This is where we start: a snowstorm, the memory of a scarf wound tightly, a stumbling trip to the car. A page is devoted to the doorway moment, collision of interior and exterior. Mother slams the door behind her. There will be other natural disasters, a tree splitting broken glass hurricane, an acre-burning fire, some river’s rising almost to the bottom of a highway bridge. The handsome father sits with creased and re-creased sheets of paper on his desk.
This may be chapter 2. He may be at work on a brilliant project—twin-span bridge, careful analysis of the whale’s T-shaped tail slipping below the surface. The sunless hallway outside his room, that is another story. I don’t know who will tell it. Next, the graffiti chapter. The family returns home (they might have been anywhere), finds the words “Hey Bitch” spray-painted on the garage door. The dripping letters refer to the mother, the woman in the passenger seat (who else?). There is something unmistakable about this. “Hey Bitch, ” by which the writer means: I am sick to death of my voice, the way it climbs in my throat and gathers behind my teeth. This, of course, is speculation. The chapter includes nothing about what the father carries in his pockets—matchbook, white stone, a silver pocketknife the size of his wife’s pinky finger.
If the story were a song, chapter 4 would be the bridge. Family vacation, San Francisco: a wax museum, an hour on the pier after dark. One child will forget everything but fog unfolding over the bay. A bottle of wine cracks against the trunk of a car. The bottle is broken, the wine, red and smelling not fruity or sweet but metallic, collects there beneath the car. A small square paragraph recounts the father’s sorrow at the loss of this souvenir.
Sometime later, another holiday, he will dress in the suit of medieval armor on display in a nearly deserted costume museum. His very presence the clank and chink of him, makes the children feel foolish (in the margin, someone wrote Is the father hero or scapegrace?). Already the mother thinks she cannot care for him. She often finds herself thinking of her husband’s illegitimate daughter—a girl who might paint “Hey Bitch” in an unsteady hand on a garage door in yellow paint. An odd color, that’s what she thinks at first, why yellow? The secret daughter is still hidden somewhere and I don’t know her side of it, or who else could tell it.
By spring the father’s gone wild-eyed. The children living in his compact house develop the habit of sugaring for moths. And that’s where it ends: the night side of dusk, children set on catching insects. The scent of molasses, brushed on tree trunks where the garden meets the wood, colors the air, the yard. Inside, the mother sees her children from the window. She thinks how she might have polished her nails this morning. The syrup’s sweet, alcoholic smell hangs onto every moment, every shred of fading sunlight. Underwing moths set themselves down everywhere. Each unfolds itself, finally reveals its red-banded wings. They cover every tree in sight.