Reflections on My Parents’ Past

Kate Alexander-Kirk

Kate Alexander-Kirk

In September of 1973, my mother and father played a game of Hide and Seek. Despite their adult status they squeezed into unusual hiding places and tried not to giggle. After three rounds my mother slunk off to hide while my father counted. Bored of English, he sang instead in German, from ein to einhundert in his wavering vibrato. As dreißig was announced, my mother found her hiding space: the barren space beneath the guest bed. She spent ein und dreißig through to vierzig inching the bed from the grasp of the anaglypta-smothered wall. By neun und vierzig she was cocooned, having replaced the bed to its original position, through a series of vigorous shimmies.

Father, having paid little attention to the dynamics of the spare bedroom, had no idea that the bed possessed such a cavity. His imagination was limited. Without seeing it, he assumed the bed contained an ordinary sense of symmetry. Accompanied by his ignorance, Father searched the house  upside-down for three whole days. For weeks afterwards his hands would remain chapped before  sprouting leathery calluses. Eight and a half days of fruitless searching led to the conclusion that my mother had chosen to abandon her domestic role.

He was shattered. One moment he was standing, looking at the swaying elms outside the kitchen window. The next he was split in two halves. They fragmented as they hit the scuffed linoleum. For eleven hours he remained scattered, immobile. The sun retired; the moon came out to play. By morning, he had reformed—but was half his previous size.

Withered, my father wasted little time. Within three days he put the house on the market and arranged for a professional to clean and empty the building. “Irina the Cleaner” was a young Polish immigrant. Although unable to disguise her shock at my father’s deformed appearance, her eagerness shone from her eyes in blinding white rays. Father turned his head from her as he shook her hand and tried to remember where his sunglasses lived.

Irina squeaked when she discovered my mother. Eleven and a half days in her hiding place, stuck in the same position, without sustenance had left my mother rigid, gaunt. Her pursed lips had developed into an elongated duck’s bill. Her body now had the curves and iridescent scales of a sardine. My father, alerted by Irina’s caterwauling, deflated a little at this revelation. My mother shimmered as she was trawled from under the bed.

With an imaginary pipe poised between his lips, my father exhaled a long plume of violet smoke. He paced back and forth seventeen times before he placed his imaginary pipe on the invisible ashtray on my mother’s handmade coffee table. One final indigo-tinged cloud expelled from his lips, spiraled around his body, as he rested his hands on his hips. Without words, Father crouched down and slipped his hands under my mother’s oily body. A disgruntled quack exploded from her duck bill. My father braced himself. As he lifted, my mother’s body slithered out from his feeble grasp.

Irina remained stunned. At that moment, the household forgot her presence. As if struck by a sudden bolt of electric creativity, he cried “Huzzah!” In clipped English he instructed Irina to fetch the heavy-duty fishing net from the outhouse. As he made wild gestures my mother flopped and gasped on the floor. Minutes passed before Irina returned. She was offered no assistance as she struggled under the weight of the cargo-net but continued with determination.

Together they set the net across the spacious hallway as my mother sucked thirsty, damaging gulps of air. Father crouched, his knees in need of oiling; straightened the edges of the net to perfection. Irina’s concern ballooned, puffing her face as mother’s gasps ricocheted off every surface.

With his preparations completed, they dragged her helpless body onto the net. He clutched two corners and pulled full force. His groans created an unlikely cadence with mother’s sputtering. But the load was anchored. He tried again… After fourteen attempts and with scarlet welts scored deep into his skin, my father collapsed and crumpled into balls of discarded paper.

Overcome, Irina shrank into her mottled snail’s shell and nestled in the corner of the room. Every so often, curiosity poked her antennae out before darting back at any sign of intimidation. Irina’s feelers expanded as the heap of crumpled paper unfolded and took the shape of a great, hulking bull. Raised on his two hind legs, my father stamped his hoofed foot and grunted, steam pouring from his flared nostrils. His human-shaped, fur-matted hands gripped at the load in front of him. He strode outside carrying mother as if she were a heap of feathers. Outside he crossed our sprawling garden, at the edge of which rested an emerald lake.

For years afterwards my sister and I would make bubbles in the water to make our father smile when he came to visit. His horns and hooves, long since disappeared, yet his shrunken stature remained. During each visit he would sing rhymes in German, French and Portuguese. In summer he’d pluck blades of grass on which he’d play squeaky tunes while mother swam in circles and fluttered her fins.

14 Comments

  1. Surreality squared. The individual details seem nonsensical but they create a logical sequence of events. Each detail carries its own obscure meaning and is integral to the story, yet together they add up to something greater than the sum. I wish I could write something like this.

  2. Brilliant. Imaginative.

    I’m with A.J. I wish I could write something like this!

  3. What a vivid, surreal ride. I quite enjoyed it.

  4. Ingenious!

  5. Thank you so much, A.J. that’s really lovely of you and much appreciated! I trust that you could write something even more surreal but you’d also be able to accomplish that great poetic rhythm that you do so well. 🙂

  6. Thank you, Adam! You’re too kind! 🙂

  7. Thank you kindly, Mr Ramey. 🙂

  8. You’re a gem Maggie, thank you. 🙂

  9. Kate, I love this story dearly. It makes my heart simultaneously ache and turn cartwheels.

  10. oh, WOW! I’m so glad you posted this. Really cool stuff.

  11. Mark, you are far too kind – thank you! 🙂

  12. Aww, thank you VPW! 🙂 That means a lot! 🙂 Those ladies at Spry have good taste! 😉

  13. What a gift! Both you and your story.

  14. That is incredibly sweet. Thank you Andy.

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  1. 28 Things I Loved on the Internet in February (Resources for Writers, Creatives, and Dreamers) | DIY Writing - [...] Anne Belov told us about Spry Literary Journal’s “Reflections on My Parents’ Past”. [...]

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