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Under-prescribed

Story by Melissa Fraterrigo (Read author interview) June 19, 2023

Art by Roma Kaiuk

That Easter would be the last egg hunt. Dad stood silent on the patio, white hair dithering, watching my daughters and their cousin jet from one side of the yard to the other: “Found one!” they shouted, the braces on their teeth glinting, scooping up plastic eggs the same color as the foil-wrapped pots of lilies that decorated the altar of St. Ann’s, where as a child I fixated on the white linen painting of the just-resurrected Jesus resplendent in white robes, a golden globe framing his head, arms extended, the holes in his palms simple brown circles. Shouldn’t they be red? I was certain that the real Jesus—the son of God—lived behind the fabric, which somehow led to our basement beside the hot water tank and gurgling sump pump, Dad’s rifles in their padded cases; a sort of tunnel that connected Jesus from the painting to the innards of our house, keeping us safe.

Only I knew he was there.

The girls spent the day in the basement sewing clothes for a green and white calico rabbit they called Ratty, the three of them stitching by hand under bars of fluorescent light as muffled sounds from upstairs filtered down: the barking dogs, clattering baking dishes, my mother’s shuffled steps; behind them shelves heaved with oversized items from Costco: oatmeal, pretzels, paper towels, things my parents use, only who knew what this year would hold; no one talked about it, the sky flushed and rosy; we had yet to eat the kapusta, creamy cabbage hunked with Polish sausage, but we were all waiting to hear the results of Dad’s biopsy and he was quiet. He didn’t talk until later, after dinner, when someone spied a wet spot on the living-room rug from one of the dogs. I started cleaning dishes from the table; the food all had the same lukewarm flavor and as I held the stacked plates in my arms, I passed Dad bent over, dabbing the wetness with a folded-over paper towel, a dark splotch blooming on his jeans, at the back of his thigh, an odd place. Did he sit in the dog’s urine? A thwap of panic hit me and once I saw it I couldn’t unsee it; he had surgery some years ago for prostate cancer and it changed some things unknown to me until now, and later, on the long drive back on US-41, newly painted signs for Trump 2024, sun drooping in cursory orange shadows, my daughters’ devices brightening the backseat, the signs for the speed limit appeared smudged. I squinted and the telephone poles lengthened, the billboards crisp. It was an old trick I used to see the chalkboard until sixth grade when it was my turn to read the sentence on the film strip and the whole thing remained fuzzy and indistinct, and Mrs. Pamedis announced I needed glasses, so I breathed through my mouth to keep from crying. I already saw things that others did not, like how Jesus had shown himself to me and for a while I had believed, and now at the optometrist for the third time in two months, I confess everything is blurry. He clicks a few slides on the phoropter and shows me my vision with a stronger prescription.

I actually like to be under-prescribed, he says, and I think of the hazy street signs, the invisible stitches my daughters made with their cousin, Dad bent over, cleaning up the dog’s mess, the phone call that hadn’t yet arrived, its cold ring coming after all of us had left and it’s just the two of them again, my parents, and Dad picks up, says hello.

About the Author

Melissa Fraterrigo is the author of the novel Glory Days (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), which was named one of “The Best Fiction Books of 2017” by the Chicago Review of Books as well as the story collection The Longest Pregnancy (Livingston Press, 2006). She founded the Lafayette Writers’ Studio in Lafayette, Indiana, and also teaches creative writing at Purdue University.

About the Artist

Roma Kaiuk is a photographer from Dnipro, Ukraine.

This story appeared in Issue Eighty of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighty
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