Contest #25 shortlist ⭐️



The year was 1989. I was born to an optimistic mother and a pessimistic father. It was my father who kept things in balance but I guess it wouldn’t be fair if I said that my mother didn’t do the same. 

My father. What can I say about my father. Not much to say. 

It was 2014, in January, the beginning of a new year. I was 25 years old and had just come out of addiction. I’d relapsed a few times, probably more than that, probably too many times to count. My mother had already passed years earlier, so it was my father who always took me back in. For what reason, I could not say. 

One morning, I asked him. I asked him why he took me back in after so many of my relapses. He told me that just before mom died, she told him to make a promise: to take care of me, no matter what. He kept that promise. 

It was my New Year’s resolution to connect with dad more, to get to know him. I didn’t know who he was.

Later that month, I went into the family room and he was on his computer playing poker. The football game was on. I tried to start a conversation about the team and asked him how the wildcard works in football. He gave a brief explanation but didn’t say much else. I never knew what he liked to talk about. It was silent. He changed the channel. A fishing channel. I asked him about how pro fishing works and his face lit up, eyebrows creasing his forehead as he spoke in theatrical tones. I’d never seen him talk this much. It was nice. 

In February, I was hammering nails into slabs of wood. He asked me what I was doing. I said I was making a box for my paint supplies. A few days later, I heard the saw buzzing in the backyard. It went like that all week. I haven’t seen him touch the saw since that time I was a cub scout, when he made me a derby car that won first place. Eventually the buzzing died down. A box sat just before the door to my bedroom. It was smooth as butter—wood-stained, varnished, the whole nine yards. I saw him back on the couch, on his laptop, watching TV. I asked him where he got the box from. He told me he made it. I thanked him. He didn’t say anything. 

Later that month, he told me he was going to Vegas again with his friend, Eddy. He went to Vegas every now and then ever since mom passed. It was good for him to get out once in a while. Mom would have liked that. While he was in Vegas, I texted him to ask how things were down there. He texted me photos of what he and Eddy ate for dinner. He loved food. All kinds of it. He was drawn toward anything with the most bang for his buck but he occasionally treated himself when he was in Vegas to a nice dinner. Mom would have liked that. He sent me a photo of a steak at a modest restaurant. He was hardly a texter. He was hardly a talker. If he did text, they were monosyllabic words like “yes” and “no” and on rare occasions, things like “want to see a movie” without question marks or punctuation. I didn’t mind since I was hardly a texter myself. After a few days, he came back. Back to the couch, back to his laptop, watching TV. 

In March, he was going through a stack of boxes while the TV was on. These boxes were full of mom’s old stuff. Her sentimental stuff was placed to the side while files with numbers were scattered all across the floor. When I asked him what he was looking for, he said he was shredding some of mom’s old papers. He did random things at random times. I wondered why the sliding door hadn’t been fixed or the faulty doorknob hadn’t been replaced or why the ice machine hadn’t made ice for years; but his philosophy was: if you can still use it, don’t fix it. I wondered this because of all the things he could do, he chose to shred mom’s old papers. But the point was, he was active. Mom would have liked that. 

Later that month, I found a picture in front of my door. He must have found it in mom’s old stuff. Anytime he found something he thought I should have, he left it in front of my bedroom door. The picture was of mom and I riding a roller coaster at Legoland when I was about 11; our hands in the air, trusting there was nothing to hold on to but each other. We were happy. I miss those times—the times when we were kids and the world was wonderful, innocent and warm—just before we see the world as it truly is. That’s probably why I got hooked. The best moment for an addict is the moment before the hit. Maybe that’s all I wanted to feel, the world as a child again just before the hit. I put the picture on my window sill as a reminder of how ephemeral life is once the sun dries it up. 

In April, I heard the saw going again. It was going all month. Dad had been working on a new project. He told me he found Mr. Big’s moss and the heat lamp that we used to keep Mr. Big’s terrarium warm. Mr. Big was my white’s tree frog when I was a kid. I remember falling in love with that frog the first time I held him in my hands, his slimy feet wetting my dry palms and the gentle spring from his legs as he leaped. At that point, he was no longer a frog to me, he was Mr. Big. So full of life yet to be lived, so chipper; his big eyes, Shar Pei skin that hung over his limbs and the slight curl at the corners of his mouth that made it look like he was smiling forever. Dad would help me feed Mr. Big, clean his terrarium, wash the moss, wipe the glass; we were happy. I took Mr. Big out and played with him often. But then I grew up. Dad stopped asking me to help him clean the terrarium. I would watch Dad in the backyard every now and then from my window, watching him wash the moss, by himself, and wipe the glass. Years went by. I didn’t play with Mr. Big anymore. I only fed him crickets. Sometimes I forgot to feed him. He tried to escape multiple times out of the top. Mr. Big got skinnier, slower, blinder. Sometimes Dad and I both forgot to clean the terrarium. Excrement and discharge would build up where he slept under the log. He ate less and less. When he did eat, he leapt into the glass wall because he could barely see out of his big eyes, they’d grown foggy and tired. Mr. Big came out of his log less frequently. And then one week, after eight years, he stopped coming out. I found him not breathing, limp, lifeless, under his log, surrounded by excrement. That was the last image I had of Mr. Big. He deserved better. We buried him in the backyard.

Later that month, I saw Dad in the kitchen. He was spraying water on herbs and flowers inside of a nicely made wooden box. The box looked like a copy of the box he’d recently made for my art supplies. He told me he found a use for the moss but he was going to donate the heat lamp. I said okay. He didn’t say anything.

In May, I was eating a peanut butter and banana sandwich one morning. Dad handed me the newspaper and pointed to a page. He told me there was a new gallery opening in the mall. I thanked him. I scanned the newspaper for short stories but didn’t find any. I guess they didn’t do that anymore. The newspaper used to have short stories. Dad would read one to me before bed when I was really little. And then he would roll me around and we would listen to the water swish in my stomach. We would laugh so hard. He would tuck me tight in my blanket until I was a mummy. The smell of newspaper reminds me of that. That and of Dad’s hands; the lingering smell of fish after we’d go fishing and roll fish in newspaper pages. 

Later that month, I went to a bookstore and came across a book. The book was called “Dad, Tell Me A Story.” It was a self-exploration book with writing prompts for the reader (Dad) to write about their earliest memories, favorite memories, family history, and so on. Dad used to read a lot, but these days, with all the technology, he stopped reading. I thought these writing prompts might tell me more about him without making it feel like an interview. In the past months, I’ve tried asking him about certain memories, about family, about what he wanted to be when he was a kid. The most I’d gotten out of him was an honest, “I don’t know,” or a few words about that and that was that. I felt drawn to this book. Like it was the answer. 

It wasn’t the easiest to connect with him, or maybe I didn’t try hard enough, maybe I didn’t try at all. I felt a burning need to connect, especially after he retired. Movements slowed, activities were few. 

In June, he told me he was going on another trip to Vegas. He and Eddy wanted to try this new restaurant he’d seen on Food Network. Mom would have liked that. She always encouraged him to try new things. The restaurant served mainly diner food. They were eager to try the corned beef sandwiches and clam chowder. 

Later that month, I joined the new art gallery as a member. The same art gallery that Dad showed me in the newspaper. I had entered a juried art show and won an award. I didn’t tell him. I don’t know why. Dad’s Vegas trip approached. He packed his suitcase. I decided to give him the book. I held the book in my hands. 

“What’s this?” He grunted. 

“It’s for you.” 

“Something for me to read?” 


I made it my goal to get Dad to write a memory. One memory that would explain his entire life to me. That’s all I needed. And maybe then would I overcome my anxiety, my addictions, my fears of being in the presence of people, fears of not making a connection, my crippling fear of hating what he’s become—hating what I’ve become. I believed he was the root of it all. How easy it is to blame our parents.

A few days later, he passed. That was that.

August came around. It was Dad’s birthday this month. I hadn’t touched any of his things in the house in the previous weeks. It was too soon. But today, I emptied his duffel bag. I found the book I gave him. I turned to the first page. The writing prompt read: “Share your favorite memory.” An old photo was taped to the page. It was of Dad and I, sitting in his big rig UPS truck. I was about four years-old at the time. I sat on Dad’s lap and held the steering wheel. It was a good time to be alive. I was happy.

I remember the last time I saw him; his back to the door, carrying his duffel bag, as he walked away to Eddy’s car. I remember the way he walked, his short, stocky-frame, buzzed hair, New Balance dad shoes, and the way his shirt and shorts draped over his body—the way he emptied his world in silence to make just enough room for those he loved. I miss his smile. I miss the buzzing of the saw in the backyard. I miss the background noise of the TV. I miss the food photos he’d text me. I miss the clean smell of saltwater and fish on his sweatshirt. I miss the pots and pans clinking and the knives being sharpened before he cooked a meal. The rooms are quiet now. 

I miss being a kid.

January 17, 2020 23:37

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Brianna Kenzie
23:06 Jan 29, 2020

Your story is well written and easy to relate to. I liked the character's resolve to get to know her father. Family can be complicated and yet simple in at the same time. Her father was a man of few words but his actions spoke volumes. Thanks for sharing the story.


Zach Young
02:16 Jan 30, 2020

Thank you!


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