By Allyson Stack
I have come home to my blue room, colour of twilight and uncooked crabs, of veins seen through skin. My mother keeps it the way it was in high school: old clock radio, posters that sag from the walls, stacks of records… those ancient vinyl disks that pop and crackle between songs demanding that you flip and clean them. And there, in a tiny desk chair, sits my father. He has come upstairs after work, because that is what he does when I am home: he comes to my room to talk. But today my father is silent. Sitting in his black business suit, my father, a sad ink blot in this room like faded jeans. My father whom I have never seen cry.
I unpack. Folding my clothes into tidy piles, I feel his eyes at my back. Waiting. Willing me to explain. But I cannot. I cannot explain the scars on my sister’s wrists. Or the gray hollows beneath her eyes. Or the pink water in the bathroom where he found her collapsed against bleach-scrubbed tile.
I fold and I fold and I fold, until all my clothing sits at attention––shorts, socks, underwear tight as envelopes on my bed––my slender bed whose twin lies down the hall in another room. And then I start to cry. I cry because it is something he will understand––a child’s spilling of colorless tears. My father takes a handkerchief from his pocket and reminds me that my sister did not die. He pulls my head to his chest and pats my back. He tells me she will get better. That everything will be all right. But the tears do not stop. They fall to his suitcoat and turn the color of wet pavement. All I can feel are his arms. My father’s poor, tired arms, so small to my grown-up self––this woman’s body which is accustomed to the thick-muscled shoulders of far younger men. Men whose arms can smother and protect. Whose weight crushes down from above, driving the breath from my chest in a low moan. Men whose hips leave bruises on the insides of my thighs.
What can possibly be said? To my father who smells of starch and newsprint and commuter trains––my father whose once powerful arms swept two giggling girls off the ground, each one tucked in her own winged cradle as the earth blurred to a swirl beneath us… how can I explain that his smallness is what makes me weep?
Allyson Stack holds a BA from Yale, an MFA from Arizona State University, and a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where she is currently a Lecturer in English Literature. Her novel, Under the Heartless Blue, was published by FREIGHT last year. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband and their two children.