Saturday, 25 June 2016

SOFT IS A CONDITION by Chris Milam


We spent hours together, nose to wall, as quiet as polyester shirts hanging in a closet. It didn't take much to be sentenced there: too loud, too hungry, too born.

Solved math equations in my head to combat the fatigue. Mom on a double shift, she left the house at five. 10 + 10 = I’m screwed.

After work ritual: pop a beer, collapse in recliner, baseball on the tube. A Do Not Disturb sign written on his cowhide face. Hand to mouth to crotch to remote control. Grilled cheese sandwich and a pickled egg on a paper plate. Hacking up blue dust from the poorly ventilated paint room. Tough as tire tread.

I couldn't hit a slider like his beloved Carl Yastrzemski. Couldn't do much with a ball in my hand, or anything that required eye-hand coordination. That involved physical precision, exertion, and strength. The word physical never felt right on the tongue, in the field, as a symbol of manliness in his fantasy world of glistening trophies on oak mantels.

Too stupid, too much like mom, too not him.

Get your ass in the corner before you really piss me off, he’d say, words wrapped in implied violence. Verbal brass knuckles. Intimate hours spent with my perpendicular pal, legs wobbly and weeping, pleading for a pardon. I was a POW in his battle of the brooding man who drinks to incinerate. Her. Them. Storms from his youth.

Standing there, I’d daydream about melting into the wall. I could live there, behind the dogs playing poker, a boy who haunts his father for eternity. Out of sight, a ghost chewing wires and sleeping on a bed of insulation that feels like hot cotton candy on the skin.

Be a statue until you become a man. The world eats soft boys. Drink your tears and taste the weakness.

He made me asphalt strong, a heart like a Hummer. A mind stitched from saddle leather and a soul as dense as rhinoceros hide. My fear became hate became admiration for a persistent man who broke me apart molecule by molecule then rebuilt a more worthy me.

“Can I stop now? I’m tired.”

My son: too visible, too millennial, too much like me at that age.

“Did I say you could stop? When the game’s over. Not a another word, kiss the corner. Be as still as steel.”

At least the boy can swing a bat. All those gold and silver men lining the shelf, a collection of physical superiority.

I can almost hear dad grunting his approval.

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