Papa

This is a story I submitted to The Molotov Cocktail’s 2019 Flash Monster contest, which was unsuccessful. It’s based on a nightmare I used to have as a kid.

Papa had the kind of booming voice that made the floorboards cower.

When he thought he was right — which happened to be all the time — his righteous indignation was a bowl of simmering chili. No cool breath could halt his blisterings.

Small things, the tiniest things. That the blanket was supposed to go horizontally over the back of the couch, not crumpled like a used sock on the cushion. And that day’s mail was to be stacked by the rotary phone. Neat and orderly, not an envelope flap out of place.

Mama sometimes shrunk from it, sometimes even rose in the face of it.

I felt little. Like one of the nameless suitcase-carrying people scurrying around as Godzilla and Mothra collided.

Mothra was just trying to protect her egg, but mama couldn’t do that. With each new bellow, each new petty block upon petty block, I turned inward.

One day after school, I came home in my usual leap up the stairs to get into my room as fast as possible when I heard papa.

“Son.”

But son was enunciated as if in a dying breath, one last gasp, unlike papa’s baritone. Unlike the usual disappointment that curled around the baritone.

Papa also was usually asleep on the downstairs couch, resting off his third-shift trucking job, with head to concrete couch pillow, and the TV blaring some rerun he’d fallen asleep to.

“Son.”

I stopped because I couldn’t ignore papa, and peaked my head inside the master bedroom.

It was papa alright. His auburn hair, like burnt fall leaves raked onto a slab of concrete heaved onto shoulders. Blue eyes that maybe, at some point, were warm and cozy.

He was down on all fours on the other side of the bed, like he’d lost the remote underneath, and was searching.

“Son,” he said again. “That’s not me.”

When Godzilla gets knocked down in a movie, it takes a second to register it, that something like that could happen. As I stood in the doorway, backpack still slouched over both shoulders, his statement wrapped around me like an inside out shirt.

“That’s not me down there,” he repeated.

For the first time I in my life, I stopped listening to papa, and backed away from the master bedroom. I took the stairs, this time as if each floorboard under-girding the steps was laced with dynamite, and headed to the living room.

Sure enough, papa was there, in his usual position, head to concrete, and *The Lucy Show* on rerun. And snored as loud as he talked.

I’d been up late reading the trade comics mama snaked to me. That had to be it.

Then I heard it again, somehow that near-death whisper found its way above the snoring,

“Son.”

I went back upstairs, and there was papa, on all fours, as if still searching for that damn remote. Papa would redden my backside with his cowboy buckle belt if he knew I said damn. Even in my thoughts.

“Help me, son. He’s not the real one. I am.”

“Son.” That was the baritone version. Papa, the downstairs one, was up. His nap could not have made it to the mop of her hair closing credits yet. Not good.

At the bottom of the stairs, there he was. Burnt leaves atop his head on a slab of concrete, and blue eyes. His hands were behind his back, as if disappointed. Always the leering stares of disappointment.

And when he came up the stairs, each stick of dynamite exploded, but I couldn’t move. In the corner of my eye, I still saw papa on all fours, the damn remote out of reach.

From behind his back, papa’s kielbasa-like fingers produced a butcher knife.

I don’t remember if I screamed or if the glint of the knife swallowed the scream for more power, but I fell back against the hallway wall, my backpack cushioning me. Papa ignored me, and strolled into the master bedroom full of blistering, simmering rage.

The near-death voice of the other papa begged and pleaded with papa to spare him, to let him come back.

Baritone papa said nothing, and then everything with the knife, as I heard the plunge into the other’s back. Like when mamma gets frustrated cutting the watermelon for papa and jams the knife into it and screams, “You do it then,” with immediate regret.

Again, and again. And again.

Then papa came back to the doorway, dragging the other papa by the feet, and other papa’s kielbasa fingers were already going white.

He took other papa down the stairs. When he reached the bottom, he looked back up at me. His lips formed a perfect pursed point, as if a viper was waiting to launch from his tonsils.

“Not a word to mama,” he said.

He left other papa there for a moment, and then returned with a garbage bag. He folded papa into it, heaved the bag over his head, and went out the front door.

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