by Matt Baker Read author interview July 25, 2010
I’ve never really felt like a Frank. After I say this, my wife blinks.
“It’s my name,” I say. “I’ve never felt comfortable with it.”
“You’ve always been Frank,” she says.
“I knew you’d say that. That’s such a simplistic way of looking at it. It’s like the naturalistic fallacy.” She blinks again. “Do you even know what that is?”
“No, sweetheart. I don’t know what the naturalistic fallacy is.”
“It’s the idea that just because something’s natural doesn’t mean it’s good for you or a good thing. That’s basically what it is.”
She sips her coffee. It’s summertime, the sunshine holds us down, unable to move. There’s no point trying to block it, the flimsy drapes are worthless. August in Alabama, what can you do?
“It’s the reason I’ve been in this funk,” I say. “Every few years it pops up again. It never goes away. I don’t feel like a Frank. I’m just so damn tired of pretending to be someone I’m not.”
She sips and says, “I’m sorry, but I’m confused. And I’m not trying to be difficult. I’m listening, I really am. But, what again, are you tired of pretending to be?”
“Tired of being yourself, like how? You no longer like programming computers? You need a career change?”
“No, no. You’re not listening. I like my job, computers, this house, our daughter, even you. That stuff is fine. It’s my name. I need a new name or I’m going to go fucking crazy.”
“You need a vacation. We need a vacation. You haven’t taken any time off all year, Frank.”
“Stop calling me that!”
I can’t tell anymore if my wife is being difficult on purpose or if she can’t help it. I’m reminded constantly about an inopportune remark I made three years ago that she still can’t get over. At a New Year’s party, my boss said that my wife was very pretty. Under the influence of three rum and Cokes, I said, “Yep, prettiest one in the catalog.” My wife is Russian but she’s not a catalog bride. She’s been in the United States for more than half of her life. When the Soviet Union crumbled her family fled to Omaha, Nebraska. I tell her that she they should’ve fled Omaha while they were at it.
So I agree with the vacation idea but it’s August so we go up north. Minnesota, the land o’ lakes. We stay at the Lake o’ the Pines, boating, swimming, and itching bug bites. Our daughter, who is fourteen, disappears for the entire trip. When we pack up the minivan to leave she emerges from the woods like a lost cat.
Then we stop in Chicago to drive by the campus of Elmhurst College, where my wife went to school. Then we stop in Louisville to visit my wife’s sister. Our daughter sleeps in the minivan. The next morning we sip coffee from the McDonald’s drive-thru and I say, “So, Alabama now? Can we fucking go home yet?”
“Stop calling me that! I’m not Frank, goddamn it.”
“Then who are you, Dad?”
I turn around, dripping coffee on my thighs. “I’m Dad to you, missus.”
“Just drive,” my wife says. “I’m tired. I want to go home.”
“Really? Sure you don’t have any other errands to run while we’re traversing through the great American Midwest?”
“Frank, we’re going home.”
“Will you stop calling me that?”
Then there’s nothing but the hum of wheels and the occasional beep and ding from my daughter’s gadget. Sometimes she takes calls, and tries to use her hushed voice, but I hear her. She’s telling her friends that her dad is freaking out.
Somewhere in Tennessee I decide I’m going to do it. I’m going to change my name. Make it official. I’ll need counseling. A lawyer. I’ll need everything I can get my hands on to make this right. It’ll take some getting used to, I know. People who’ve known me my entire life will have trouble saying it—my new name. It won’t feel right. I may lose friends because of it, but I’m prepared.
It takes six weeks to get my name officially changed to Andy. Six weeks later and I’m looking in the mirror, and I think: Andy, that’s me. My daughter is still not sleeping in the house. My wife went to Omaha for a funeral. So, here we are, or here I am: Andy. Andy has two syllables, instead of one—this is good. Saying Frank was too much lower lip and teeth. You could grunt it. But when I say Andy, my face doesn’t quite match the enthusiasm I envisioned. I try it again, and again. When I say Andy, my mouth barely moves, like a ventriloquist, like I’m doing the talking for someone else.
About the Author:
Matt Baker's work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Texas Review, Tampa Review, FRiGG, Cimarron Review, Saint Ann's Review, and elsewhere. He's the author of a novel, "Drag the Darkness Down."
About the Artist:
Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.