John Dufresne


Situating the Parents

The distinguished literary scholar, an only child, brings his parents with him as he moves from university to university to university, sees to it they’re lodged in a comfortable home not far from his own. In this way, he gets cared for while creating, he imagines, the illusion that he is the solicitous one. He tells his new department chairman, “I like to be close to them, in case . . .” and he lifts his brow, leaving the understandable, the unpleasant, unsaid.

His mother dotes on him. Dad drops by with his thermos of coffee, his toolbox, and fiddles with fixtures and plumbing. The parents assure Sonny they don’t miss the Anderson Valley where they grew up, where they raised him, where they’ll be buried. You’ll bury me, he jokes. Don’t miss it at all. Family, they say, is everything. It was not until they’d left Tuscaloosa that they admitted they were never really happy those five years. We’re just not Southern people, dear. It’s over with. No harm done.

One evening, after her second glass of Merlot, the scholar’s wife tells him that he has arranged for his infantilization quite nicely. She says, You’re like some Catholic priest who never has to grow up, never has to earn respect or earn anything else for that matter. This is why she shouldn’t drink. He takes her glass. She reaches for it, and the wine spills on Sonny’s slacks. He apologizes for his mother. That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? He forgives his wife, but to say so, he knows, would be indecorous and could seem self-serving. He says, Mother was wrong to bring up Hannah during our dinner conversation. Hannah was wife #1. A feminist theorist. Wife #2 was, and still is, a poet of considerable merit. The scholar’s current wife, #3, was once his promising student. He says, I think you’ve had enough to drink tonight. She says, Why haven’t we had children? Why don’t we even try? He sighs. Not this again. She says, I’m tired of being your social adjunct. He sets the glass on the coffee table, puts a hand on either arm of her chair and leans into her face. He says, If you weren’t my adjunct, as you call it, you would be nothing. Tell me. What else are you, my dear?



I keep Searcher out at the Bar-B-Ranch in Davie. The stable’s name makes me think of smiling dolls in cute little ranchwear outfits mucking the stalls. My boyfriend Hector drives a forklift for Sunshine Produce in Dania Beach, over by the Fishing Hall of Fame, where they have Hemingway’s boat docked on a little pond. Hector is Miami champion slam poet. He beat No Bus Fare Johnson at the Wallflower, and he’s going to the State Slam in Orlando in February, and I’ll be there. Searcher’s a black-legged gray with a diamond star, seventeen hands, mottled haunches. Hector was trapped by his ex. Cheryl’s an atheist who never wanted children and stayed on the pill until Hector was about to leave her, and she could sense it. So one night they’re making love, and she says, Hector, don’t use the rubber, and then they split, and she announces, I’m pregnant, and I’m keeping the baby. So Hector (who’s an atheist for now, but says the closest thing he ever saw to God was me and Searcher together) went back and lived with the bitch and his daughter for five years and the whole time it was, “You’ve got to wear better clothes; we need a nicer car; stop spending all your time with your poetry friends.” So he left her, and he and I started up, and he moved in here. That’s his Stratocaster by the TV. He’s a wonderful daddy, sees Gillian two, three, four times a week, talks to her every day. I’m her Aunt Marie, and I love her to death. We got these tattoos from Miss Chinchilla. I got a stallion on my back. Hector’s got a snake crawling up a dagger on his leg. My boyfriend and my horse–I love to ride them both.


Breaking it Down for You

I understand consequences, Captain. I know what dying means. Means you’re always gone. Your troubles are over. If you’ve been weak, now you’re strong. If you’ve been scorned, now you’re beloved. Means my baby’s in heaven. Gone to Jesus. Praise God! There’s worse things in life than death. Am I right about that? Choirs of angels singing my baby to sleep. You know the hymn that goes “How gracious are thy mercies, Lord; they hallow all my days”? The Lord is a merciful God. I didn’t mean what I did to my little girl. I love Kiesha, and I want her to forgive me for what I did to her.

If I tell you what happened can I have a McDonald’s?

All right then, here’s the true facts of what happened. I planned to eat those breakfast sausages with my grits and eggs. You see how it is. I was–whatyoucallit–was provoked. Always provoked. Sausages, soiled drawers, spilled root beer, whineyness, sass, lost toys. Always something. You have children, Captain? Then you know what I’m talking about. I know you do.

I know what type of baby I have. She get up all types of nights to eat up food, everything. What kind of two-year-old do that? Ate the sausages uncooked. Made her sick. Maybe if I could have said something. Words leave you when you’re mad, like they’re afraid or something. If I had the words, I think I would not have done it. I lost my temper for the first time. I fit my hand over her tiny face, and I slammed her head against the ‘frigerator, against the wall, on the floor where she was sick. She screamed bloody murder. Her mama said, “Kiesha, honey, you’re getting a beating on account of you got inside the ‘frigerator and got sick on the linoleum.” That way Kiesha sees the connection between my beating and her badness.

No sir, her mama and I ain’t married. I can’t be tied down, you know what I’m saying?

Then I spanked Kiesha with the plastic hair brush. Just all over. I shook her a bit, squeezed her stomach. I guess I squeezed too hard. She stopped crying. Just stared at me. I can’t help thinking if she had just eaten all her potatoes at supper, she wouldn’t have been hungry. She’s stubborn about potatoes. If the welfare had taken her away last time. A lot of ifs. I’m a good person, Captain. I have a good personality. You can see that. I just lost my mind.