Our Father

Eugenio Volpe

We buried our father with quick shovels. He was dead to the world, but you could never be sure. He had a habit of coming to just when you’d written him off. We did this every summer, whenever the opportunity arose. It was our only way of having fun with him. This time around we collected the largest rocks we could carry and piled them into a crude pyramid atop his chest. There were four of them, each the near circumference of his head, which protruded from the sand at an awkward tilt as if someone had haplessly rolled it there.


The sun beat down on everything, even our thoughts. I was only ten but already so very bored of the guy. He’d already taught us everything he ever would and thus that peaceful look on his face was bogus. He didn’t deserve it. He was mediocre when it came to fathering and slightly above average at everything else. He was relatively handsome, but we hadn’t inherited his looks, and now the sun was having its way with his pale complexion. His face had become colorless as quartz, the flecks and stripes of it in the rocks we’d laid.


“The least you could do is put sunblock on him,” our mother said from her lounge chair, behind the latest issue of Glamour.


We didn’t want to risk waking him so we let his skin burn. My brother retrieved one of our father’s empty Schlitz cans and erected a phallus in the appropriate place. The beachgoers around us laughed and our mother pushed her sunglasses down over her eyes in pretend embarrassment. She could have told us to stop, but he had yelled at her that morning for spending too much money on our new school clothes. She wanted him ridiculed. Payback for all the things he never bought us.


The first day of school was in a few days and I longed for the cool surfaces of cinder block, chalkboard, and Formica. Our father had been unemployed since late May. Every summer, he’d fake a back injury and collect from the carpenters union. The beach was our backyard. I could have hit our house with a rock from where I sat dumping and packing sand over my father’s legs. Sometimes I did throw rocks at our house. I’d pitch them against the weathered shingles, splitting more than a few over recent months. I did this whenever he was inside, dead to the world as my mother often said, a coded expression for his being drunk. I’d recently decrypted its meaning and since then everything about my father made sense—his frequent slurring, his tripping over thresholds, his midday slumbers. I wanted the hell away from him. The classroom and church were my only havens. I was a devout student and wary altar boy.


Our father had spent the summer bodysurfing and smiling at bikinis. Sometimes he’d grimace and clutch his back after tossing a Frisbee, but that was just an effect. The union sometimes spied on disability recipients. More so, our father made theatrical winces for his own peace of mind. He found it important to think highly of himself. God knows we didn’t. Our father knew it too. He should have taken a cue from God and remained invisible, only revealing himself when inflicting punishment. We would have at least feared him. Our father didn’t even beat us. He barely yelled. That he reserved for our mother. She spent too much money, none of which he earned, but that’s not why we thought lowly of our father. Mostly, he was always doing nothing and I feared getting swallowed in his void. I must have been the only kid in town who couldn’t wait for the first day of school, standing at the bus stop in the newest Italian fashion.


Finished burying our father, my brother and I played a wiffleball game against two other brothers on the sand bar. They were summer puke and it was our God-given right to humiliate them in sport. The top of the ninth ended with us up by six. The tide had come in before they had a chance at evening the score, the ocean tipping in our favor, the benefits of home field advantage. We returned to our blankets to check on our father. He was still dead to the world. Our mother folded her lounge chair and began collecting his empties minus the phallus.


“I’m going up to get dinner going,” she said. “Wake him before the tide comes in. We don’t get his disability checks if he’s dead.”


The neighbors sitting around us laughed, maybe a little too hard for my liking. Our mother was dark to begin with. The sun did little for her. She preferred being inside, especially when he was down at the beach. She sometimes joked about divorcing him for an Italian man, someone like her father. Her saying that didn’t bother us. We looked more like her father than our own. Nonno was the one who bought the majority our school clothes, my mother’s Riviera, and our house. If asked, we’d be hard-pressed to name one thing that our father had provided over the past few years. His inconsistent paychecks might have been enough to pay the utilities and cable, but we didn’t watch much TV. We didn’t take long showers. The man was a moot point.


My brother and I sat in the sand watching the tide crawl closer to him. One by one families packed coolers, shook towels, and departed. The sun dropped a few feet from the sky and the ocean deepened in color. The other two brothers and their parents were the only ones left. They sipped from juice boxes and shared a bag of Oreos. They seemed to like each other and I thought less of them for it. My bad, not theirs. It made me feel sorry for myself and I was happy to see them gather their things and leave. Before ascending the wooden staircase leading up to the seawall, the father looked back at us with a squint of concern. Maybe it was for me and my brother. Maybe it was for our father.


The beach was now empty except for seagulls. I sat with my knees bent and elbows resting on them. My brother sat Indian style. The sand cooled beneath us. A blanket of sea foam finally reached the foot of our father’s burial mound and then another blanket of foam washed over his legs. When the whitewater receded, his Schlitz phallus was gone and the top half of his right foot poked through the wet sand. We didn’t move a muscle. We didn’t say a word. Things seemed to be happening on their own and for good reason.


More whitewater washed over our father’s legs and we continued to do nothing about it. That peaceful look on his face was finally showing the preliminary blotches of a sunburn. It almost made me laugh. I picked at the crotch of my bathing suit and spat between my legs. My brother brushed sand over my saliva.


“You’re gross,” he said.


I shrugged and then we both looked out to sea. Three sizable swells rolled towards shore.


The first one broke a few feet from our father. It washed over the pyramid of rocks and completely over his head. He disappeared. Just like that. But only for a second…and then the ocean withdrew. He was there again, almost like magic. His eyes didn’t open, but he coughed and spat. He tried leaning forward but it was only reflex. He was still in some sort of sleep state. Three rocks remained on his chest. My brother was the first to snicker. I was still too bored with him to entertain any humor in it.


The second wave crashed at our father’s feet and surged over him. It was twice the depth of the previous wave. My brother stood up and ran next to where he had been, the water rushing around his knees. He was laughing hysterically. I couldn’t hold back anymore. I started laughing too. Our father was down there somewhere, not knowing what the hell.


“Now that drunk is really drunk,” I shouted.


My brother bent over and sobbed with more laughter. That’s when our father emerged from the shallow foam depths like the monster of all monsters, gargling and hacking, his chin bloodied from one of the rocks. My brother straightened up and ran for the wooden staircase. My father cleared the surf from his throat and screamed bloody murder. I followed after my brother and my father followed after me. He caught up to us in the living room and despite the cursings of his wife, delivered unto each son the beating they so desperately wanted from him and deserved.






Eugenio Volpe has published stories with New York Tyrant, Post Road, Smokelong Quarterly, Superstition Review, Exquisite Corpse, Thought Catalog, Twelve Stories, FRiGG, decomP, and more. He has won the PEN Discovery Award for his unpublished novel and been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Web prizes. He lives in Bristol, RI and blogs about surfing and Don DeLillo at mebeingbrand.blogspot.com.