09/18/2021

Gary Fincke ~ My Father Says, “How’s that Sound?”

My father, the state-prison guard, says some of his cells have been opened now, the men he watch­es going home the same way he does. He says those men won’t report for any sort of work tomor­row. He says the Governor has freed them, not the virus. He has all the proof he needs–the prison is near the state cap­i­tal and not one of the inmates was sick.

My father believes the world needs more guards. He says there are not enough pris­ons. “If I took you to work with me, you’d under­stand, but you’ll learn,” he says. “Until then, always remem­ber your house key is a weapon. Make room in your back­pack or purse for pep­per spray.”

My father’s friends are guards, too. Three of them vis­it­ed last week. They brought their wives, but not their chil­dren. My father said their names and ours. He said we’re not afraid in this house. We’re not dis­tanc­ing, not my wife, not my son and daugh­ter. Masks are for Halloween and thieves.

The guests stayed for hours. My moth­er and the wives, after din­ner, sat out­side. They drank wine and looked at their phones. The oth­er wives texted their babysit­ters and told my moth­er, “Don’t tell our husbands.”

The men drank beer and played pok­er. They bragged about how they’ve mem­o­rized the odds that help them win, how they can read each other’s tells. I watched from behind my father. He took a sip of beer when his cards were good. He picked at the label when he bluffed.

My broth­er and I stayed up past mid­night. We watched a show where the host was at home and the audi­ence was as far away as we were. He made fun of men who refused to wear masks, but nobody was there to laugh.

When the oth­er prison guards were ready to leave, my father hugged them and slapped their backs. Each one touched his face and laughed. My father repeat­ed, “Trust is love.” He sound­ed like our priest.

After the house was emp­ty, my father said, “Governor or no gov­er­nor, before you two know it, school will start. You aren’t pris­on­ers.” When my broth­er made his “I hate school face” and I smiled, he hugged our moth­er and said, “Say thank you now before you see how right I am.”

My moth­er said, “Time will tell.” She began to load the dish­wash­er because there was a mess that couldn’t wait until morn­ing to deal with.

This week, every morn­ing, my moth­er took my tem­per­a­ture. She took my brother’s and hers, too, but only after my father left for work. “You keep this a secret,” she said.

At a press con­fer­ence last night, the gov­er­nor rec­om­mend­ed that our school go vir­tu­al because of the per capi­ta num­ber of cas­es in our coun­ty. Right away, he revealed that the out­break at the fed­er­al prison my father doesn’t work at accounts for a large por­tion of the cas­es. Before the reporters ask ques­tions, he tells those who are angry and dis­ap­point­ed to remem­ber that the employ­ees return to the com­mu­ni­ty after leav­ing work, that they min­gle with fam­i­ly and neigh­bor­hoods and friends.

This morn­ing, while we ate break­fast, my father cleared his throat and said, “That gov­er­nor is a pussy.” His voice sound­ed fun­ny, but none of us laughed. He cleared his throat again. He pulled the ther­mome­ter from his pock­et and laid it on the table between the cere­al box­es and told us to take a good long look and see if it looked familiar.

Ok,” he said. “Ok.” He picked it up and point­ed it at our moth­er. “Your moth­er wants to take my tem­per­a­ture,” he said. My moth­er bowed her head, but she didn’t fold her hands or move her lips. He point­ed the ther­mome­ter at my broth­er. “I told her to go ahead and try.” He point­ed it at me. “How’s that sound?” he said. “Like I mean it?”

When my moth­er said, “Knock it off,” he snapped the ther­mome­ter. I pushed my chair back so far it slapped the wall.

How’s that sound?’ he said, his voice hoarse. When he cleared his throat again, he began to cough. I turned my head, but my broth­er ducked as if he expect­ed to be stabbed.

~

Gary Fincke’s lat­est col­lec­tion is The Sorrows (Stephen F. Austin, 2020). His full-length and flash sto­ries have appeared in such places as The Missouri Review, The Kenyan Review, SmokeLong, Atticus Review, and Best Small Fictions 2020. He is co-edi­tor of the annu­al anthol­o­gy series Best Microfiction.