My father is an outsider. One day he wandered into the neighborhood.
This is hard, to a degree, because he is likable, and I am not. He goes around to everyone’s house and you can always hear his name. I stay inside. My mother stays inside. My mother draws the blinds and pretends she’s not home. At night, she watches the street from the bedroom upstairs.
He is so likeable because he treats every day like a birthday. And because, so they say, he is secretly a magician.
Before I was ever born, he wandered into the neighborhood for the first time, clutching his throat.
My throat! My throat! he cried, but he was so hoarse no one heard him.
He had wandered through a drought and had finally stumbled upon our neighborhood.
Blinds opened but no one came outside to help him. He was so thirsty he fell on the street and crawled on his hands and knees then collapsed and dragged himself down the street, as if every second he was losing more and more water.
Finally, a young woman ran to him with a bucket of water and a ladle. But he could not lift his head to drink. She put his head in her lap and held the ladle to his lips. He shook his head and held his throat. My throat, he said.
He put his hands inside his mouth. The girl leaned back. He pulled red and blue and green and three-hundred other colored scarves from an endless chain of scarves inside his throat.
Shortly after, they were married, I was born, and then my mother slowly never left the house.
My Real Father
My father has tried to leave the neighborhood. He has tried it different ways.
He has hidden the sun so we couldn’t wake up. He has made each member of the neighborhood walk into his vanishing cabinet. As soon as the last one was gone, they started appearing again in different houses. It was all chalked up to a dream.
I have found him digging in the trash. He stands over the trashcan and digs out banana peels, unfinished cake, and apple cores. “Are you eating that?” he has said.
I have come to him needing emotional help before. But as he listened his whole body swayed and he had to support himself holding onto the counter.
“Are you a crazy person?” he said, and he started to laugh, but there was something off about his voice. “Because if you are,” he said. He swayed so much in his middle I thought he might slide apart. “It doesn’t matter.”
I went to him and turned him around. It was not my father, but a raccoon. A raccoon standing on the shoulders of three other raccoons, wearing my father’s clothing.
“I can’t tell you anything real,” he said. Then he collapsed and his empty clothes lay on the floor, abandoned by a fleeing pack of raccoons.
“There’s nothing real!” they said, as they ran up the couch and out the open window.
My Other Father
We all have a father who believes he is a leper and that he must dispose of himself in parts as soon and as quickly as possible.
My father caused the first snowstorm. He warned everyone that he would do it, but no one believed him. He sat outside by himself, watching for it to snow.
One morning, when I woke up chilled to the bone, I opened my drapes.
I saw my father outside. He rolled together a snowman. The neighborhood was covered, six inches of snow.
My father waved at the children from his mittens, while they watched them from behind their windows. It was never cold in our neighborhood. We did not have coats. We slipped out in bedsheets and blankets, or holding our dogs.
What have you made? we asked my father.
I have made snow.
My father waited with his arms open for all the children, but we never touched him. He was strange, my father.
At first the neighborhood fathers all had fun keeping beers cold in the snow, and the mothers stuck out their tongues as it fell. But then, when it did not melt, it became hard to get out and get food.
“I’m sorry.” My father said it every morning, as soon as he woke up.
There was no fixing my father’s mistakes. So we adjusted. Our neighbor’s set early alarms, came out and shoveled their driveways every morning. Some even still waved at my father. And my father, no matter how bad it got, waved at anyone he saw.
One night, I stayed up late and watched him go out into the snow. He held an old beer box under one arm and with his free hand rifled through it. The snow had already come down fresh and he was first leaving tracks in it.
He crossed the street and put his hand inside the box. From Laura’s maple he hung his class ring, blue and gold.
He continued down the sidewalk and stopped at Davy’s. He put his hand in the box and let an award for medical service rest in the snow on Davy’s mailbox.
House by house, he emptied the box. When the sun came out on the snow, his things glittered up and down the neighborhood.
Bob Selcrosse grew up with his mother, selling books, in the Pacific Northwest. He is now working on a book about a book. It is based in the Pacific Northwest. The book is The Cabinet of Children.