My daughter stitched me from cloth; she used a thumbtack for a nose and yarn for arms. Then she abandoned me in this closet. Outside the door she watches screens all night and does not see how my button eyes gleam here in the dark. If only she had given me hands instead of tassels, I could hold her. If only she had felted me a heart that pumped, I could teach her something. But she does not want to learn. One night I saw her burn her own ankle with a naked flame. One night I saw her draw smoke into her lungs through a pale cigarette. What can do? How do I protect her? Sometimes she heckles me: What kind of father are you? she says. What kind of failure are you? she taunts. I dream of going to her, of stroking her fine, brown hair. But in the dream her hair becomes a fistful of snakes. In the dream the snakes writhe and bind me. They choke me to silence.
Why did I bother to make a father at all? He sits at the bottom of my closet, his face flushed with anxiety. He longs to be good but does not know how. Aren’t you supposed to protect me? I ask. I will, he says, just give me a chance, take me out of this closet and let me help. But I’m tired of playing with dolls and leave him mumbling, Daughter, you should listen, I have many things to share…he says. It gets late, I lay in bed. I hear his voice growing smaller and smaller until it is only the sound of a mouse squeaking and I forget whether or not I have a father at all. I fear I have a rodent infestation and call the exterminators. Then there is only quiet. Then I wonder if I’ve become an orphan. Are you my father? I ask a pillow. Are you my father? I ask the night. I am frightened and wish for a father to make things right. I search the closet but it is empty. I search my room, but it is cold. All night long I dream of the button eyes I can no longer see. I reach toward the arms I can longer hold.
About the Author
Dara Yen Elerath’s debut collection, Dark Braid (BkMk Press), won the 2019 John
Ciardi Prize for Poetry. A recipient of both the Bath Flash Fiction Award and the New
Flash Fiction Award, her short-short fiction has appeared in Tahoma Literary Review,
Vestal Review and Miracle Monocle. Her poetry has appeared in the American Poetry
Review, Poetry, AGNI and elsewhere. She earned her MFA at the Institute of American
Indian Arts and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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