“Hold it still,” my father told me. We were in the barn, setting steel traps for the raccoons and groundhogs that came to feed on our corn and beans. “Easy now,” he said. “We’re almost home.”
The trap rested on a piece of planking so he could step down on the prongs of the spring-tension handle and spread the trap’s jaws. It was my job to reach my fingers down into the middle of those jaws and lift a round paddle the size of a quarter and slide it into the slot at the end of a steel tab. I had to hold it there while my father stepped off the handle. If I let go too soon, the paddle slipped away from the tab, and we had to start again. Sometimes the timing was such that my father eased off the handles, and the trap’s jaws snapped shut, the breeze flicking across my barely escaping fingers. “You didn’t hold it,” he said then, his voice harsh with reproach. “I told you to hold it still.”
I wanted to please him, particularly that summer when my mother was away all week at the university and he depended on me, but I could tell, even then, that I wasn’t the sort of boy he would have chosen as his son. I was timid, like my mother, except on the occasions when anger overwhelmed me, and I went mad. “Look at yourself,” my father would say whenever I threw a tantrum, sobbing and screaming and cursing at him. “My God. You’re a maniac. I wish I had a tape recorder so you could hear what you sound like.”
That summer I had no idea who I was to be. I didn’t know whether I would finally be like my mother, kind-hearted and shy, or like my father, high-strung and full of temper. I only knew that often I scared myself with how unmanageable I could be, a child savage and feral, overwhelmed by some fury boiling inside me. I was 11 years old, too young for the rage that I held, a rage I had learned from my father.
He had no hands, having lost them in a farming accident when I had been barely a year old. He had tried to clear a corn picker’s shucking box without first shutting off the tractor that powered it, and the picker’s rollers had pulled in his hand.
When he tried to free that hand with the other, the rollers pulled it in, too. The rollers mangled both hands so badly that the surgeon had to amputate, and when gangrene later infected the stumps, he had to take 3 more inches from the right and 2 from the left. After that, my father wore hooks, prosthetic hands that were actually pairs of curved, steel prongs screwed into the ends of flesh-colored, plastic holsters. He slipped his stumps into those holsters, a harness of canvas straps settling across his upper back. When he contracted the muscles in his shoulders, the pressure tugged at cable wires hooked to levers at the bases of the hooks, and the steel prongs opened. Often, from as early as I can remember, they opened to take up a belt or a yardstick or a switch, anything he could use to whip me. He whipped me because he was an impatient man, often angry with his life, and I was a fussy child, quick to challenge him. He whipped me to make me less defiant, and when it didn’t, he whipped me again. He stung my arms and legs and back with his lashes. My skin fired with red stripes. And my mother allowed it, she, a grade-school teacher, who had lost a job because she had been unable to discipline her students. She had taken another job in Oak Forest, a suburb of Chicago, and we had left our farm in the southern part of the state. We came back in the summers and tried to reclaim the life we had left there. Then the school board in Oak Forest insisted that my mother finish her degree. This was in 1966, and she was 56 years old. She had started teaching after graduating from high school, which was possible then after passing a licensing exam, and had worked on her degree in the summers. That summer, to finish, she was living at a rooming house in Charleston and coming home on the weekends, an arrangement I despised because I hated being alone with my father. I feared that at any moment I might displease him and draw out his wrath.
After we set the traps, we slid them under the mangers where the raccoons and groundhogs had dug away the dirt. There were chains at the ends of the traps, and we wired them to the manger slats. “All right now,” my father said. “Let’s see what we can catch.”
It was my job every morning to crouch by the mangers and pull each trap out by its chain. I can still remember the moment just before I pulled-so frightening-when I didn’t know whether I would feel a weight at the other end. I prayed that I wouldn’t, because when I did, I had to pull the raccoon or groundhog out into the open where my father bludgeoned it to death with his hook. I remember the way the animals hissed and screamed, the way they tried to squirm back under the manger, an escape I closed off by tugging hard on the chain. “Hold him!” my father shouted. “Hold him!” He brought his hook down again and again as I felt the raccoon or groundhog straining away from me, desperately trying to get free from what held it.
So often that summer, my father asked me to do something beyond my limits: to loosen a rusted nut on a piece of machinery, to lift a cultivator and pin it with cotter keys to the tractor, to set the steel traps. “I can’t,” I often told him, and he replied, “Can’t never did nothing. Try it again.”
I imagine he had forgotten what it felt like to pinch a finger, scrape a knuckle, smash a thumb. His hooks were tools, the tempered steel crafted to withstand heat and pressure. When we washed dishes, he plunged those hooks into water so hot I couldn’t bear it. We had no running water in our farmhouse, so we filled a dishpan and set it to boil on the stove. “Get it hot,” he always said. “I can take it.”
He said this with pride, and it was clear that he enjoyed putting his hooks into the scalding water if for no other reason than to remind me that he was rugged-“The hotter, the better,” he said-and that if I dared disobey him, it would be no skin off his nose to make me pay the price.
One day I was trying to loosen a stubborn nut on a harrow tooth. The crescent wrench kept slipping, and each time it did, my hand scraped across the harrow frame and sent a fire across my skin.
“You don’t have it set right,” my father said. He was on his knees beside me. “Tighten it up.”
It was hot, even there in the shade of our maple tree, and I was tired of banging up my hand, tired of the gnats flying around my face. I knew that, one way or another, the nut had to come off, but because the farm wasn’t my responsibility, I was ready to give up much sooner than my father. I wanted to go into the house and get a Pepsi-Cola from the refrigerator and turn on the television. I wanted to lie on the cool linoleum, the oscillating fan stirring the air over me, and forget about the harrow and the nut that refused to turn. The truth was I wanted to be far, far away from my father.
But there was no way he would let me escape. He had to replace that harrow tooth, and the only way to do that was to loosen that nut. Because my mother was 60 miles away in Charleston, I was the one who had to do it. I could recall all the times she had been the one to wield wrenches for my father, and how sometimes, when she would have a difficult time with a piece of machinery, he would speak sharply to her, frustrated, I suspect, not only by her inadequacy but also because he so wished he still had his hands so he could easily do the job. I thought of her in her rooming house in Charleston. I imagined her sitting at her desk, the window open, a breeze lifting the curtains and then letting them fall back as she turned another page of a book, stopped to jot something down in her notebook, her fountain pen gliding across the smooth, white paper. I saw how simple her life was there compared to the life she had with my father and me, and I began to fear that she would never come back to us.
That’s when I started to cry.
“What are you bawling about?” my father said.
“My hand,” I told him.
“That’s just a scratch. You’re all right.”
I dropped the crescent wrench to the ground. “It hurts,” I said.
“A little scratch, and you’re bawling like a baby. Wah, wah, wah. You want me to make you a sugar tit?”
I knew he was trying to shame me into picking up the crescent wrench and getting back to my chore, and because I knew that, I stubbornly refused to do it. I was too young and willful to appreciate that he was trying to teach me perseverance. I was as intractable as the nut on the harrow tooth and so was he. For years, that would be our trouble.
“Go to hell,” I said. His offer of a sugar tit, which he often made when he was trying to humiliate me, hurt my feelings and left me raw with indignation. I scrambled to my feet. “You can do it yourself.”
I started to the house. Behind me, my father called out, “You come back here.” I kept walking. I heard the slap of leather as his hook pulled out the tongue of his belt. “Mister, I’m warning you,” he said. He caught up to me just as I was about to open the back door. His belt came down across the small of my back, and I jumped away from the sting. I landed in my mother’s flower bed, breaking down a marigold, which seemed to enrage my father more. The belt came down again, this time on the back of my thigh.
Always before, when he had whipped me, I had screamed and screamed for him to stop, imagining that he would listen to the terror in my voice and know how much he was hurting me. How could he wound me, no matter how mean I had been? I was his son. I was the life he and my mother had created. My flesh was theirs. Couldn’t he remember pain? Eventually, I would give up. I would drop to the ground or the floor and roll up into a ball and wait for him to stop.
But on this day, for the first time, I turned and grabbed the belt, catching the lash in my palm. I held the belt a moment and felt my father tug on it. I pulled back, and it came free from his grasp.
For just an instant, he glanced down at his hook as if he couldn’t believe the belt was gone. Then he looked at me, his eyes narrowed, the worry line in his forehead deepening with his rage. He took a step toward me. That’s when I threw the belt out into the grass, turned, and ran.
I ran down our lane, the hot air rushing up into my face. My father chased after me. I heard the furious huffing of his breath, his boots kicking through the gravel. I imagined, at any moment, his hook would reach out and snare me. But he was 53 years old that summer, and I quickly outdistanced him. I ran and ran, stopping finally at the end of our lane. I turned back to our house and saw my father atop the small hill just beyond our hickory tree. His cap had flown off his head, and he was kneeling in the gravel, trying to pick it up with his hook. I was sobbing, choking for breath, scared to death now because I knew I had no choice but to go back.
When I finally did, my father was sitting on the grass by the harrow, trying to fit the crescent wrench to the nut. “I can’t adjust it,” he said, and his voice was meek.
I sat down on the grass beside him. “Do you want it smaller or bigger?”
“Smaller,” he told me, and he let the wrench drop from his hook. I picked it up, rubbed my thumb over the calibration wheel and tried to close the jaws just a fraction. “That’s it,” he said, encouraging me with a patience that made me sorry for the anger between us. “We’ll just keep trying, won’t we? Until we get it right.”
My mother came home on the weekends. On Friday afternoons, my father and I either drove to Charleston to get her or to Olney where we waited in the city park until she appeared, having caught a ride with another woman. These were the sweetest days. Even my father was in high spirits. He came in from the field at noon, and after we had eaten lunch-meat sandwiches and cleaned the kitchen, we set about making ready to present ourselves to my mother. To this day, I am firmly convinced that the one thing my father and I always shared through our difficulties was our profound love and respect for her. Despite the fact that she allowed my father’s violence toward me, I always considered her the best and most noble presence in my life. To my father, she was the woman who had loved him when he had begun to think that he would be a bachelor all his life, and she had stuck with him despite the accident with the corn picker that had tainted him with anger and hostility.
That summer, I did for him what she would do for 26 years without regret or complaint; I shaved him, I bathed him, I cleaned him after he had used the toilet. I was 11 years old, and I knew my father’s body as intimately as I knew my own: the gray whiskers that grew on his face; the wrinkled craw of his throat, red from the sun; the white flesh, loose on his chest; the swell of his belly; the tuft of pubic hair; the uncircumcised penis; the loins and scrotal sac often inflamed with heat rash. “I’m gallded,” he would say, adding a d to the past tense of gall. I rubbed him tenderly with a washcloth, patted him dry with a towel, and then powdered him with cornstarch.
Never was he as timid as he was then-as bashful as I. He would look away from me while I washed him, sorry that circumstances were such that I had to perform this task. If anyone were to have seen us there, the aging man and the son who had come, unexpected, into the middle of his life, they would have never suspected the ugly rancor that simmered between us. They would have seen the boy soaking the washcloth in a basin of water and wringing it out with his small hands, and the father standing naked in the sunlight streaming in through the window, his legs apart so his son could touch the washcloth gently to his tender groin. How could I not love him then, so great was his need. “Burns like fire,” he often muttered under his breath. And not once did I think of the fire he spread across my flesh each time he whipped me. I concentrated on maintaining a gentle touch, one that wouldn’t hurt him.
There was a thin line at the end of each stump where the surgeon had folded over the skin and sutured it. I rolled fresh white cotton arm socks over those stumps and safety-pinned them to his T-shirt sleeves. I helped him slip his arms into the holsters of his hooks and then settle the canvas straps of the harness across his back. We stood before the wardrobe, and he chose a shirt and a pair of trousers. He made his choices carefully, matching colors and styles. “Blue,” he might say. “Your mother likes blue.” When he was finally satisfied, I dressed him. I buttoned his shirt, held his trousers so he could step into them. I fastened his belt. The finishing touch was a dab of Butch Hair Creme brushed through his flat-top. He would turn his head this way and that, looking at himself in the dresser mirror. “Ready?” he would finally say, and I would race to the door, my heart light and full of joy because my mother was coming home.
She brought her laundry and her schoolbooks. Saturday mornings, I woke to the chirr of the wringer washing machine on the back porch, and I lay in bed, content to let the cool morning breeze drift over me, to listen to birds singing outside my window. My father would drive to the Berryville Store and come back with glazed doughnuts. My mother steeped hot tea, and we sat at the kitchen table, I still in my pajamas, and enjoyed the doughnuts and the tea and talked about what had taken place in the week my mother had been gone. My father bragged about his crops: the wheat, golden and nearly ready to cut; the soybeans, lush and green; the corn, as high as his waist. He told my mother what he cooked for the two of us, how we washed the dishes. He never spoke of the times we got angry with each other and he whipped me, nor did I. Neither of us wanted to ruin the calm of those Saturday mornings when my mother was back in our house. My father spent those days in the fields, and if everything ran smoothly, he never called for my mother’s help. Then she was mine. I was so crazy to have her, I did the chores she assigned me without a peep of protest. I helped her hang the clothes outside to dry. I dusted and swept. I chatted with her while she did the ironing. I leafed through her textbooks, particularly fascinated by her entomology book, with its diagrams of butterflies and grasshoppers and moths. She was collecting insects for her class, and late in the afternoon, when the housework was finally done, we went out into the tall thickets of grass around our barn lot with her butterfly net.
One day we saw a monarch feeding on a milkweed pod. “That’s a prize,” my mother said, and then she explained to me how the monarchs had just begun to appear there on the Illinois prairie, returning from Mexico where they had migrated for the winter.”Mexico?” I knew where it was from my geography class. “How do they get all the way down there?”
“They fly. Can you imagine? All that way. Such delicate wings.”
The monarch’s wings were orangish brown and laced with black veins. They pulsed, rising and falling a bit. “How do they know the way?” I imagined all the miles and miles to Mexico, the wide expanse of sky.
“They just know. Even though they’ve never been there. Isn’t that something? It’s a miracle of nature, I guess.”
I had been her miracle, surviving the increased odds that I would be a Down-syndrome baby because of her age. But I didn’t know that then, and I didn’t know that my father’s first words to the doctor after finding out my mother was pregnant were, “Can you get rid of it?” My mother would tell me that after he had died, not realizing, of course, what it would mean to me. When she understood how it had hurt me, she tried to explain that he had only been afraid for her having a baby that late in her life. But I took it as a sign of something I had suspected for years. My father, though he may have learned to love me, would have preferred I hadn’t been born.
The pulsing of the monarch’s wings was as regular as breath. “It’s pretty,” I said. My mother nodded. “In Mexico, people say the monarchs are the souls of dead children lifting up to heaven.” She bit down on her lip. “Listen to me. What a thing to say. Do you hate your mother for saying that?”
My Grandma Martin had told me about my father’s brother and sister, Owen and Lola, who had died in their second summers. I shook my head. “It’s nice to go to heaven, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it’s nice,” my mother told me, but I could tell from her sad smile that she would be a long time forgiving herself for her comment, one that had reminded both of us that sometimes children died.
Perhaps it saddened her most of all because she knew it was wrong to stand by, silent, while my father whipped me. Or perhaps it grieved her because she had lost the child in herself early in life, as soon as she was old enough to help care for her brothers and sisters. She had become a woman of duty and endurance, selfless and without need, at least none she was willing to place before the obligation she felt toward her family. There were eight of them: my grandfather and grandmother and the six children. My mother, Beulah, was the oldest. Then came Jim and Homer and Gladys and Anna and Harry.
They lived for a while on a farm south of Berryville, but my grandfather couldn’t keep up with the mortgage payments, and the bank foreclosed. His name was Harrison Read, and I never knew him, because he died shortly after I was born. In the photographs I have of him, he seems like a gentle man, tall and thin but with a sad face and sloped shoulders, as if the burden of his life and the poor choices he made in it had eventually worn him down. The way I understand it, from stories various relatives have told, he had a drinking problem and was prone, when drunk, to unseemly behavior. More than once, he ended up in the Olney jail, arrested for public drunkenness, and my Uncle Homer had to bail him out. Fortunately for all involved, my grandfather was a sad drunk instead of a mean one, and if he could have only given up liquor, which he eventually managed to do, he would have lived a pleasant life, enjoying the Zane Grey novels he read aloud to his children each evening, the pet raccoon he fed from a baby bottle, the St. Louis Cardinals baseball games he listened to on the radio. I would gather these facts about him much later, when as an adult, I would start to ask my aunts and uncles for stories. When I was a child not old enough for school, I spent the days with my Grandma Read. There was a library table in her bedroom, and she forbade me from opening its drawer, an order I, of course, disobeyed. Inside the drawer were two cigarette lighters, a packet of pipe cleaners, a tin of Prince Albert tobacco, a deck of Bicycle playing cards. These were my grandfather’s last possessions, and my grandmother, though she couldn’t bring herself to throw them out, feared that if I handled them, I would soak up whatever darkness had tainted him and brought him to drink.
My mother had tried to save him. One day she found all the whiskey bottles he had hid in the shed and set them on the front steps, hoping to shame him into quitting his drinking, but as far as I know, her ploy didn’t work. He lost the farm, and for a while, he and my grandmother moved to the northern part of the state and worked at the state hospital in Dixon. When they came back, he leased the Berryville General Store and a house catty-corner from it. My mother, after she had dismissed her pupils for the day, worked in the store. I can imagine her slicing luncheon meat, weighing fruit on the scale, testing the cream the farmers brought to sell, her attention on making the proper measurement, the exact change, believing that she was holding the world in balance, ensuring that my grandfather, who had stopped drinking, had even become a member of the church, would continue to live the decent, orderly life she had always wished for him. As a young girl, she had taken care of her brothers and sisters; now she was safeguarding her father and mother. She lived in their house, worked in their store, convinced, I suspect, that her presence was necessary to their continued good fortune. Surely she dreamed no life for herself, no husband or child, until she met my father and was so overwhelmed with loneliness, she screwed up her courage and decided to start a life with him.
He must have been as lonely as she, for he lived on the farm two miles east of Berryville, caring for his old mother, who was nearly blind with cataracts. His sisters, Lucille and Ruth, had married and left home and started families. He was the one who stayed. I can imagine him coming in from his chores to cook for my grandmother, to help her measure out her medicines. I picture his hands, which I have seen only in photographs, wielding a paring knife as he peels potatoes or delicately balances a medicine dropper above my grandmother’s cloudy eyes. I see him, after she has gone to bed, listening to a Cardinals game on the radio, the volume turned low so as not to wake her. He doodles on a Farm Bureau pamphlet, writes his name over and over, the way someone might practice the name of his beloved. Or if it’s Saturday night, he puts on a clean shirt, tries to press his best trousers, combs his hair with Wildroot tonic, and leaves for the Berryville Store where he will help my mother carry milk cans into the storage locker, willing to put up with the kidding he’ll get later about making sure he’s old enough to woo a woman, all for her company. He knows the way as well as he knows anything-the mile to the crossroads and the mile west to the store. He likes to see his truck’s headlights stretching their beams out into the darkness, catching the glint of wire fences, whitewashing the gravel roadbed, illuminating, finally, the metal Pepsi-Cola sign atop the storefront. Sometimes he leaves the lights on a moment after he has parked in front of the store, lets them shine through the window, until my mother, at the cash register, turns, shades her eyes. Then he switches off the lights so she can see he has finally come.
On Saturday nights, when my mother was home from the university, we drove into Sumner, where we bought groceries, and my father loafed at the pool hall or the barber shop, and my mother went to Harry Bartram’s Beauty Salon, where she had her hair done. I went with her and sat in the swing on the front porch and read comic books until the light faded. Then I listened to the Cardinals game on the radio Mr. Bartram kept playing inside. I waited until my mother was finished, and then we walked uptown to find my father.
One night he came for us. I was sitting inside the beauty shop when I heard his footsteps on the porch, saw his shadowy form fill the doorway. He opened the screen door and stepped inside. “I’ve come to get you,” he said to my mother. “You and Lee.”
She was slipping some money from her billfold to pay Mr. Bartram. “Oh, we could have walked,” she said. I imagine that she secretly enjoyed the minutes we spent strolling together beneath the canopy of oak trees that lined the street, neither of us with any obligation just then to my father.
“Not tonight,” he said, and his voice was tight with worry. “There might be trouble tonight.”
“Trouble?” My mother patted her fresh hairdo. “What kind of trouble?”
“Bus Piper’s uptown with a butcher knife. He’s on a tear.”
“Drunk again, I imagine,” Mr. Bartram said.
“Drunk as a lord,” said my father.
The story was this: Bus Piper, drunk, had taken exception to two teen-age boys who had stopped to talk to some girls on the porch of a house across from the barber shop. “Don’t ask me why,” my father said when we were in our car. I sat in the back seat and listened to him tell this story in a low voice. He told how Bus Piper had fetched a butcher knife from his house and had used it to threaten the boys. Then he had gone up and down Main Street, ranting and raving. “I wouldn’t want you and Lee to meet up with him,” my father said. “He’s a damn lunatic tonight.”
I had never known my father as someone who would want to protect me, and it was difficult to reconcile that image of him with the one I knew most intimately: the angry father, his face twisted as he brought his belt down across my skin. And what I felt, as we drove slowly through the night, was not the peace of someone who suddenly finds himself in the company of people who will save him but the terror of being exposed, the secret life brought out into the open. I imagined Bus Piper out there in the darkness, waving the butcher knife about, howling and screaming, and when I did, I saw my father and me, recalled all the times we had gone crazy with rage.
“I want to go home,” I said from the back seat. We had turned down Main Street and were headed uptown to do our grocery shopping. We passed the dark windows of the Sumner Press office, the marquee of the Idaho Theater, the television store where a set in the window was playing. Normally there would have been people parked in front, sitting on the hoods of their cars to watch whatever program was on. The fact that they weren’t made the town seem dangerous to me, made whatever harmony my mother brought to us on the weekends seem precarious. I thought of the raccoons and groundhogs burrowing beneath our mangers, feeling their way through the darkness, not knowing that the traps were there, the steel jaws waiting to spring shut at the first wrong step. “I want to go home,” I said again, but my father was parking the car in front of Ferguson’s Grocery, and my mother was opening her pocketbook to find her shopping list.
“I’ll just be a minute.” She turned around and looked at me. “Lee, are you coming with me, or are you staying here?”
My father answered for me. “He’s staying here. If he goes, it’ll take you longer.”
She opened the door, and at that moment, we heard a blast. Its echo went on and on. People came out from the stores and stood on the sidewalk. I saw a man lift his arm and point behind us, down the narrow side street lined with two-story frame houses. I rose up on my knees and looked out the back glass of our car. I could see the light from the street lamps splintering through the trees, the shadows of the houses, porch lights coming on. I heard dogs barking, a screen door slap shut.
My mother turned and looked at my father. She had the car door open. She had one foot on the pavement outside. “Go inside the store,” he told her. “Take Lee and go inside.” I knew then that what we had heard had been a gunshot.
Men were running now past our car, running down the narrow street toward the echo of the shot. “Go ahead,” my father said, and my mother got out of the car. She opened the back door and reached for me. I took her hand and let her lead me quickly into Ferguson’s Grocery. The clerks were standing at the windows, their long white aprons tied around their necks. My mother and I turned to look out the window and saw my father getting out of the car. He started walking down the side street along with other men, following those who had run.
My mother grabbed a wire shopping basket and started down the aisle. “Let’s see,” she said, studying her shopping list, “what do we need for you and your father?”
We were the only shoppers, and it felt strange to make our way up and down the aisles, alone, as if we had accidently been locked in the store overnight. Then customers started coming back into the store, and I heard fragments of conversation: “Bus Piper,” “his boy,” “a 12-gauge,” “both barrels.”
It wasn’t until later, when my father stopped at my Uncle Mick Green’s farm, that I understood exactly what had happened. My mother and I stayed in the car while my father went to my uncle’s door. I could hear them talking softly in the night.
“Bus Piper’s boy shot him,” my father said.
“Kill him?” said my Uncle Mick.
“Point blank,” my father told him. “Shot his head off.”
I could hear the oil pumps squealing in my uncle’s fields, could see the bright flames of the gas flares.
“I suspect Bus asked for it.” Uncle Mick leaned forward and spit a stream of tobacco juice out into the yard. “He was a mean sonofabitch. Treated those kids awful. Someone should have killed him years ago. How old is that boy?”
“Old enough to fire both barrels of a 12-gauge. I expect they’ll lock him away for it.”
“What you think about that?” my Uncle Mick said. My father glanced back at our car then, and I imagined he was looking for me there in the dark. What was he thinking? That there was too much of life ahead of us, too much that could go wrong? Was he promising himself that, from then on, he would be a better man? Or was he only checking to see whether I was listening? He turned back to my uncle, leaned in close. “They ought to give him a medal,” he said in a fierce whisper, and in that moment, something went out into the air and closed itself around my father and me. I imagined Bus Piper’s son, a boy I didn’t know, and he became all alive. I knew his terror, his rage. My father knew it, too. “A goddamn medal,” he said again, this time in a hiss as slow and as difficult as a last breath, words he didn’t mean for me to hear.
* Lee Martin is author of the story collection, “The Least You Need to Know,” (Sarabande Books, 1996) winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. “Traps” is part of the forthcoming memoir, “From Our House,” to be published this spring by Dutton. He teaches in the creative writing program at the University of North Texas, where he also edits the American Literary Review.