E.G. Silverman: an Excerpt from Be My Own Father


Hillsview Teenager Dies in Wreck – Possible Suicide Say Authorities

Harry Corsen, 18, of Hillsview died today near Layton when the car he was driving left the road and slammed into a tree. He was pronounced dead at the scene, of massive head injuries and internal bleeding. The car had been traveling at a high rate of speed and apparently went out of control….

My dad. My hero.

I’m a lucky one all right. Not like other sons. Not burdened with fathers who are doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, firemen, automobile salesmen, farmers, factory workers, rocket scientists, ditch diggers, ball players, rapists, or serial killers. Not me. My father is a newspaper article. And a not very good one at that. The Hillsview Herald. Page 3. Didn’t even make the front page. Couldn’t push Courthouse Renovation Debated by Council out of the way.

And what does your daddy do, the other kids used to ask me. At first I said he was dead. What did he die from they’d ask, little kids not knowing any better than to be honest in their inquiries. Then I was stuck. What did Daddy die from, I asked my mother. He was killed in a car accident, she told me. So I told the kids who asked me, he was killed in a car accident. A car accident? a kid asked. What kind of car accident? Was he driving? What happened? Kids love a good wreck. Who doesn’t? So I asked my mother, what kind of car accident? Was he driving? Eat your spaghetti, she said. But now my curiosity was up, so I kept nagging at her until she said, okay, yes, he was driving. What happened? I asked. How was there an accident? Are you done with that? she said. There’s still noodles. You want more sauce on them? Tell me, I insisted. Daddy’s car went out of control, she said. It hit a tree. What’s out of control, I asked. Out of control means the car goes where you don’t want it to, she said. Why does it do that? Sometimes bad things happen. Why? They just do. Were you in the car when it decided to go out of control? It didn’t decide. Cars don’t decide things. Then who does? Nobody does. If nobody does, then why does it happen? Are you done with that now? Here, wipe your face. You’ve got sauce all over your face. She wiped my face with a wet washcloth, cold and rough. She rubbed it harder than she had to and I pushed her away. Were you? No honey, I wasn’t in the car. Why? Why weren’t you? I don’t know honey. Sometimes I wish I had been. Me too. I wish I’d been there too. I’d like to see what out of control is like.

My mother slapped me across the face. I didn’t understand. I always made a mess when I ate spaghetti, so it must have been because of my father going out of control. She slapped me because my father was dead.

Don’t ever say that, she said, wiping my face again with the wet washcloth, scrubbing me raw, so I couldn’t tell what hurt anymore, the slap or the washcloth. Hurry up now. Go play for a few minutes and then it will be time for your bath.

Was Daddy nice? I asked her.

Please Harry, go play now. I have to clean up in here.

But then in no time, I had another father. A brand spanking new father, as new as the toys Santa brought at Christmas, as new as the white, rubbery smelling sneakers I got when my old ones were too small, as new as the real house we moved into at the same time as I got a new father.

First, he was Ted and he was real nice and we went on picnics and he brought me candy and he was always trying to wrestle with my mommy. Then he gave us the house and lived with us and said I should call him Daddy. He told me stories that sounded like the kids at school who bragged too much and he acted like a bully and told me what I should do and I could see he was the same way with my mom and she let him. I wanted to tell her that the best way to deal with a bully is what Doc Walden, the pharmacist my mom worked for before Ted told her she had to quit, taught me. When the bully is walking along with you, his arm draped over your shoulder, his face getting into yours and he starts to tease you and tell you what to do and call you names, all you have to do is plow your elbow into his gut, Doc Walden said one afternoon in the back of his store. Here, I’ll show you. I’ll be the bully and I’ll put my arm around your shoulder like this here, and now you take that hand, go ahead make it into a fist, yeah that’s good and then go ahead, here let me show you, first forward, then back, elbow right into my gut, yeah there you go, you got it. Now, what I want you to do is practice. When you’re alone, practice doing that, the motion there with first forward and then back, until you get the feel of it, imagine as you’re doing it the feel of your elbow plowing into the blowhard’s gut and…what’s that? What’s a blowhard? Well I’ll tell you Harry, my boy, when you plow that elbow into his gut, you’re gonna hear what a blowhard is. You’re gonna hear him blow hard. He’s gonna double over and suck air, and then you turn around and tell that fool that in the future you would appreciate it if he would keep his fat hands to himself.

When I saw Ted hanging over my mommy, grappling at her and his arm around her shoulder, I wanted to tell her how to elbow that blowhard in the gut so he’d leave her alone. I wanted him to go away so things could be the way they were before he showed up except that it would be okay if we could keep the house. It was a good house with a swing set and in the fall there were lots of leaves to play in.

Then Ted did go away. We went to a funeral, and my mommy and Doc Walden and I went there to see him go away, and then he was gone and we still had the house, like I had wished for, and I saw his picture in the newspaper, although I don’t think I was supposed to. We had a party at the house for sending him away. Lots of people I’d never seen before came. They brought food and seemed to have a good time.

Did Ted’s car go out of control, I asked my mommy. Yes Harry, she said, but I could tell she didn’t like my question. Did he hit a tree too? I asked. Yes Harry, he did. Is that what happens when you go out of control? You hit a tree? Harry, don’t you think you’ve had enough of those cookies, sweetie? Why don’t you go change into your snowpants and go outside and play for a while? Is it Mom? How come you’re never in the car when they go out of control and hit a tree? Come on Harry, it’s too nice a day to be inside. Why don’t you go build a snowman in the front yard? I’ll get a carrot for the nose. Are you gonna come help? No Harry, we’ve got company right now. Are these Ted’s friends? Yes Harry. Friends and relatives and ours too.

As I got older and people asked me about my father, I found that saying he was dead invariably led to the follow-up question of what he had died of and that invariably led to my answer that he was killed in a car accident and that invariably led to questions about the accident. Whenever I asked my mother for the details of the accident, she seemed ashamed. When I asked her about the details of Ted’s accident, she seemed equally ashamed and reluctant to discuss it. I therefore concluded that there was something dishonorable about having a father who had been killed in a car accident, and having had two of them was worse.

Clearly I needed a better story. I started when I was eight. My father is dead. He was murdered. My father is dead. He died of a heart attack. Shoveling snow, playing tennis, watching TV. My father is dead. He was struck by lightning, bit by a snake, hit by a train. But there was the issue of details. Too many details needed. Too hard to come by. Too complicated. Too hard to remember.

By the time I was nine, I decided it was better if he wasn’t dead. I tried a different approach. He’s away on a trip. He’s in the army and he’s overseas. He’s in the navy and he’s on a ship. He’s an airplane pilot and he’s flying to Europe. He works on the Space Shuttle and lives in Florida. He designs racecars and he’s away at races.

I learned about divorce and tried that for a while. But the kids I knew whose parents were divorced still saw their father, so in the end this didn’t help much.

Then I hit on the answer. I must have been twelve, maybe thirteen. Kids didn’t ask much anymore, but whenever the question came up, I simply told the inquirer that it was none of his fucking business. If he persisted in asking about my father, I responded by making a few choice comments concerning the sexual proclivities of his mother. A fight would ensue. I usually won. Occasionally I lost. Often I was bloodied. Often I was in trouble at school.

The principal was a kind, tall man with a long face and old-fashioned glasses, stooped posture, and a mild voice. Mr. Petkansas had been principal forever, and I’d known him since I was little and helped in Doc Walden’s store. Mr. Petkansas would come in for his prescriptions and he’d buy me a pretzel.

The first time I was sent to his office for fighting, Mr. Petkansas sat me down, pulled up a chair, and studied me for a long time before he spoke.

“I’m disappointed in you Harry. I didn’t expect this sort of behavior from you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Now Harry, who started the fight?”

“I started the fight.”

Mr. Petkansas removed his glasses, held them up to the fluorescent light, wiped them on his narrow striped tie, held them up to the light again, wiped them some more, checked them again, and returned them to his face. Then, just as slowly, just as methodically, he said, “Harry Bradsten, would you mind explaining to me exactly why it is that you have decided to engage yourself in fisticuffs?”

“He said bad things about my father.”

Mr. Petkansas sat studying me for a while, thinking this over. He got up, walked around the room, pulled a book off a shelf, read something, returned it to its spot, and sat next to me again.

“Harry, as you go through life, there are going to be a plentitude of occasions when people, for various reasons or for no reason at all, choose to make unsavory, disrespectful, colorful, derogatory comments on all sorts of subjects, including from time to time, unfortunately, those we hold dear, specifically, I’m sad to say, our family members, alive and deceased, the very people we cherish the most. It is at such times that our patiences are tried to the extreme. It is precisely when faced with such adversity that the true mettle of a man is tested. And you, Harry, I am sorry to say, have failed that test today. But that is not what we are here to discuss. What we are here to discuss are your plans for future courses of action. What I would like to hear from you, Harry, is what exactly you plan to do the next time you are so tested. That is the issue we must address.”

My face hurt and my hand hurt. I listened to him and waited for him to finish.

“Mr. Petkansas,” I said. “Do you have a father?”

“I do,” he said.

“Then I reckon you wouldn’t understand.”

I got up and left and he let me.

I fought enough times until no one asked anymore. Until Lisa. She asked and I lied. She asked again and I lied again. She asked again and I told her what I knew and I cried and she cried with me. Then she took me to the library in Hillsview where we found the newspaper articles.

“Well now you know,” she said.

“I already knew,” I said.

The snow is coming down good now. Even the neat streets of Lisa’s development, streets with names like Hanover Lane, Wellington Place, and Northumberland Drive are thick white. The Camaro’s tires plunge virgin paths and leave their tread mark signature. As I turn right onto King’s Highway, I hit it too hard, fishtail out, and narrowly pull it back into line before another car goes past.

Close. It was close and my heart is pumping. I pull to the side of the road, get out, stand off into the little hillside beside the road, turn my face upwards, and let the snow fall on me.

Snow. Snow is falling from my father and he is calling me to him and it is the perfect excuse.

My stupid father had no excuse. The weather was fine. Not even rain. The newspaper article made a point of that. Investigators say that there was no apparent cause of the accident. Weather was not a contributing factor, they say. Based on the damage to the tree and the car, the deceased must have been traveling at a high rate of speed. According to police, there were no tread marks on the road surface. “Obviously the victim did not brake,” Chief of Police Oliver Sturke, said. “However, mechanical failure cannot be ruled out at this time and we are continuing to investigate.”

Old Ted did it in the snow. I read about that one too. He crashed in the snow, but he was drunk and had that woman with him and she made no secret of what he’d done to her. His was no suicide.

Harry Corsen killed himself. I say it out loud. See how it sounds. It sounds stupid in the night, outside, the snow falling, surrounded by beauty and snow-covered fields and alone. Hell, anything I said out loud would sound stupid. Lisa, I’m sorry, I say. It sounds equally stupid.

I get into the car and drive off, sliding back onto the road. I light up a cigarette.

Lisa hates it when I smoke. What kind of football star smokes, she says. A worthless, shitty one, I say. Stop it, she says and kisses me.

I was Harry Houssen. Ted’s son. He made me take his name. He said I was too young to care, but I did care. It was confusing to change names and when he did it, I wanted to know what else would change, whether I would have to change mothers too and I was afraid, but after a while I got used to it. Then as soon as he was gone, my mother said I should change back to Harry Bradsten. She said she was changing her name and it would be easiest if we both did it at the same time and I was happy to have the same name as her and it felt good to have my old name back.

The snowflakes are fat and white and they blow up past the windshield and over the roof of the car, falling slow and then swooping past like shooting stars. The wipers are on slow and they squeak and groan and leave a frozen crescent on the right side, the side where someone should be sitting, where someone should lean towards me and put her head on my shoulder.

At the library in Hillsview, Lisa printed out copies of the articles we found on the microfiche, and we drove back to Amton. We parked at the lake, read them again, and held each other. I’m sorry Harry, she said, so very sorry. Nothing to be sorry about, I said. It doesn’t matter. She hugged me. She smelled of gum and then I tasted her lipstick, felt her cheeks against mine. I’m going to be Harry Corsen, I said. She squeezed me tighter. Shush, she said. I’m going to change my name to Corsen. You’re being silly. Nothing silly about it. He’s my father. I should have his name. You already have his name, Harry. I want Corsen too. Then I will be him. You aren’t him. You’re you. I’ve been cheated of a father. Two fathers and still I have none. So I will be my own father. She had stopped hugging me and was holding me at arms’ length, her eyes blue and beautiful and her cheeks round and soft and her face perfect. I will make you a father, she said. Whatever your silly name is. She smiled and giggled at me. I love you, she said. I will love you as no father has ever been loved. I fucked her then. In the car. Her seat all the way back. I had to get out of the car, go around, take off my clothes, and get in her door. It was tight and awkward and there was no room for anything and when it was time for me to put on the rubber she said don’t worry about that. Her hand was on me and her left leg was up around the gear shift so I could see the brown mark like a little dove on the inside of her knee and she put me in her and I came inside her and she told me she loved me and I would be the most wonderful father in the world.

My name was Harry Corsen. That Monday I started using it at school. I went to Mr. Petkansas and told him to change it on my files and records and walked out of his office before he could refuse. I went to the courthouse and saw some old woman in the basement. She gave me the forms but said that because I was a minor my mother would have to sign the paperwork.

My mother was making dinner when I told her. She was peeling carrots at the sink. Why do you want to do that? she asked, still peeling away, her back to me. Her hair had grown long and she was wearing a sweater and jeans and from the back she could have been Lisa. He was my father, wasn’t he? I said. She turned around. Harry, why are you doing this? I could see the strain in her face and then I knew why I was doing it. I thought it was what you wanted, I said. She put down the peeler and the carrot on the counter. It seemed to take a great effort on her part, as though she was fighting to keep from flinging the peeler and the carrot at me. Harry, wherever did you come up with such an idea? It’s what you want, I said, isn’t it? You want me to be him, don’t you? Isn’t that why you named me Harry? So I could be him? Dinner will be in half an hour, she said, and she went back to peeling carrots.

At dinner I asked again. All you have to do is to sign the forms, I said. I’ll do the rest. Why do you want to do this? she said. Because he is my father, I said. I am your mother, she said. Bradsten is my name. But you want me to be him. I want you to be you. Then why did you name me Harry? Because I loved him. Then why stop there? Why not go all the way? Bradsten is my name. Because you did not marry him. Her face went pale and I saw that I had hurt her and it made me feel mean, made me feel like when I hit a defensive lineman and flattened him on his ass. He died, she said, and her eyes were far away as though she could see him. I’ll bet he wasn’t even my father, I said, getting up from the table. That’s why you don’t want to hear his name. She looked at me funny, as though she’d never seen me, as though she wondered where I came from. I named you Harry, she said. Good. Then I will name me Corsen. Your name is Bradsten. Sign the forms. Harry, why are you doing this?

I asked Lisa if her father would help me. Harry, why are you doing this? she said. You sound like my mother. Perhaps she is right. The hell with you too then. But she didn’t let me go. She kissed and hugged me. Lisa knew how to do that.

Lisa, I said another time, I need a lawyer to help me. Ask your father for the name of a good lawyer. You can do that much at least can’t you? Harry, your mother loves you, she said. Why are you taking her side? I’m not taking her side. Yes you are. Harry, I love you. I love you as Harry Bradsten. Good, then learn to love me as Harry Corsen. Oh Harry. Her lips were soft and wet and I loved the way she tasted.

The first time I saw Lisa’s body I was surprised at how white her skin was. I don’t know what I expected, but there it was, not like the pictures in magazines or in my imagination, but pale and naked and somehow ashamed, although I know she wanted me to see her.

The snow now is white and pale in the headlights and in the lights in the yards of the farmhouses, but it is beautiful and placid and looks fully dressed and not at all self-conscious.

I am well out of town and cruising and the traffic is light and before long I end up at the entrance to Poerl Lake, so I drive in and park at the lot where Lisa and I found Doc Walden’s pickup the last time he drove it. I shut off the car, get out, and stand in the snow smoking a cigarette, watching the lazy flakes drift like confetti onto the white covered ice and I am completely alone. There is not a bird, not a track of a squirrel anywhere in sight and the only sounds are the wind and a creaking tree and my breathing. My cigarette glows in the night.

“I am Harry Corsen,” I say to the lake, but it does not hear me.

“Lisa, I am sorry,” I say.

I close my eyes, tilt my head up, and feel the snow, cold and wet, and hear the wind and the whiny tree.

I wish there were a way to do it without wrecking the Camaro. Seems like a shame to ruin it.

How fast could I sprint into a tree? Start at the top of the hill and close my eyes and run and run and run until I ran splat into something. But it wouldn’t work. I would not be running fast enough.

What if I walked out onto the ice? Walk out to where the canoe was that day with Doc Walden floating in peace, no longer caring, having escaped to wherever you escape to? But no. That would not be right, for I am Harry Corsen, and that is not how it is done.

There is no sky. Only thick darkness with snow falling from it, and I can barely see the lake, the frozen gray of night.

I wish I had a beer. It’s Christmas night. Nothing will be open.

My letter jacket isn’t enough for a night like this and I am cold, so I get back into the car.

I can see Lisa, naked except for my letter jacket, her arms crossed, smiling at me, her legs white, the sleeves down over her hands, her fingers in little balls.

What if you get pregnant? I asked her. Then you will have to marry me, she said, smiling, kissing me. I felt my breath go away. I hope I am, she said. I was wrong. I had thought my breath had gone away, but it must not have because now it did. I pried myself off of her, got out of the car, dressed, got in my side, and buttoned my shirt. She lay there, naked, her arms over her head and said, what’s the matter now? Nothing, I said. I wanted to hold her in the air and shake her until it came out. I was staring straight ahead, so she sighed, sat up, and put her clothes on.

That night I said to my mother, what did you do that made him kill himself? She was sitting in the spare bedroom she used as an office, grading papers at her desk. She put down the one she was reading and stared at me, her red pencil in her right hand. What are you talking about, she said. I was curious, I said. Harry, what is the matter? Is there something wrong at school? I laughed at her then, because she looked so pitiful sitting there lying to her only son. I was only curious, I said, because if you want me to be him then it would be helpful if I knew. That’s all.

There are a few boats lying facedown on the ground, a couple of rowboats and a canoe, chained to a spike in the ground. I nudge one of the aluminum rowboats with my foot, but it does not move. I see my footprint in the snow on the bottom of the boat, and already it is being obliterated with more snow. Next to it is the canoe. I watch my foot move back and forth, clearing the snow. The canoe is green and from the scratched bottom it looks old and it might be Doc Walden’s. I turn it over and look at the inside, at the seats. It might be his. I’m not sure. I pull against the chain, check the lock. I check them all. They’re all locked.

I walk down to the edge of the lake, leaving the canoe facing right-side-up. It will fill with snow and by spring it will be full of water. If it is his, he will not care, and if it is not his, I don’t care, although I wish it were his and it were not locked and I could get into it and slide it out onto the ice and see how far it would go. Doc used to take me ice fishing on this lake and he would be happy to go one more time.

The ice on the lake is only a thin crust. I test it with my foot and it breaks up into water. There is nowhere to walk. Not even to start.

I go back to the car wanting to know whether I was going to walk out on it or not, not sure which I want myself to believe. Even if I don’t know, I should try to convince myself one way or the other, but I can’t decide which is what I want and know it wouldn’t make any difference anyway.

The wind is blowing like crazy and it is snowing so hard I can barely see. My letter jacket is way overmatched. I get back into the car, start it, and turn the radio on. The heater takes a minute and then the car is warm.

Now there is an interesting question. Heater on or off? If I am serious about this, why would I care about comfort? I turn the heater off.

A commercial. A furniture sale tomorrow. I hit a button. Another commercial. Appliance sale tomorrow. Another button. The weather. I turn it off.

I wish I could talk to Harry Corsen. I would like to discuss it in great detail. Calmly. Man to man. Maybe over a beer. I wonder if he smoked dope.

I know nothing about him. Only what the newspaper articles said. And what my mother has told me, which is nothing and even that is lies.

My mother is a liar. She lies to her son.

I asked Lisa if her mother lies to her. Sitting right here, looking out at the moonlit lake, between kissing. She was waiting for me to fuck her. I knew from the way she breathed, the way her hands lay on my back with a certain lightness when she was waiting to lie back and let me fuck her and I asked her if her mother lied to her. About what? she said, stroking the back of my head. It doesn’t matter about what, I said. Does your mother lie to you? She started unbuttoning my shirt. She had become more assertive. She especially liked to unzip my jeans, to slide her hands down over my ass to ease them off of me. No, she said, when I wouldn’t kiss her, becoming exasperated because I wouldn’t stop talking and do what she wanted, my mother doesn’t lie to me. What kind of mother would lie to her children? My mother, I said. My mother lies to me. Oh Harry, she said. Come on now. Your mother doesn’t lie to you. What would make you say such a thing? She had my shirt unbuttoned. My mother lies to me, I said. I think it’s because she doesn’t know the truth. Lisa’s hands were on my zipper and I knew the conversation was over.

What kind of mother lies to her son? I’d like to ask Harry Corsen that question. I’d like to hear what he had to say for himself.

I’d like to ask Harry what she did to him that made him do it.

I’d like to ask Harry if his mother lied to him. I’ll bet not. What kind of mother would lie to her son? Not Mrs. Corsen, I’ll bet. Not my grandmother. Don’t talk that way about my grandmother, you asshole or we’ll have it out right here and now. Don’t think I won’t hit you just because you’re my father. That don’t mean shit to me. No sir.

I’m cold and I put the heater back on. No point in being uncomfortable. I’ll bet Doc Walden wasn’t uncomfortable drifting in the canoe. There were two fish in the canoe. Two bass. He’d had a good day. Caught two fish and died doing what he loved.

If I had a beer, I would drink it. No question about that. And I’d have liked to fuck Lisa one more time. Feel her kisses, wet and soft, and her body under me and her little hands on my back, her fingers clutching as I enter her, and listen to the sounds she makes and smell her neck and her hair.

The back window is covered with snow and the car is dark and I put the rear window defroster on and watch the lines of coil heat and melt the snow.

When I get done fucking her, I ought to punch her in the face. Punch her in the face for lying to me. Punch her in the face for the way she lay on her back and looked up at Mark, for the way she put her hands on his back, for the way she unbuckled his buckle, unzipped his pants, curled her fingers around him, kissed him wet and soft, moaned and panted and cried out for him the way she did for me. Punch her in the face for doing everything with him she ever did with me and thereby making it all a lie. I ought to beat the shit out of her.

And my mother. Another whore. A lying whore at that. Lying fucking trash. That’s right Harry Corsen I called her a whore. What you gonna do about it? Nothing. That’s what you’re gonna do, you worthless chickenshit. Run away. Wrap yourself around a tree. Show me the way Dad. Show me how to do it.

Shit, I wish I had a beer. A six-pack. That would help.

How about you Harry Corsen? Did you get loaded first? That’s the kind of detail I’d like to discuss.

What did you wear? Did you think about it? Did you plan it out? Think about what you were gonna wear? Consciously get dressed knowing it would the last time, knowing it would be what they found, ripped and blood-splattered, what they shredded off the busted-up remains of your worthless body at the hospital or morgue or wherever they do it? It didn’t say anything about it in the newspaper articles. Not a word about what you were wearing.

I asked her. Mom, I said one morning in the kitchen as I gulped down a glass of juice before heading off to school, before picking up Lisa, driving her in the Camaro, knowing I could kill us both in a second and if I killed us both instead of only me then I’d be sure to make the front page, although of course it would be the Amton Record, not the Hillsview Herald, and I’m not sure that has as much prestige. Mom, what was Dad wearing when he wrapped himself around a tree?

I don’t know Harry, she said, looking up from her coffee and newspaper, the very newspaper I could be on the front page of.

She was lying. Of course she knew what he was wearing. She was the last person who saw him alive. The last person he talked to. She knew exactly what he was wearing. She lied as naturally as drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. My mother the liar.

I’ll bet he wouldn’t lie to me. If I asked him what he was wearing, he’d tell me right out.

What did you say to him? I asked her. What did you say to him before he drove off?

Harry, it was an accident, she said.

She was a liar. A lousy, fucking, whore liar.

He’d tell me. Harry Corsen. Dad, what did she say to you? What did you say to her? It must have been a humdinger, I’ll bet. A righteous, Fourth of July, supernatural, bombastic, humdinger of a discussion the two of you had. Tell me all about it Dad, so I will understand.

Was it me? I’d ask him. I want to know, because if that was it, then we can be even.

I asked her. I rinsed out my orange juice glass, put it into the dishwasher, picked up my books, stopped at the kitchen door, and asked her. Tell me this much at least Mom, I said. Was it because of me? Was that it? You told him about me and he was so pleased that he drove into an oak tree? She got up and went to her room. She took her coffee with her. I can see the hatred in her eyes. She hated me and she took her coffee with her and left the newspaper spread open on the kitchen table.

He’d tell me. I’d crack open a cold one, hand it to him, and ask him what he said, what she said, what the last words were, how he decided, did he kiss her goodbye, did he smash her in the face first.

What were you thinking about when you did it? Have the radio on? What did it look like? How did it feel? Did it hurt?

But none of that matters and maybe I wouldn’t bother to ask him, especially not the things I can so easily find out for myself.

I’ve never seen a picture of him. She says I could be his twin but I know she is a liar, and it could well be one more thing she is lying about.

I wonder if he knew about the other one. I would tell him about it, but first I’d make him promise not to do it and then I’d have a father and I wouldn’t have to.

It’s Lisa’s fault. She’s the one who took me to Hillsview, took me to the library and together we looked up the newspaper articles. We asked the librarian. Oh yes, sure, we have the old newspaper articles, she said. On microfiche. Everything. We have everything on microfiche. Every newspaper article and not only that, since they renovated the courthouse in 85 and they temporarily stored the old records here and then they decided it worked pretty well and they made it permanent, we have the courthouse records too. On microfiche. Eventually, we’ll convert them to digital, I suppose, and have them on-line, but for now microfiche.

Come on, let’s go, Lisa said. You have what you came for.

But I wanted to look at the birth records. There they were. My mother—Bradsten. Virginia Elizabeth. Then mine. And then another one. Born a year before me. Last name: Bradsten. First: Baby. Mother: Virginia Elizabeth Bradsten. Father: Unknown.

I made a copy of it. Don’t, Lisa said. Harry, forget about it. What difference does it make? Harry, leave it alone.

My mother the liar.

I held on to the copy of it.

I changed my name to Corsen and kept the piece of paper and knew my mother was a liar and a whore and I hated her for it. I kept the copy of the birth certificate in my pocket so I’d always have one of her lies with me. My fathers are her lies. I am her lie. Now I had one in my pocket.

Then one day she told me she’d seen my grandfather. That’s what she called him. She told me she wanted me to get to know him. That we could be a family.

Maybe I should show him this, I said.

She took the paper from me and stared at it. She tore it up and wet the pieces and stuffed them down the garbage disposal and then I knew it was true.

What happened to the baby, I asked her.

We put him up for adoption.


I did. I put him up for adoption. I gave him to the nuns.

Why didn’t you put me up for adoption?

It was different.

Why was it different? What made it different?

Oh Harry, why are you asking me this?

Damn it, tell me.

Because I loved your father, that’s why.

Was he the father of the first one?

Harry, please.

Was he?

No Harry, he was not.

Who was?

Harry, please.

Who was the father?

She went to her room. I followed her.

Should I ask Mr. Corsen? My grandfather? I said, standing in the doorway to her room. It smelled different than the rest of the house—sweeter, richer, thicker.

She was folding laundry on her bed. Towels and sheets.

Harry, why is this so important?

Why won’t you tell me?

It was a boy. Some boy. No one you know. What difference does it make now?

Why isn’t his name on the birth certificate?

I didn’t want him embarrassed.

Did he know?

I don’t know.

My mother was lying. I was sure of it.

I would ask my dad if he knew. If he knew that his fucking whore girlfriend got herself knocked up before.

Who was my father? I asked her.

Harry, please.

Was it the other guy? The guy who was the other father?

Harry, what are you talking about?

Is that why he drove into an oak?

It was an accident.

You told him you were knocked up and it wasn’t his and he got in his car and wrapped himself around a tree.

She stood there with a towel in her hands. It was one of hers, pink with a white lacey fringe, and she held it in both hands and her face looked as if she was already dead, as if she’d been shot and knew she was dead, but hadn’t had time to get there yet.

She folded the towel and set it on top of the others already folded and stacked on the bed, another pink one and some gray ones that were mine. She walked calmly across the room, came right to me, and stood there looking at me for a moment as if she was trying to figure out who I was and then she slapped me across the face hard.

Don’t you ever talk to me like that again, she said, and she went back to the bed and folded a sheet.

That is it, isn’t it? I said.

Harry, I don’t know what has gotten into you lately. I don’t know where you are getting these ideas. But I’ve been talking to Mrs. Weltszer in the guidance office, and we both think it would be a good idea for you to talk to someone.

A shrink? Me? You think I’m the one who’s crazy?

Nobody said anything about crazy. Just someone to talk to. Someone who might be able to help.

She stood there folding laundry.

The defroster has the rear window clear and the wipers have the front clear and I back out and head out onto the snow-covered road. My tracks from when I came in are hardly visible in the headlights.

The snow is coming down in big fluffy flakes. Everything is white and serene—the road, the hills, the trees.

I am sorry Lisa, I say out loud as I get to the state route, turn right, and head towards Layton.

The road is white. There is no traffic. I am alone. The night is beautiful, and that is as it should be. The snow flickers in the headlights and then shoots up and over the car. The car’s engine hums. The wipers squeak. The heater blows. The road disappears before me into gray at the end of the headlights. I can see Lisa’s eyes looking up at me. At him. Lies. I will try to forget for as long as it takes and pretend it is not a lie and they are looking at me. Only me.


Read E. G.’s interview about Be My Own Father, his novel in progress.