Sam Michel

from Strange Cowboy, Lincoln Dahl Turns Five

Undoubtedly, she says, I will regret not having been a bigger part of our son’s future memory. I don’t smile enough, my wife says; the smile, she must remind me, is the Invitation to Desire, the Living Wings of Memory.

She says, “You keep it up, and he won’t want to remember any- thing of you. Nothing. Do you read me? I said that he’ll remember nothing, nothing, nothing.”

Yet if the boy will not recall me chopping wood or lying on my back beneath the family wagon, will not be able, as my wife insists, to reproduce me on my hands and knees, riding him about the cold linoleum, singing songs and spooning dribble from his chin of twice-mashed carrots, will not remember me, the father, smil- ing—then will my son at least not see me someday in his future, just right here, in this chair, poised, seated, an integrated man in a disintegrating household? Anything, I told my wife, is something. Through speed and speciation the smallest vital crumb on earth exerts a force commendable to memories extended well beyond the retrospectings of the local child.

“Just think about those guys we saw on that show on Rome,” I said. “The Master of the Bearded Unicorn; The Master of the Virgin Torso. Not all of us can be a Botticelli.”

Surely, there must one day be a shrine built to the memory of every mastered passion. A place of record and collection, visited and mythic. Mine is to sit. I broaden, sitting. For me, for the boy, I foresee a chairsized chamber in his skull to which he pays his visits, waits for a word, watches for a gesture, sees me, uncorrupt, anonymous, Master of the Seated Half-Dads. I believe that I may not be bested in the seated greeting. I have the effect, upon a per- son’s entering our household, of having stood, kissed a cheek and begged a person please to help himself. Should I choose to, it is possible for me to cause a person to believe that I have suffered po- lio, or multiple sclerosis, nervous, muscular diseases, past or in re- mission, whose ravages have wrested from my life the spry, athletic days I sit in order to display myself as having once been promised. I am the only person, to my knowledge, who is able to consistently relieve himself of his dyspepsia through certain bowel-specific postures. Naturally, I cannot satisfactorily describe my power, nor why I believe in its effects. I have simply asked my wife to look at me, see me in my chair and ask herself how any son could grow up crossing at my footrest and forget me?

Until today, on occasion, my wife has temporarily forgone the boy, admitting she is not so sure she’d want to have me as a memo- ry either, if she had not known the Me she knew in courtship. She insists I was a different man then, wants to know if I remember our inaugurating days of marriage, the brief, halcyon months of carnal love and culinary amplitude, before the news broke that the boy would come. In those days, she explains, I bought her silken underpants. I lapped mousses from her cleavage. Apparently, I said I liked the flavor of her cunny-stew. I would growl—it seems to me, implausibly—coming up from there, smeary-lipped, and kiss her. I was truly, truly frightening, and bigger, it had seemed to her, hurtful, in a handsome way, when I forgot myself. She recalls our favorite game was Horsey. I neighed. It seems to me no like- lier than growling, but she claims she spurred me on and slapped my flanks, unmercifully, at my urging. She loved, loved, loved to ride me. I was the stallion of her childhood dreams come true. She sometimes called me Silver. Other times she called me Trigger, and on the nights I reared and bucked the rankest I became, to her, Black Beauty. It wasn’t any pervert, she insists, nothing bad, or even too unique, in our part of the country, where so many of us grew up in the neighborhood of horses, and those of us who didn’t grow up with a horse were made to grow up wanting one, or just, it seems, with wanting.

“Oh, it was a romp,” she said. “My God, I swear that I could feel it when you—you know—I’m not kidding. I even knew which times you gave me more than others. I swear I knew which time it was you finally knocked me up.”

My wife said it was then, with the advent of the boy, that I be- gan exploring Oriental diets. I went easy on the cream. I distrust- ed cuts of meat much larger than my thumb. I suddenly liked rice, discovered strength through fasting. In the eyes of my wife, I was in the process of becoming, increasingly, less Me. To support her- self, my wife hauled out the snapshot of our happiest occasions as a family, showing me consistently appearing not the way I ought to. I hear my wife inform me that my duty to the boy, in part, is to provide for him a model. If I had stood a little nearer to him, smil- ing, preferably, “expressing interest,” said my wife, then I might have kept the boy from getting hurt so often—his fingers broken on the day we fed the horses, his chest bruised by the goat, his hide chewed off by colonies of fire ants he’d found to crawl through at the picnic. I could have been a hero to him. As it stands, my son’s past with me has been a woozy spiral of neglect and woundings. Lucky for us—for me, she meant—he isn’t likely to remember. Till now.

Sam Michel’s Strange Cowboy, Lincoln Dahl Turns Five is forthcoming from Tyrant Books.

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