Greg Gerke

Daddy was a man I knew in Twisp, Washington. We lived in a small yurt together. When I first arrived, Daddy stood on one side cuddling an industrial-size Elmer's glue bottle. I immediately detected half the yurt was empty and acquainted myself with my portion's dark dust. I didn't like to ask questions about situations—I had been slapped in my youth when inquiring why one woman's chest was bigger than another's. Shirtless with the Elmer's, Daddy wore pea green pants and a shrunken, faded red cap. All he said was, Don't ask me what day it is. I go by a different calendar.

Daddy spent mornings just outside the yurt. There was a small pile of 2x4s but this wasn't his concern. He sat zazen counting blades of grass and making notations in a thin notebook.

I kept inside, feeling for the mustache I had lopped off before the bus brought me to Twisp. In memos to senior officials, I described myself as uninhibited, with a twenty-eight inch waist.

Once a week an old man on a rusty bicycle would bring us food and I had to be ready to receive it. I did my nails and sometimes popped open a carmine lipstick I stole from a drug store. I thought I was getting high because I didn't get an erection. No one knows what happiness is. Don't trust men.

Daddy had some old fishing magazines and when I asked to see one he said to hold on and in about two hours he had drawn up an official looking paper. A receipt of borrowhood. There were instructions about the fate of the magazine should Daddy die before I returned it to his cardboard box.

The pages of this magazine were scissored up. All the photography of bass and sturgeon had been removed, leaving the fisherman holding oval-shaped blocks of text and unfathomable close-ups from the previous page's ads.

At sunset Daddy liked to whistle. High-pitched revival songs. We were two weeks together when Daddy opened up about his time in hell. He showed me the pitchfork marks on his thighs and back and murmured how any visit there built up your antioxidants.

I sat up from my chair. Do you smell that?

Daddy removed his trick nose and held it up, squeezing his face to make a slight honking sound. Then he put it back on and said, It's the filberts.

I thought filberts smelled more… nutty.

No those are the Filberts, the family Filbert. They walk around sometimes. The mother coats the kids in Vaseline. They think it keeps the killer bees away but I know better. The bees have asked me many questions over the years. I don't ever know what the fuck they are talking about. But I once had a father, an expert in petroleum jellies. So I told the bees all about the Vaseline. They weren't impressed.

The rain in Twisp sometimes hit me sideways like it originated about six feet above the earth, shot from a garden house. I often remembered my childhood on these off-kilter rainy days. The neighbor girl was my love. She had that brown hair I liked to chew. In the park by our house was a tree I named Jack. Nobody understood what Jack meant to me. I could die, that was no problem. But if something screwy happened to Jack… if he went before me....

When the neighbors and their girl moved I hid in the trunk of their car. They found me at the first gassing up and gave me graham crackers. My love pawed my face and I thought all would be well. My aversion to police started then. I've broken four of their noses since. I promised I would never love again. Daddy knew nothing of hell.

At the end of summer Daddy told me of his other father, the bigger one, or the one with the Swedish accent. There were so many you see. I often used the fishing magazine as a facial shield when he launched into these accounts. I thought if he saw me laughing he'd make a report. Evidently the bigger father showed Daddy how to breastfeed.

One day the old man on the rusty bicycle came up the trail with a basket of kohlrabi and a cantaloupe. His face was blistered, his hands ravaged to the bone. This is all, he said. They are coming. Maybe tonight. I'm going east. You should think similar. Wait. No. I am going west. You should think dissimilar.

Daddy didn't believe the old man. He never believed me either. He said I reminded him of tampons and that was bad.

We stuffed the cache of fishing magazines into the edges around the door and waited out the night. Soon, we heard what I thought were sheep. Daddy said it was the Filberts. They beat on the windows and as I went to let them in Daddy tackled me and poured some goopy fluid in my eyes. He told me mountains were rising all around us and fires had started but we would be saved. I'd heard that sweet music before.

I threatened Daddy with the cantaloupe but he wasn't having it. The sky turned green and the Filberts shrieked for mercy. Something was marching in—I could have called it madness but that would have been too kind.

I took to destroying Daddy but the cantaloupe was well ripe and on impact with Daddy's stony face it burst into hot-colored mush. He licked himself up and held a quivering thumb to my forehead. That's when I left Daddy.

I told the Filberts not to go in but they did.

At the edge of a high forest rain showers soaked me. I saw in triplet—I would not see right again. I threw off my sweater and rubbed Daddy away. They found me in the crook of a boulder. They said I was so innocent looking they didn't want to disturb me.

Greg Gerke is the author of There's Something Wrong with Sven.

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Detail of illustration on main page courtesy of Max Estes.

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