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Rory Perkins

THE LIES OF FATHERHOOD

The Garden of Wish Fulfillment by Arshile Gorky

My father left us for another woman. Mum says she’s too young for him. That he’s only with her for her blonde hair and big tits.

My father is not a shallow man. Before I came along, he fought in the war, mum tells me. He got holed up in a collapsed tunnel for five days and survived by eating worms and drinking his own piss. I wonder if that’s why I’m so good at being alone. Whether solitude is inherited and all I’ve done is replace worms with video games, urine with energy drinks.

My father didn’t used to be like this, she tells me. He used to work hard for a living and take her on long drives to the city. He used to be so brave and romantic.

You were just born different, my mother says. You haven’t had to fight for anything, that’s all. It’s not your fault.

I don’t tell her when dad shows up at the school gates and takes me to the beach. I don’t tell her that he’s not the man she remembers or that he is teaching me how to fish off the pier.

We don’t keep the fish we catch. As soon as they’re brought up he unhooks the barb and gently lowers them in a bucket down to the ocean because he has seen too much death, he says, and there is enough to go around.

At home mum asks where I’ve been. She’s in a panic because the fox has got in again. If your father was here he’d deal with it, she says. She expects me to kill it, but then I remember the look on my fathers face as the fish in his hands gasped for breath and I traipse upstairs.

One of the kids at school is trying to beat me up and I let him. In the headmaster’s office mum wants to know why I didn’t stand up for myself. She explains to the head that I’m not myself. That my father has left and that’s why I didn’t report the incident, why I’m not making more of a fuss.

Later dad takes me to the chemist and puts a plaster over the cut. He says I did the right thing and that the bully didn’t deserve my anger. I don’t want to go home and so we sit on the beach drinking cheap beer.

I want to know why he left but he doesn’t answer at first. Instead, he tells me that my mother is trying her best. They have had their differences, he says, but she is a good woman. She knows what’s right for me.

I didn’t realise it at first, but that was the first time I ever heard my father lie.

IF IT WASN’T TOO LATE

Do you, dear brother, ever wonder what it would have been like?— if Dad had never left, if Mum was trying her best like promised, if we had listened. What if we hadn’t turned away, hadn’t become unreachable. If my heart had known the definition of love my mind refused to accept and the doctors hadn’t gotten involved. If I had managed to say what I meant – about Dad, about the nights I watched the cars at the end of the road, waiting for the flash of his red Nissan Z – instead of what I felt. What if, after school, you hadn’t introduced me to Damon and Nick, and what if the mix of weed and molly didn’t work, didn’t let me forget the anger. What if Mum hadn’t caught me that night and I hadn’t pushed her away. What if the truth had been sharp enough and I hadn’t left her there in the kitchen for the ambulance to find. What if she had been a different mother, and not forgiven me before the wound had begun to heal. What if social services hadn’t tried to take me away and I hadn’t lashed out. What if, that last night before I was meant to leave, our mother hadn’t come into my room all tears and sincerity. What if she hadn’t told me that she forgave me, or that she understood. What if I hadn’t felt the wetness of her tears on my back as she hugged me and what if I hadn’t pushed her away again, too hard. What if the bookcase was a few inches to the left and the collision never came. What if I wasn’t sitting alone next to our mother’s grave and what if you still cared. What if it wasn’t too late.

About the writer:
Rory Perkins is a British writer focusing on shorter works. He has been published in Vast Literary Press, Eighteen-Seventy, CandleLit Mag, and Artam’s The Face Project (forthcoming).

Image: The Garden of Wish Fulfillment by Arshile Gorky (1904-1948). Unspecified medium on canvas. No size specified. 1944. By free license via Pedro Ribeiro Simões.

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