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Steve Fellner  

You’ve Got to Read This


Once the psychiatric emergency room visits started, my father decided to bring a book with him.  Preferably a long one.  My mother always made the mistake of thinking that once she felt fine, she would immediately be released.  All she had to do was ask.  She never understood that she was on their time, and they decided when it was time to let her go.  What better way for my father to wait for my mother to pass her evaluations than to read a book?  My mother confessed to me that once she was dressed in the gown, and was guided to her room, she worried about my father.  The only thing that comforted her was her husband sitting in a chair behind the big black door.  All she could see was his bald head, and this was almost enough, especially when she imagined him reading.  “I feel a little less guilty,” she said. “At least it’s not a complete waste of time.” The Great Gatsby was one of his favorite books.  “Reliable,” he said. “In a way that most things aren’t.”  Whenever mother was at her most manic, needing to go right away, and he didn’t have time to choose something, that was what he grabbed.  Once, my mother was having a particularly difficult time.  My grandparents were on vacation, so my father had no choice but to take me with him.  I can still remember the people in charge shuffling her into the room.  It looked ugly and scary.  My father kissed her on the forehead and then she vanished.  The security guard shook my father’s hand and said, “My favorite regulars.”  It wasn’t sarcasm in his voice.  In a weird way he seemed to be grateful. The security guard looked at the book in my father’s hand and said, “What are you going to read to us tonight?” My father said, “I thought some passages from The Grapes of Wrath?”  The video surveillance operator then popped out of his office.  He said, “Nice choice.  Can’t wait.”  Was my father leading a book club in the psych ward?  The operator and guard and then even an attendant pulled up chairs.  They sat around my father, waiting for him to begin.  The guard immediately told my father to speak up.  “Some of these crazies grunt and scream.  You need to be loud,” the guard said.   My father’s voice was strong.  It seemed unshakeable. You could almost see the words in the air, as ethereal as ghosts, vacant spaces grateful to be filled. 


Steve Fellner

Steve Fellner has published a book of poems Blind Date with Cavafy (Marsh Hawk Press) and a memoir All Screwed Up (Benu Press).  He currently teaches at SUNY Brockport.

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