Dad’s D-39

Write an entry inspired by what you can’t see.

Never, ever, rummage through your best friend’s garage when you’re eight years old and his father’s an alcoholic.  If you don’t know whether or not your best friend’s father is an alcoholic, just ask.  Say, “Ricky (as in Ricky Phillips–my best friend), does your dad have a drinking problem?”  If he says, without any hesitation, “Do you mean does he have trouble swallowing?” then his dad’s not an alcoholic, but if he pauses at all, just for a second, and looks at you the way the owner of Smith’s grocery store does when he thinks you have hidden a bag of M & M’s in your pocket,  then your best friend’s dad’s an alcoholic, and as much as you might want to search through the garage for old arrow heads that Ricky says his grandfather owned or for a shovel to dig up the corner of the neighbor’s back yard to look for something valuable because why else would the neighbor have chased you and Ricky off if there wasn’t something buried there, don’t–don’t look through the garage because if you do,  instead of the arrowheads or the shovel, you’ll find, like Ricky and I did, a box of whiskey bottles hidden underneath the work table, behind the tool box. Then, without meaning to, you’ll say,  “God!  Your dad must like whiskey a lot!”

After that, if your best friend is anything like Ricky Phillips, he’ll say, “Yeah?  Yeah?  That’s what you think?  Well you have spiders behind your bathtub!”

Not only will the rest of the day be ruined, but maybe your whole childhood  because your family’s house only has the one bathroom and no shower in it–just a sink and a toilet and the bathtub which now, according to Ricky, is brimming with spiders that you’ve never seen but then, after all, they’re spiders, and they don’t stay alive by parading around the sink; instead, they lurk beneath the tub until you’re in it and you’re sliding down into the water and using your toe to try to turn the hot water on again while an eight-legged, furry- bodied, big-fanged spider is slowly crawling up from beneath the tub, and it gradually appears behind you on the edge of the tub, and you don’t turn around right away because the spider would be too gross to see with its legs twisting and waving in the air as it prepares to leap at you; instead you lay there, wishing that your parents would get part-time jobs so your family could afford a shower with spider-proof seals all around.

When you finally can’t take it anymore, and you spin around, there’s nothing there, but you saw some kind of flash which could have been your eyelashes wildly blinking up and down, or it could have been a spider so big it barely fits beneath your bathtub; and when a minute later you are crossing the dining room heading for the upstairs, and your mother asks you why your hair and face are covered in soap, you yell, “Because of the spiders!”

Years later, when you’ve overheard your father telling your mother that Mr. Phillips is on the wagon which you guess means he doesn’t have a whisky in his garage anymore, you think about asking Ricky if he remembers telling you about the bathtub spiders, but you decide that’s not the kind of thing anyone would remember who has a shower in their house the way Ricky does; but then, without you asking him, Ricky says, “Do you remember how I said once that there were spiders under your bathtub?” And when you lie and tell him that you don’t remember, Ricky says, “It wasn’t true.  I was just mad about something.  I never saw spiders under your tub.”

When Ricky says that, you should feel good, but instead, you know that it doesn’t change anything, and that you’ll never look at a tub without noticing something out of the corner of your eye–something that disappears just before you can really see it.


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