We are standing in the back hall of our house on Toledo Avenue, me, my mother, and my father; my dog, Lady is asleep underneath of the table in the kitchen adjacent to us. There are no lights on; I can’t see my parent’s faces, or anything for that matter, only the flickering blue and orange flame from below the rustic furnace that clicks off, the boiler sits next to it in silence. I can hear my father whimpering, sniffling in between Lady’s heavy breathing, something he has never done in front of me. My mind pictures him as strong in body and in will. He picks me up and holds me in his arms. I pull the chain on the light, which switches on, but my father quickly turns it off, so I’m unable to see anything, not even a quick glimpse in the blasted brightness. The glimmering bulb of the night-light in its clear plastic covering, shaped like a candle, plugged in the wall socket in the kitchen, tries to penetrate the darkness, but its presence only becomes plainer the longer we stand there and my eyes adjust.
“Who do you wanna live with, Allen?” My father asks. “Me or your mother?”
A spell of uncertainty comes over me. Unsure of how to answer, unsure of what exactly he means, I look at my daddy like I have never seen him before. Then shrug. It was as though I was asleep in my bed dreaming. My father’s strong arms and hands and broad chest holding me secure and safe like my bed does, like my heavenly Father does in the midnight hour, allowing me to relax my consciousness and lose all sense of place and being and find myself flying through the clouds towards heaven as though God had thrown down Jacob’s enchanted ladder to draw me up in, but turn around and see my body detouring, traversing, descending away from the plane of unconsciousness, and be awoken by a harrowing image of surmounting flames and gusts of heat shifting and altering in scorching temperatures striking my face from the depths of hell.
A shadow goes across my father’s face. I stretch my tiny fingertips to dry the water dripping from it. What do I know at this young age besides what I feel, and all I know is what my internal, instinctive, inherent feelings tell me, feelings that know where I belong even though my conscious, my brain does not, keeping me from the chaos between me and what is right and wrong and deviating off of my life’s road.
“Mommy” they tell me to say. A clear understanding as to why I say that, why I choose my mother over my father is beyond my five-year-old mind’s comprehension. I haven’t any answer to justify my choice or doubt it, for there is no reason to explain this reasoning.
His tears drop and streak his cheeks like lightning bolts. His anguish penetrates my skin and seeps deep beneath my flesh into my bones, even my organs. These uncomfortable, awkward feelings etch themselves into the corners of my soul, this soul that’s inside me, like a best friend I’ll spend the rest of my life getting to know, and for me to remember when I am gone.
“Don’t cry daddy.”
My father turns his head, releases me, puts me on the floor, opens the screen, and walks out the door. Just the foggy silhouette of the tall trees with their bare branches shadowing night’s dark sky remains. I stand there looking out the door for long minutes as the night whispers peace, like the voice of an angel. Night rescues me from the dark, allowing me to feel like I’m falling free, free to let loose of the need to know, free to be, free to go, free of what river runs aground, free from the face of God staring down, free from the chain of hours that throw a shadow over time, my time as I grow like the trees, wandering forth in every direction, but planting my imperfect roots of health and vigor deep, gripping the ground tight, bemoaning the imprisonment, always wondering, waiting, fearing man will cut me down.
Allen M. Price is a writer from Rhode Island. Screen Memory 3 “Who Do You Wanna Live With?” is one of only three childhood memories he has of his father. They are part of the memoir he is writing and spent time working on with Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Paul Harding. He is a 2018 semi-finalist for Grub Street’s Emerging Writing Fellowship. He has an MA in journalism from Emerson College. His fiction and nonfiction work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cosmonauts Avenue, Jellyfish Review, The Citron Review, Gertrude Press, Columbia Journal, The Adirondack Review, Tulane Review, The Saturday Evening Post, Muscle & Fitness, Natural Health magazine, and many other places. His poetry has appeared in Tower Journal.