The More Missed
by Holly Brickley
Logger dads hit town with fists crashing their dashboards, windows down in winter air, music jangling out. They know how cool they are. Until the snow lifts off the mountains, they are home.
They have trunkfuls of new brand names—Roller Racers, jeans with jewels and chains—from the city they passed on their way home from camp. No malls necessary; they just stuck an arm out a truck window and swept the highwayside whole.
All winter they track slush from their boots into the store for cigarettes. The mess they leave everywhere is exciting. A small quiet man comes to cover it with cardboard.
Now in spring they are pointed out on mountaintops: “Look!” Little fingertips rise every afternoon like salutes, notching the progress of logger dads. At first they are distant green-blue fuzz, nothing much, but by summer they have become bald spots, brown and giant: their own profiles carved into the mountainside. It takes no squinting to see now, north-northwest, the silhouette of little Angelina’s pop—Roman nose and upper lip—unless that is the bent knee of the burly Smith dad, the tip of his boot.
The children are riding their Roller Racers in circles, waiting for winter.
Everywhere in town are missing dads, cooler and cooler the more they are missed.
One missing dad embezzled. He worked at the bank and took a few bucks from different accounts every day for twenty-five years. Visiting hours—now there’s a place to really talk.
The child is getting cigarettes in the store on his way to the jail, his fists blossoming crumpled bills for the man at the register: “Presents for my dad.” He tells stories of bread and water only, and tattoos, and never ever any sunlight.
Into the vacancy of missing dads come shrinking grandpa dads. They shrink even in the aisles of the store, heads bobbing lower and lower as they buy Doritos, Hawaiian Punch—guessing: Anything bright, anything bright will suffice. They do not seem fantastic, but look at their feats.
One dad broke his own back with a cough. “Darcy’s dad coughed and broke his back!” Darcy made her dad a card with crayons and now she is eating Jell-O next to his hospital bed, kissing a spoonful for cherry lipstick.
Another got the shingles—“Did you know old people get the chicken pox?” This grandpa dad has spots all over and a puffy pink eye. He is lying in bed and the child, a little boy in shorts, is holding the hand of an uncle or babysitter, probably headed for video games.
The shingles had lain dormant in his grandpa dad’s spine for years before sprouting out his skin. The spines of these old men, the wondrous spines!
He is the only drugstore dad; I search the town for others but cannot see a single one.
Darcy comes in for licorice. I am doing my homework behind the counter. I avoid the subject of her grandpa dad.
The drugstore dad wraps stacks of one-dollar bills with rubber bands and winces at box-cutter nicks from opening boxes of boxes of Kleenex. He locates items for customers, smiles, checks my answers on the adding machine.
After closing he comes straight home to tuck me in: There he is at the edge of the bed, a shadow leaning down. I am squealing: “Cardboard! Gross, you smell like cardboard!”
When I wrote this story, in my early-ish twenties, I was thinking a lot about the tragedy of romanticizing tragedy. I was just exiting a life stage that involved a lot of sitting in bars after workshops and saying things like, “I can’t write when I’m happy.” Growing up can be such a relief.
Holly Brickley lives in San Francisco with her husband and two daughters. She tweets sporadically but earnestly @hollybrick.