LDOC Issue 11.01
free art Monday, August 1, 2016
All I Heard Fiction by Liz Grear How to Hear Your Heartbeat Photographs by Lauren Zallo
I remember being very young the first time my father called my mother a bitch. A few hours before, they were giggling and sneaking out the door like teenagers. I had watched them from the stairs, their hands clasped together as if in prayer and their mouths curved into a smile. I was ten. Brandon was 13. Our parents were off to a bar. Karaoke, they said, and to me it sounded far away. It meant that Brandon was in charge and when Brandon was in charge all we did was play video games (Tomb Raider when it was my turn to pick, Madden when it was his). When it got late and we were afraid of them walking in to find us still awake past our bedtime, we would play with our wrestling figures instead and sometimes we would smash the tips of our fingers between their plastic bodies doing a pile driver or a DDT. We did this last because when our dad’s truck rumbled into the driveway and we heard the slam of both doors, reminding me of two, deep coughs, we would have the perfect amount of time to run into our own rooms to pretend we were deep in sleep. When they came home that night, our reflexes drove us into our rooms. I always pretended my carpet was made of quicksand and so from the doorway I would leap into my bed, rolling and wrapping myself in blankets in one motion, leaving the door open. I always left the door open. I thought that if I closed it they would somehow know I was hiding something. Sometimes I would wonder if Brandon pretended anything when he jumped into bed but he was 13 and probably too old to still pretend. The front door slammed open with a bang and I jumped a little. My mom was talking in hushed tones— sounds resembling a humming computer monitor.
“No!” my dad yelled. His voice must have had legs because it came right up the stairs and I cringed. My dad never said ‘no’ to my mom. My mom hissed something again. Something plopped on the dining room table that I assumed was her purse. I heard the back door slide open and our dog, Grover, prance outside like everything was normal. But I knew this wasn’t normal. My parents were never loud when they came home. “I said NO god damnit.” My dad’s voice sounded like a stranger’s, someone who didn’t belong in our home. What was he saying ‘no’ to? “You know what? You know what?” he was slurring, swallowing his tongue. “Take your dog with you. Yeah. This is my house. Get the hell out!” I heard a door slam. Was there a stranger in the house that my dad was telling to leave? I squeezed my blanket tightly and covered my face. I wanted to shut my door. I wished I was actually asleep. I wished I didn’t stay up so late playing with Brandon because this all seemed like some kind of punishment to me. I fought the urge to sneak into Brandon’s room just to lie on his floor because he would know what to do. He always did. I had never heard such tones exchanged between my parents before. I was sweating, crying tears that made no sound, and shaking all at once. My body couldn’t seem to decide how to react. Ten minutes later my dad is screaming at her the way he screams at the TV when his favorite team fumbles the ball. ‘Bitch’ gets tossed around like they’re having a catch. My mom’s voice never gets louder than a whisper. I imagine my dad standing over her-- the words escaping from his mouth smelling like stale alcohol and venom. I imagine him as someone else — someone wearing a costume bombarding our home and forcing my mom
to cower in the corner. I try to listen to my mom’s harsh whispers but they are being pushed down by the hands on my dad’s slurred words. I never hear anything she might have said. I don’t know if she cried. I look at my dad now and he is surrounded by people who love him. From the recliner I am sitting on in the ‘computer room’ that opens up from the kitchen, I can see him in the living room on his favorite chair. My uncles are on the couch. Brandon is on the floor spread out like a rug. Since his worsening health conditions, my dad has been prescribed many new medications that sound more like foreign countries than medicine. A few years ago his body started giving out like an old rusty car. Muscles always hurting, bones achy. He hasn’t been himself for a while now and the words ‘We just aren’t sure,’ coming from doctors were starting to become as natural as a yawn. I barely recognize him. I am at my aunt’s for Thanksgiving and I feel like it’s been so long since we’ve all been together in a place that isn’t a waiting room at a hospital. It is Thanksgiving but no one is talking about turkey or gravy or the things they are thankful for. I guess it’s hard to be thankful for anything lately. “He can’t have alcohol anymore,” my mom says. She is becoming unrecognizable in her own way. Wrinkles around her eyes like loose thread, strands of shiny spider web looking hair gleams in the light. She is rummaging through the silverware drawer. My Aunt Shelby, her sister, is sitting at the kitchen table folding napkins. I want to help her fold them because I am anxious but I don’t. I pretend to be reading my book on my chair. I pretend that I am minding my own business. “For how long?” Aunt Shelby asks, not looking up. Her knuckles seem sharp and white. “Forever.” “Oh geez. Why? Have they finally figured something out? Has drinking been the cause of everything?” Though she is asking this, I know she knows they have not figured out anything. I peer over my book and glance into the living room. The football game is on and everyone is talking and digging their hands into bowls full of chips and pretzels. Normally I would be in there with them but sitting by
my dad when he doesn’t seem like my dad is torture. A month ago when the doctors frowned at my father’s slumping face like he was late for a meeting, they hadn’t said a thing. His face was falling apart and no one could fix it. But it wasn’t just his face. If it was just his face he would have been able to deal with it the way my dad has dealt with everything else in his life. It was his insides, too, melting like a candle, stiffening sometimes, hardening other times. Some days he stayed in bed all day. Sometimes he almost seemed perfectly normal. Right now his shoulders remind me of pipes because they are so thin and still. From here I can’t tell what kind of day he is having. He is not yelling at the TV with everyone else. Yesterday his face was the color of an old potato. At least today when I saw him folding laundry in the basement he had color on his cheeks. “Nope. Nothing. They haven’t figured out anything new, really. It’s just,” my mom’s voice brings me back to the kitchen and she is facing her older sister for the first time. She is clenching handfuls of silverware in each hand. I can imagine a time when my mother was beautiful. When her clenched fists made men drop what they were doing to soften her. To make sure she was happy. I picture my mom wearing high waisted jean shorts, a flannel shirt tied in a knot at the belly button and her head tilted back in a laugh, her red hair shining. I picture her like this because it is my favorite photo of her from when she was my age. My dad had taken it with their new camera and I try to imagine him behind it. I try to imagine him young and healthy and happy but I can’t and this might upset me even more than the fact that he is unhealthy right now. “It’s just too much. I can’t keep doing it.” She sits down next to Aunt Shelby. Aunt Shelby stops moving her hands for the first time and I decide that if my mother begins to cry that I will go upstairs. “Well then why can’t he drink?” Aunt Shelby asks, placing a hand on my mom’s shoulder. “Because there’s something wrong with his pancreas now too. Just another thing to add to the list.” And the way she says this makes her sound annoyed. Her voice gets like this every now and then, and it’s like she thinks he’s purposely falling apart to make her suffer.
When she starts sounding like this I want to get up and yell at her and tell her that this is why I’m never around anymore. “His pancreas?” Aunt Shelby asks surprised. “Yeah. He was kinda bummed. No more drinking at family parties or anything. Including today,” my mom says and for some reason I’m glad. I think back to that night, when I lay in bed listening to my father call my mother a bitch, the way he became a completely different person. He’s a different person now, too, I guess. But sometimes when my dad drank and he told a story or a joke in a booming voice, I would remember that one time he became someone brand new. Someone angry and violent. A few years after that night, as we were coming home from a family vacation to New Mexico, my dad said, “We gotta make a pit stop before we get home.” Brandon and I were in the backseat of his truck. My mom was sleeping in the passenger seat, head tilted toward the window. The pit stop was the liquor store and when he ran in, Brandon leaned over to me. “You know dad is an alcoholic, right?”
Brandon said, voice lowered so he wouldn’t wake our mom. The shadows masked his face and it made him unrecognizable. “No he isn’t,” I said defensively. “Then why are we getting beer before we even get home and unpack. We’ve been cramped in this car for, like, 12 hours. Is it that important?” He seemed proud of himself and it bothered me like an unreachable itch. We were in middle school then. And by the time I started high school I’d seen my fair share of my parents drinking. But never excessively. At least not to my knowledge. I think a part of that conversation with Brandon stayed with me like a note folded into my back pocket. So right now, as my mom slumps at the unprepared kitchen table talking about how my dad will never be able to drink again, I am kind of relieved. Almost happy. And then I wonder if my mom remembers when he called her a bitch and I wonder if she’s secretly happy too. “All I Heard” continues in our next issue, out August 15th.
Liz Grear is a recent graduate from Columbia College Chicago where she received her MFA in Creative Writing. Her work has been published at Word Riot, Every Day Fiction, and in Printers Row. Lizâ€™s goal is to publish her novel and to start her own writing program in prison. lizgrear.virb.com Lauren Zallo earned her BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts. She is currently working and living in Chicago, IL. laurenzallo.com LDOC is a free photography and creative writing publication featuring a new local artist and writer each month, creating an installment-based experience for the Chicago commuter. Find LDOC in red newspaper boxes at the following Red Line stops: Belmont, Sox-35th, and 69th. LDOC is also distributed by volunteers at the downtown Red Line Lake stops every first and third Monday evening of the month.
LDOC is currently fully funded by the 2015 Crusade Engagement Grant from Crusade for Art. www.crusadeforart.org
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LDOC Issue 11.01 / Artist - Lauren Zallo, "How to Hear Your Heartbeat" / Writer - Liz Grear, "All I Heard"