Some things I called dad / by Spirited Magazine

Spirited #2 [Archive: Cloak and Dagger]
Story by Maria Pinto

 "Man" photography by Amanda Antunes

"Man" photography by Amanda Antunes

A man who used to be my stepfather came home livid one afternoon. My mother says he didn’t have a job then or a surly employer so I can’t think why. He was angry, and grass bowed when he was angry, and the goats in our acreage baahed and people scattered. Brian and me cowered in a corner over our Crayola’d plans to expand our giant kiddy pool (a tadpole and minnow habitat) to include a new wing for water beetles. Water beetles were Brian’s department, because he knew little girls are afraid of things with too many legs.

None of us children called our then-stepfather stepfather, because neither Brian nor I shared biology with him, and Donald, whose father he really was, had not yet learned to talk. Father was a sacred word I reserved for abstractions–the invisible, improvident man who gave me my “big doe eyes” then left my mom when I was two was father; it was the name I saw fit to give to the hideous sculpture that we passed on the way back from daycare. The sculpture (daddy) looked like two deer melting together.

So we called the angry man Uncle John. Any man too unkind to be called “daddy” but too familiar to be called “mister” was an uncle. We said good afternoon Uncle John, but he didn’t stop. He barreled through the house and into the back yard, out of sight. Brian and I continued our argument about who should be the warden of the jail for especially uncooperative tadpoles when we heard our mother yelling through the screen door. We usually rushed to be at either of her sides when she was yelling at Uncle. Our presence was used to good effect by her (“after all, I take care of these wicked little things without a lick of help from you…”). We were only too happy to be visual aids for her arguments.

But today when we arrived outside, we didn’t feel like lending our help. Our mother was calling after Uncle John’s receding figure, her arms akimbo. In front of her, on the ground, lay a collapsed tadpole and minnow habitat. The suffocating ex-residents flopped away on their sides in disbelief.