Five Fathers

My father’s death was a ten year death. During that span, his room crowded with five fathers who jostled and stooged for my attention.

First Father: The Ten Year Father

The ten year father lies in bed for ten years. Bits of ten year body fall off, or need removing. Occasionally a doctor comes in, leans over to sniff my father’s toes. He delivers an opinion. After he delivers an opinion, he puts his stethoscope against my chest. He shakes his head as if he can’t hear anything. Great, he says. When the door slams on his way out, a toe falls off the ten year father’s foot.

It looks like a small tree timbering over.


Actually the top part of the toe puckers into a small yellow hole. I stare at the yellow. I keep staring. The tone begins to wander. It warms. It cools. It doesn’t stop changing tone.

The ten year father, during this invigorating convalescence, inflates like a dictionary. The ten year father whistles like a Lifetime show. The ten year father sobs like a pen. During this span, medicine bottles climb his dresser top. I can see us in the mirror rolling down a mountain of them together. There we are: rolling.

We roll.

We keep rolling.

There we go.

Giant medicine tablets fill the ten year father’s mouth. A dam breaks; water pours in. His ten year body sharpens and urinates. To change the sheets, I place him on the ground. The sheets come off with him from the bed, stuck to sores on his back. When I peel them off, I’m holding a book in my hands.

I can see inside the ten year father. My eyes keep staring. They stare.

They keep looking.

Second Father: Home Plate Father

The home plate father is always sliding into home plate. The home plate father is the hero of the game. The home plate father wears a pinstriped uniform.

He leaps on top of the dresser, knocking medicine bottles around. He moves to the far end of the dresser where he can catch speed. His cleated feet get a good fast start. His youthful body leaps into the air and slides into the ten year father’s bed.

A Voice from Somewhere in the Bedroom: He scores the winning run. He scores the winning run. He scores the winning run. He scores the winning run. He scores the winning run. He scores the winning run. He scores the winning run. He scores the winning run.

The home plate father lies in bed with a frown. He wants to get up and take a bow. He can’t. A chalk-line bone winks from his knee.

The home plate father never plays again. (Again.)

I walk to the plate for a closer look. The chalk-line is a pencil lead. Ink.

I push the lead back in. The home plate father leaps back on the dresser top. He leaps off.

He scores the winning run. He frowns. (I push the lead again.)

There again.  (Again.)


I keep pushing.

Third Father: Uniform Father

The uniform father stares into a dark corner of the room, his face turned away from me, nude. His body is smooth and unscarred as sandpapered marble. The only marks on his body are goose bumps. The uniform father’s butt, the left check, carries a tiny tremble.

A spotlight shines on his gold curl head. He turns and salutes. He marches back and forth. His balls jiggle. He stands, balls swaying, in a rigid line. An army uniform clothes his body. He starts telling “the Dachau story.”

The uniform father is one of the first Allies in camp (he isn’t). He sees skeletons resting in tall trees (no). He sees inky bodies in paper holes. He executes camp guards, pointing a finger at them. Bang, bang! A small elevator door opens in each Nazi forehead. Viscera (maybe) spatters his clean American uniform.

This story is the uniform father’s brother’s story my uncle. The uniform father’s brother is the army brother. The army brother doesn’t tell the Dachau story.

The uniform father spends the war on a medium-sized Merchant Marine vessel. They deliver “war supplies.” The uniform father tells the Dachau story again.

He has a handsome gold curl head.

The uniform father’s uniform fades away. Nude again, he begins marching and jiggling. Marble cheeks tremble.

Fourth Father: Dollar Father

The dollar father showers the room with dollar bills. He cradles his belly like a pregnant money sack.

Bills keep slipping from his belly sack. His eyes are sweaty coins. He begins yanking out wads of cash. He throws them up in the air. The belly sack wheezes as it empties out.

The dollars land and become season tickets. Baseball, football.

There he is.

Front row over the dugout. The dollar father yells at the players on the field. He tells the manager things (he explains fundamentals).

Lying in bed, a pile of tickets land on the ten year father. He’s all smiles. His feet fall off.

The dollar father looks scared. His face crumples up like a ticket (a paper testicle).

The dollar father hurries to the bank.

He withdraws everything from my account.

Fifth Father: The Killing Father

The ten year father is always asking about death. He says that it would be good for death to come. He would like it to come now. I tell him that he looks good in this bed. We, the other fathers and I, want him to live forever. In a death bed.

This is a nice bed, I say.

Look at you in this bed!

I unclench my ten year father’s teeth. I push food inside. I water the ten year father. The ten year father weeps. He never blooms; he un-wilts. The ten year father cries. He weeps and cries. Cries, weeps. Weeps, cries.

It goes on like this for a while.

Ten year cries.

Cries, cries, cries, cries, cries.

I think about killing the ten year father. I think about it every day.

Ten years pass. I let his tears pool in my paper coffee cup. To the brim!

Have I always been like this?

Look at this cup of tears, I announce. These are mine now. I can drink those.

Killing tears! (Brown ink.) The brown cools. It warms. Cools. (It doesn’t stop.)

I stand and I stand there as the killing father puts a mask on – hey look, it’s my face – and sits on top my ten year father. 

He rides him. Yee, ha.

He takes the mask off: hey look (my face).

We ride and ride him. We ride him every day. We ride for ten years.

During this span, the ten year father shrinks. Our giant hands hold the ten year father’s face (tiny!). We place a kiss on ten year lips.

We give a kiss every day.  We kiss and kiss. Look at us kiss!

The killing father makes pain. This death grows more pain each day. The pain grows and grows. The death grows and grows. It all grows.

Like this.

The killing father never kills. He is only killing.

I collect tears from the ten year father. The room fills with empty cups.

The ten year father is dying.

The ten year father is dying.

He dies. He dies. He dies. There he goes.

He dies.

He is dying.

The ten year father never stops.

Lance Olsen

Steve Owen has an MFA from Notre Dame and is completing a PhD at the University of Utah. His work has appeared in The Notre Dame Review, Typehouse Literary Magazine, Flatmancrooked’s Slim Volume of Contemporary Poetics, The Bend, and elsewhere. He served as managing editor at The Notre Dame Review and has worked on multiple literary magazines in almost every capacity, including co-founding and serving as executive editor of mixer publishing, a hybrid genre literary magazine and boutique book publisher.

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