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Jake Burdick


Iím nineteen, watching bruises crawl across my fatherís face like theyíre long cockroaches under his skin. My four fingers are drawn perfectly across his forehead and down to the top of his cheek. Weíre in the garage, the side room that he built with a door and a lock to keep my mother and me out. Iím on the outside of the doorframe, and heís sitting in a chair, holding his face together. The Phoenix winter night slides under the garage door, and my bare feet ache against cooled concrete. I donít notice how the blood under my nose clumps into maroon pebbles or how the knot on my head wants to break through the skin. My uncleís with my dadóhis brother, the paramedicópatching him up. While he checks my fatherís eyes, he asks me to look at what Iíve done and tells me that heíd leave too if I were his son. And Iím listening, captivated, breathing steam out of a throat striped with red finger marks. I try to explain that he came at me first, and my fist clenches, knuckles drawn white, a negative of my fatherís face. My hand is as numb as my feet, and neither of the two men is listening to me.

This was the night he told us heíd found someone else and was moving in with her. That heíd paid for a new house with my college money. That the girl he was going to live with was still in college. I can still hear all of that, but I donít remember hitting him. I told him what I thought, and he moved his hand from the doorknob to my neck. The only thing felt was the scrape of Spanish tile grout when I dropped back on it. From that floor that was worth second mortgage, I watched my mother beg him to stay with us.

Iím eight, on the back patio with my father. Itís a still summer night, after monsoon rain, smelling like a last leg air conditioner. My fatherís telling me how he and I are mathematically perfect. He was born in nineteen forty-seven and I was born in nineteen seventy-four. While Iím eight, heís thirty-five; our digits always add up to the same single number. Zero plus eight and three plus five, perfect math. We watch a cicada hatch from its shell and force the blood into its wings. Iím too young to know that my fatherís high.

Iím twenty-five and heís fifty-two, and my fiancťe has just left me for someone else. Iíve elevated seven thousand feet by train to Flagstaff, and Iím breathing rice paper air. I call my parents and tell them whatís happened. Dad thinks Iím going to kill myself because I used to listen to Kurt Cobain. He sends me an e-mail that just says, "Love you Jake," but I canít stop crying after I read it. The message took less than a minute to write and less than a second to get to me. Itís not even real, just a DNA string of ones and zeros, but I wait more than three months to delete it.

Iím nineteen and heís forty-six; itís two months before we fight. My father drove to California with the window down and got Bellís palsy. His face runs like syrup off his skull. Heís ashamed of himself. I feel horrible for him. He wears large rimmed, out of style hats, hoping theyíll steal attention from the soup underneath. After he heals, Iíll put my fist across the same area, peeling it back again. Heís meeting the girl heís going to leave us for. Sheís telling him that heís still handsome. Sheís giving him crystal meth for the nostril thatís still round. Heís giving her the money to get that medicine.

Iím ten and heís thirty-seven. Iím standing on one leg in a gym, punching my karate instructor in the stomach. The instructor is smiling and telling me that itís all about discipline. When Iím done, I sweat footprints across the safety mats to where Iím supposed to meet my father. He wanted us to both get gym passes so we could work out together, but heís not there. Itís an hour later when he finally pulls up outside.

Days later, in my kitchen, my mother is having coffee with a blond woman Iíve never seen before. Theyíre both crying and holding their heads in their hands, neither one saying anything. After the woman leaves, my mother tells me that theyíre both in love with my father, and that he met her at the gym.

Dad comes home that night with presents for me, and my parents fight while I play with Star Wars figures and spin board game spinners, sliding plastic pieces past GO.

Iím three and heís thirty. Heís running to the hospital with me in his arms. Itís the first clear memory I have. Iím watching palm trees go by overhead. Iíve fallen down some stairs, and heís too frightened to get in a car. The hospital is more than five miles away. I know; Iíve driven the route since then.

Iím twenty and heís forty-seven. The math still works; you just have to add his numbers one more time. Iím telling my first serious girlfriend that I cheated on her. Weíre parked outside of my parentsí house, and while I tell her, I get distracted by a bush across the street that looks like a face when the wind blows. Sheís yelling at me, but still calling me babe, and it sounds so stupid. Hunched over at the wheel of her car, she reaches and tries to touch my chest, but twists her fingers into my shirt. I get out of her car. The bush outside still looks like a person, but blurry now under dust-colored streetlights. The desert makes us all look exactly alike.

Iím twenty-six and heís fifty-three. I sit in a psychologistís office and tell her about how afraid I am of people leaving me. Watching her computerís screensaver connect lines across the monitor, I tell her that Iím an abusive person.

Dadís written me another e-mail, and I canít delete it this time. He tells me how he gets awkward when Iím around, and how Iím too smart for him. But, thereís another letter in the regular mail with ink that didnít have time to dry before the paper was folded. And through Rorschach-smeared type, I learn Iíve been rejected from the University in California. I tear that one up and read my fatherís instead.

Yesterday, while I was waiting to turn right in my car, I started crying.

Iím four and heís thirty one. Weíve moved to the north edge of Phoenix. We donít build a backyard fence because we donít have neighbors yet. Past our grocery store, thereís a cactus and an abandoned car wrecked with rust and bee-bee holes. My father and I walk to where my elementary school is being built. He writes my name in drying cement with his finger, wiping his hand on his jeans afterwards. He takes me back there to see my name every week until school starts.

When weíre not exploring the desert, heís drawing a picture of my family opening our new front door to the heat outside. He leaves the space beyond our figures blank, bleached by the summer. He frames the drawing, but the city grows up around us.

  • Jake Burdick lives with his wife, dog, and six cats in Chandler, Arizona, where he teaches and designs curriculum for online education. Currently, he is working on several other pieces in various genres and planning a human family. This is his first publication.

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