Saturday 6 June 2020

'The Final Days of Strongman Joe' by David Cook

‘Look, Dad,’ I say, placing the photo album on his lap. ‘It’s you, in the old days, at the circus.’

His pallid hands don’t move, so I flip the pages for him. ‘You were brilliant at weightlifting,’ I prattle, staring at him carrying a huge pair of dumbells like a bag of feathers.’ Flip. ‘But you were best at tearing up the phone book. Look at you, paper everywhere, all those people watching.’ Flip. ‘I don’t know how you could wear that leotard. It didn’t leave much to the imagination.’ Flip. ‘Strongman Joe, they called you.’ Flip. ‘Two phone books at once!’ Flip. Flip. Flip. No reaction. A nurse glances over, gives me a half-smile of sympathy, then goes back to feeding an old lady her lunch. Her lips smack softly around her spoonfuls of mush.

I close the book and study his face: hollow cheeks, thin lips, wrinkles upon wrinkles. People were scared of Dad back then, the six foot eight circus strongman with biceps wide as balloons and the big red beard of a storybook giant, but if you looked into his eyes there was only love. He’s still tall, but skinny as a twig and twice as frail and if you peer into his eyes now all there is, is nothing. ‘I wonder if you remember all that,’ I say, mostly to myself.

I lean over to kiss him on the forehead and as I do I feel a motion from his lap. His hands are around the album. I watch his brittle fingers flex uselessly and it takes a moment before I realise that he’s trying to rip it apart.

A tear splashes onto the cover. I move to wipe my face, but it’s not one of mine.

'The Final Days of Strongman Joe' was previously published at Ellipsis Zine on 30 March 2018.

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