I wear my father so he shows.
I wear him like a crime scene, a Christmas sweater. A dead skin, scored and perforated. I wear him (only) at high tide, wary of mucking in the shallows. I wear him like a felled tree: a used sports section: a tired mug. Like the striped thrift store shirt (too big) I wore too long (believer).
I am the carpetbagger in the basement; an unschooled kid with a rug-burned eye, a soiled face. I stayed until I could read the score in the ink on my fingers. (The dog crawled into my lap and died. I've never been clearer on what a being wanted.)
My phantom sister treats me to tea she pours from her handless arm. Her skin smooth where it burned. We have dinner on Tuesdays: she roasts meat and root vegetables. We sit close at her too-small table and disagree about the past. Rutabaga. Parsnips.
My phantom sister fixes flat tires free of charge. She smells of rubber, glue, and ash. Lives with a set of identical twins who don't get along. This doesn't trouble her. "They've never gotten along," she says.
My phantom sister carries a canned ham in a cloth bag. She says the only scene worth believing in is one that's impossible to understand. She says: sometimes the waves knock you over. (What then? Get back up: walk wet.)
My father sits in a recliner in the corner. Wallpapered-over. Mummified. His presence delicate: if bumped, it could crumble uncontained. I hover with a flashlight, tired of this teasing husk. My shirt, shorts, shoes drip water. The flashlight too big. Its beam bounces—off musty flocking, rug remnants, exposed pipe. For half a second, I steady it:
The cellar abounds with beets (luminous, magnificent) that no one—not even my sister—will claim. We walk, hand in handless. The ham in the bag bangs against her leg. Slosh. Accept the weight of wet. The way you feel—adjust for—a limb no longer there.
Ron MacLean is author of Headlong and Blue Winnetka Skies (novels), and Why the Long Face? (stories). His fiction has appeared in GQ, Narrative, Fiction International, Best Online Fiction 2010, and elsewhere. He is a recipient of the Frederick Exley Award for Short Fiction and a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee. He holds a Doctor of Arts from the University at Albany, SUNY, and teaches at Grub Street in Boston.