|My Father's Famous
© Copyright 2002 by Dan Berkey
It was late spring and my fourth grade year at Excelsior Elementary was almost over, and it was impossible to concentrate on anything. I wasn't in the room anymore. I was on the tennis court with Fred Cooper. I was on the lake catching turtles. I was behind the lawnmower doing our four-acre lot. My body was tingling with the prospect of emancipation from that god-awful room and the worst god-awful teacher I'd ever had, Mrs. Lowe. I could taste the freedom on the back of my tongue with every bite of every minute of every day I chewed myself through to get to the sweet dessert of summer, ahhh.
My parents and I typically ate our dinners in strange, strangled silences broken periodically, but unpredictably, by weird outbursts from my mother or sudden inexplicable tiffs with my father who, for some reason, always fell for it and fought. For anyone visiting us these jagged silences were unnerving. I was used to them, however. After a few failed, embarrassing attempts to involve a friend I just didn't invite anyone over anymore, and that was fine with me.
On this very special night my father wasn't feeling well. He wasn't up to his usual sparring vim. He was feverish and pale. Consequently, my mother's inflammatory bursts went ignored, and that drove her a little nuts. She kept trying harder and harder to incite my dad to riot, but he never gave in.
"Poor, Danny, he has to grow up listening to this," my mother wailed in exasperation.
I ate a potato.
I ate a green bean and wondered, "when is the big bomb going to go off?"
My father coughed. My mother hissed.
I ate a carrot.
"Amazing," I thought.
We skipped dessert, which was fine by me. I wanted to get out of there and return to my work up in my room. Final's week was upon me and I had to figure out some way to make up for nearly half-a-year of scholastic indolence.
"Where there was a will there was a way," I thought, and felt smug about it. I always managed a way to make the passing grade. I went to my room and stared at my books, but I couldn't work. It was ridiculous. Every time I tired to work a math problem or read a chapter of my hated history book my mind kept drifting back to the unnerving silence downstairs.
"When is it going to hit?" I wondered, "it's gotta hit. Something's gotta hit. This isn't right."
You just never knew when it would hit, but you knew it would. "It had to hit."
Several hours passed in ghastly silence, and I was in a flop-sweat. My books lay strewn about the floor and bed. Unsolved math problems stared at me. I couldn't even look at them. I tuned in my favorite talk-radio show. They were yammering about how bad the current education system was. They kept yelling something had to be done about it. well, I knew what had to be done, "my father and mother had to get into a fight, dammit, or I was going to fail my classes." I would've called in, but I didn't have a phone and I didn't dare go downstairs.
Then suddenly, "BOB!" screamed my mother, and I relaxed at once like I'd taken a powerful sedative. "At last!" I said aloud, "A good fight's afoot. Now I can get some work done." It was almost ten-thirty, and I was usually in bed by this time, "but hell," I thought, "better late then never."
I put my nose to my books
"BOB!" screamed my mother again, but no Bob replied.
"Weird," I thought.
There was a long pause, then "BOB!" again, but still no Bob. My ears perked up. An alarm went off inside. There was something in that cry I'd never heard before, an intangible but palpable fear. A chill went through me, and I rocketed downstairs.
What I saw when I looked through the open door of the bathroom gave me pause. It looked like two flailing arms were growing out of my mother's side. Her back was to me. She wailed, "Daddy's dead, Danny, Daddy's dead!"
A cold terror rocked me. I walked closer to the scene. My mother was clutching my father's head tightly to her chest. His arms flailed out behind her groping for something, or so it appeared.
"Daddy's dead, Danny, Daddy's dead...!" she wailed clutching my father's head ever tighter.
My father's pants were down around his ankles. There were splotches of blood on the sink and the floor. There was a strong odor of crap and puke. I gagged.
Then I suddenly realized what was happening. I pried at my mother's vice-like grip to no avail. I heard my father's choking gags, and that scared me.
"Daddy's dead, Danny, Daddy's dead..."
"No, he's NOT!" I yelled and pulled harder on her grip. She was suffocating him. His arms groped desperately. This was it. If I couldn't get her off him he was going to choke to death.
I grabbed one of her fingers, put my foot up on the sink for leverage and pulled with all my might. It didn't give way. I pulled even harder. This tug of war could've lasted five seconds or five minutes. It was one of those literally timeless moments in life like having your first banana spilt or your first kiss or, whatever. I thought I was going to have to break her arm or something, hit her over the head. I was close to panic. I took a deep, mindful breath and gave it all I had. She gave way. I fell backward and smacked my head on the doorframe. She fell onto the floor but remained upright. My father fell forward, but before he hit the floor my mother caught him, and I thought, "oh no," but she merely cradled his heaving head on her lap and cried, "Daddy's dead, Danny, Daddy's dead..."
'NO, HE'S NOT!" I screamed in exasperation, and my mother heard that. My dad was choking. His mouth was closed. His whole body shook with heaves I could feel in my gut. She hoisted him up gently, pulled open his mouth and a spray of the vilest smelling vomit splattered everything, the walls, me and my mother, the floor, even my dog, Rig who had wandered into the scene. I held back from puking. Rig licked the floor, and I thought that was too weird.
My mother held my father's mouth open till his throat was clear. He began to breathe again. A great relief swept over me. I nodded my head and cried a bit. Blood ran down my father's face from the gash he'd suffered in a fall forward onto the sink, which had sparked the fray. He'd fainted.
Mother cradled him and cried, "Daddy's dead, Danny, Daddy's dead..." "NO HE'S NOT, YOU NUT," I screamed, "HE'S JUST BLEEDING"
She let him go and slumped to the floor with heaving sobs. My father was now conscious. He was struggling to his feet. When he finally managed to stand he steadied himself a moment without looking at my sobbing mother or me and yanked up his shorts. Without a word he went downstairs to his workshop where I guess he cleaned himself up. I don't know. I didn't see him again all night.
My mother grabbed me as soon as he disappeared and yelled vehemently in my face, "DADDY'S DEAD, DANNY, DADDY'S DEAD!"
I vehemently blared back, "NO, HE'S NOT, MOM. HE'S GONE DOWNSTAIRS. HE'S ALRIGHT NOW, OK?? HE'S ALRIGHT...!"
This weird volley went on for minutes, which felt like useless hours.
My mother then shoved me roughly out of the bathroom, slammed the door, locked it and wept helplessly; sounded exactly like a starving infant.
I stood in the dark dining room a long while with Rig and just stared at the bathroom door.
Then I went back upstairs; I took Rig with me, and went about my homework in a clear and clam head. I worked through the night. There was no more commotion, no more yelling. I heard two sets of feet at separate times climb the well-worn wooden staircase to the master bedroom, and then blessed silence.
"A well earned silence," I thought.
I accomplished a lot that night, and I aced every exam, especially the math exam. I earned a perfect score.
Incidents such as this
one that I lovingly call my father's famous-fainting-puking-crapping act,
brought out the academic best in me. Don't ask me why.
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