing. Sunlight reflecting off the glass surface casts a hot white dot onto Son's forearm.

"Don't lie to me." Father's mouth is barely open, his teeth look like a well-fortified game of Don't Break the Ice, only stained. They are the color of the changing light. It will be red soon.

"It wasn't my fault." Son can't hurry up a lie.

"Look at me." Father squeezes hair tighter. Son looks into Father's tense eyes. "You're lying."

"No, really, Dad, I . . ." Son is interrupted by Father's right fist landing square against his left cheek. His face feels warm, numb, the sting has not set in yet. Neither has the shock. Father pushes Son's head rapidly forward, forcing a collision with the dashboard. Son feels skin on his forehead break apart, blood creep toward his eyebrows.

Still dazed, Son mutters, "Green light, Dad."

"Shut up!" Father puts car into drive. "I know the fuckin' light is green. You wanna drive?"

Son reaches into the glove compartment for a napkin, licks blood from the corner of his mouth, likes the taste.

Rhea asleep

Hall light slaps Rhea in the face as Father opens bedroom door. She sees his partial eclipse against the bright doorway. Shorter nap than she'd planned. Goddamn it.

"Wake up."

"Why?" Rhea is still in a postsleep nebula, unsure whether or not she is dreaming.

"C'mere and look at this." He holds out the goldenrod slip, gulping from a half-empty bottle of Crown Royal.

"What is it?" You woke me up for this?!?

Father pulls the comforter off her, then the crocheted blanket, checkered sheets.

"Get up. Come over here. Look at it." He speaks deliberately, monotonally. Like giving orders. Rhea gets up, reads the detention form, sighs, and hands it back to Father. "Just sign it," she says, wishing Son would forge Father's signature instead of showing him these things.

"It's the third one," Father snaps.

"It's a phase. They're supposed to be rebellious at this age."

She wants to make better excuses, wants Son not to screw up, not to need them.

"Well, I don't need to deal with this shit. One more of these and I'm going to shove his rebelliousness right up his ass."

"Just leave him alone and he'll grow out of it."

Father takes hold of Rhea's left arm and twists it behind her back. When she tries to break free of that confinement, he quickly creates another one by bracing her right arm against her stomach and jamming it into the soft midsection. His face is nestled between her shoulder and chin. He speaks firmly, directly into her ear.

"Leave him alone? What's with you two anyway, huh? What do you do when I'm not around? Does he have a little piece of you?"

Rhea jerks her torso left then quickly right in an attempt to loosen Father's painful grip. He responds by pounding her whole body into the wall, covering her with his muscular arms, thighs, abdomen. She's afraid to talk SMYTH OF CHAYNESVILLE not to talk.

"Are you crazy? He's my son. He's fourteen years old." Rhea's voice is half scream, half cough now as the weight of her husband has made breathing more difficult. No use to talk now, not to talk.

"What 'sa matter, little boy can't satisfy you the way big daddy can?"

Father pulls Rhea away from the wall, bends her forward and slides up her nightgown. She thinks about Mr. Jacob C. Whitfield BIG of 398 Plum Lane, Scottsdale, DADDY or Mrs. Radja Patel of 1274 CAN Regent's Park Point, Normal, as her stomach stings, blood smudges her inner thigh.

"Big daddy can."

Son and radio

Son throws backpack onto cluttered bedroom floor: dirty flannel, jewel boxes, unread newspapers. He closes his mini-blinds, turns on the black light, watches all the white in the room turn blue. Son digs into a pile of denim and polyester-cotton blends for stereo remote, finds it, turns on, turns up. Song is fading out, DJ coming in.

"Damn, all they ever do is talk," Son thinks, changes stations. DJ talking there, too. New station, new DJ, all talk. Son listens.

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles . . .

"Yeah, but why's he such an asshole?"

In a word, it creates a world after its own image . . .

Son turns volume down, stands up, facing the tuner. He watches the bands of equalization ebb while the DJ talks, thinks the truth lies somewhere between seventy and ten thousand kilohertz. Son has seen only pictures of Grandpa Sky, thinks he looks less like Father than Father looks like Sky.

"Is it always gonna be like this? Hasn't it always been like this?"

With its birth begins its struggle with the bourgeoisie . . .

Son tries to remember birth. Remembers first spanking, Mom's sugar cookies, learning wrestling, some church and hold Mom's hand and quiet while she prays. Son paces, shuffles his wardrobe as he moves across maroon deep pile, kicks a pack of gum. He examines the pack, can't remember when he bought it, opens and chews a couple of pieces anyway.

"I gotta get outta this. I'm sick of this shit."

Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overseer and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself . . .

"How much money have I got?" Son thinks, can't find the pair of jeans guarding his wallet. Son wonders how easy it would be to get into his savings, how far $265 could get him. Doesn't matter. Father's money; Son doesn't want it.

The bourgeoisie itself, therefore . . . furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie . . .

Son turns off stereo, finds duffel bag. Needs clothes, money, food. Food. "Later," he thinks. He's tired, sore. He wants a nap.

Rhea's bath

Rhea's hair is heavy as the water soaks into it. The bath beads have dissolved and dewberry follows a trail of steam to her nose and mouth. It tastes like a park picnic, Boise. Bloated relatives and grass-stained blankets, Frisbee and lawn darts. The heat of the water, its pulsation, masks the sting of lactic acid in her tired wrists, bruised hamstrings. She shaves her legs, cuts her ankle, changes the blade. A speck of water slides down the side of the new blade as Rhea fits it into the razor's head. She thinks about the fragility of Father's neck, its veins, arteries, the Adam's apple, trachea. Rhea wedges the blade into his larynx, twists it. Her hand is covered with his breath and sputum. Father gurgles something like,

"Christ, didn't you hear me?"

Father opens the bathroom door. Rhea stutters something about meditation. Father does not hear her.

"Are you planning on spending all night in there, or can we expect dinner sometime? Christ, you're in here turning into a prune while I'm about to explode out there."

He unzips his pants and begins to urinate. The sound of urine meeting water reminds Rhea of splash fights, the shallow end, backyard antics, 16 Opaline Avenue, Trenton.

Father's dream

He slumps onto the couch, nothing to do. Reaches underneath for bottle of Jack, TV remote. Flips through reruns of Hawaii Five-0 and difficult game shows. Can't remember the capital of North Dakota. Montpelier? Damn. Jack's almost empty, thought he had more. Father finds pro tennis on seventeen and listens to the hard-court volleys. Swish, thunk. Swish, thunk.

His month-old shoes squeak on the refinished parquet. The small blue ball thunks against the taut racquet head, thuds against the front wall. The air is thick and stale with exercise and deodorant. Sky returns Father's serve; Father cannot return Sky's return. Father looks at the racquet between points, wonders how a lever so thin can produce so much power. Momentum.

Father slams his foot down as his racquet meets the ball. The slam-squeak of his foot meets the thunk of the ball on the racquet and seems strong, important. The ball is smaller than a tennis ball, football, basketball, the racquet squat and flat like a snowshoe. But this game has force. This game is worthy of winning and losing, not merely playing. It matters. Sky is better than Father.

Sky's goggles begin to steam up. He is getting tired. Sweat drips off his beard, makes his shirt cling, makes the floor slick. Father is hitting the ball harder, winning more points. Sky has never lost to Father. Father's biceps twitch. The veins push against the skin of his upper arms, swell like long, wavy mosquito bites.

"Time out," Sky heaves.

"No," says Father. "This is racquetball. You can't call time-out in racquetball."

"I need a drink. I need to towel off." Sky is now sweating more vigorously. Perspiration is oozing from his wristbands, headband, shoes, forming a puddle in the space between his feet.

"C'mon, it's game point. Let's just play this one." Father knows he can win this time, doesn't want Sky to regroup.

"All right."

Father serves hard. Thunk, thud. Sky sets to return serve, steps in his puddle, trips. Thud, thunk. Sky starts to sit up, cupping the back of head in hand, grimacing. Father takes off his glasses, winds up his racquet, hammers it into Sky's skull. Sky goes limp, hits the parquet.

Trinity, dinner

The steaks are finished. Son has set the table. Rhea taps Father's shoulder, shakes his arm, pokes his side.

"Get up."

"Why?" Father searches for Jack; it has spilled.


Father stretches tight limbs, scratches back of head, crotch, slides across the carpet to Son. Shuffling his feet several times, Father taps Son behind the right earlobe with his index finger, zaps the boy with static electricity.

"Quit." Son slaps Father's hand away.

Father slaps Son firmly across the back of the head. Son covers his head with his hands. Father sits down, points steak knife at Son.

"You keep your fuckin' hands off of me, hear?"

Father turns to Rhea. "Christ, I'm just screwing around and the kid throws a fit."

Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents? To this crime we plead guilty.

Rhea brings over a plate of baked potatoes, a bowl of buttered carrots. She wants to tell Father to stop screwing around, wants to kiss back of Son's head to make better, to stop. Is looking at Son, smiles. Father punches Rhea's left shoulder, throwing her off balance and causing her to drop the carrots, which crash to the floor along with her and the foiled potatoes.

"What the fuck are you looking at? You look at me when I'm talking to you."

Father turns to Son, who is looking down at his empty flatware.

"You gonna help her?"

Son picks up slippery orange disks with a damp sponge while Rhea reloads the foiled potatoes onto their dish, reaches up to set them on the table. They cross arms in the cleanup and Rhea holds Son's hand, crouched half under the table, out of Father's sight.

"Can I get my steak before I have to thaw it out?" Father's breath is loud. It fills the room suddenly, arresting Son's and Rhea's silence. Ginger ale, pastrami, Tabasco, bourbon, lime, caramel, vermouth.

But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier . . .

Rhea stands, forks three steaks, serves her husband. As Father cuts large pieces of meat, Son finishes sopping up butter beads and carrot juice, stands. Father talks with his mouth full.

"That's the last detention slip I'm signing. I don't give a shit what they do to you if you get another one. I hope they whip your ass. Some people need to get the shit kicked out of them. Do you some good."

Gravy drips from Father's chin when he speaks.

The workingmen have no country . . . the proletariat must . . . rise to be the leading class of the nation, must continue itself as a nation . . . the supremacy of the proletariat will cause them to vanish still faster . . .

"I won't get another detention." Son slides his chair back under the table, unsets his place setting, and turns toward his room.

"Sit down and finish your dinner," Father says.

Son walks deliberately, steadily toward his room.

"Sit down," Father repeats.

Son keeps walking.

Father gets up, mouth still full, takes a deep breath, starts to choke. Son is in his room. Father writhes, swings arms rapidly, like playing racquetball. Rhea wraps her arms around Father, squeezes. Father's eyes are pulsing, fingertips are sweating. Son emerges from bedroom with duffel bag, opens pantry, begins loading food into bag. Rhea squeezes again. Father is hissing now, squirming more. Rhea can't hold on. Son opens kitchen door, steps out, turns to close the door behind him and is frozen looking back into the kitchen. Rhea reaches around her flailing husband, squeezes her fists together, pounds them into Father's sternum.

Father coughs up half-chewed meat, potato mush, hunches over chair taking long breaths. He drops to his knees and begins to vomit. Son, Rhea watch as Father wets the floor, chairs, couch, walls with vodka and chyme, testosterone and pimiento. Out of Father's mouth comes a whole bagel, a racquetball, ballpoint pens. Guavas splash to the kitchen tiles, and pepperoni, silverware, cobwebs, and a flying squirrel. As a passenger train begins to embark from Father's epiglottis, Son closes the kitchen door and descends the stairs.

Son outside

Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man's ideas, views and conceptions, in one word, man's consciousness, changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his social life?

From the kitchen Son hears Father's coughing, hopes it will stop abruptly and the body will pound the kitchen's hardwood floor like a muffled knock. Son unzips front pouch of duffel bag, fishes out a sugar cookie, thinks he'll miss that most about Mom. Biting into the pocked, yellow dessert, he lets the semisweet tang melt over his tongue and swallows the vestiges of his childhood. It's chilly, 7:30, and in a few hours he won't be in bed for school tomorrow. He drops the rest of the cookie, jerks his head to one side to flip his hair out of his eyes, and slides with short steps through cool grass.

Rhea and the Titan

Father is kneeling at the toilet, which is full now of goldfish, tequila, and strip malls. Rhea flushes, looks into the bathtub at her razor. The back of Father's neck is thick and tight, his top vertebra protruding under the skin like an Adam's apple on the other side. She's standing over him. Rhea whistles a song she learned in Marlboro, at 536 Fable Way, reaches into the bathtub, and wipes Father's neck with a damp cloth.

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