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SmokeLong Quarterly

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The Father’s Story

Story by Matt Barrett (Read author interview) October 31, 2016

Art by Karen Prosen

In a hotel room out west, a man writes his children a letter. He begins by saying I’m sorry—sorry for leaving when they were young, sorry for never coming home to visit. He stops here and pictures their faces: Joanne with pigtails and a crooked mouth. Tim with wispy blonde hair and chubby cheeks. They must not look like this anymore. He writes that he’s coming home to see them if that’s all right. Of course it’s not all right. He’s heard their mother has died, and he’s sorry for that, too. He’s not sure why. I’m sorry you only have each other now.

I want to make amends, he says, and folds the letter in an envelope. Tomorrow he will mail it and put gas in his truck and drive east for the first time in thirteen years. The letter will arrive a day or two before him. He will knock on their door, and they will answer—Joanne now seventeen and Tim with braces, or so he guesses. They will recognize him, but Joanne will not let him inside. He knows that. He knows they will close the door. He knows he will stand on their front step as they shut the blinds and check to see the windows are closed. But what is there to lose? He can’t know everything. It’s been too long to know everything. Like what they will think as he stands there with the blinds shut between them. Or what they will do when he refuses to leave. He does not know who they will call when he goes around back and enters through the basement door. It will be good for them to see him. It is only right for them to sit at the breakfast table and talk. And whether they know it or not, they will listen. They will enjoy his stories of broken down cars and endless farms and a thousand mountains in the distance. He will teach them a thing or two about life. What have they done so far? Other than remain in a single place with a single mom? He’s the one who’s lived. He’s their father, after all. He’s the vagabond, as their mother said. The wanderer, as his parents said, the vow-breaking husband, the good-for-nothing dad—but not for long. He will tell them why he left. He will convince them he was right. He will look into their eyes at the breakfast table and keep them seated for as long as it takes, they will love him someday, and he knows it. If they listen they will love him, and he taps the envelope twice before turning off the lamp. How exciting, he thinks, that they don’t expect it yet.

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Notes from Guest Reader Kari Nguyen

I love how the story is driven almost completely by unknowns, and at the same time reveals so much, in such a compelling way. The action unfolds in just a few moments but the implications of that action reverberate mightily; I was haunted, unsure, and hopeful, all at once.

About the Author

Matt Barrett holds an MFA in Fiction from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and his stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, River Teeth, The Minnesota Review, The Maine Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Wigleaf, among others. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and son and teaches English at his undergraduate alma mater, Gettysburg College.

About the Artist

Karen Prosen has been taking photographs for about five years now, and although she has newly branched out into various other modalities, photography will always be her most favorite and most natural way of sharing with the world. She believes photography is like being a mirror for someone, and saying, “Did you know that this is the way I see you?” It’s why she loves portraiture—the ability to turn beauty in all its forms around to show the beheld. To Karen, photography is a gift.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Four
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