by Mark Seidl
I grew up in a family that lived in caves. My father did all the decorating. He painted animals—black antelope, umber elk & mammoth. He molded their shapes over the rock's dips & ridges, so in the flickering firelight they seemed to breathe & trail shadows over a flinty plain. Whatever he painted was the meat he lugged home after a hunt for supper. Once he painted my portrait. A bulge in the rock swelled my jaw. Like someone punched me, I said. He smiled. His fist extended in a long, leisurely hook. When his knuckles connected with my chin, my head twisted around in slow-motion recoil. His lips popped softly—pow!
My father, trained as a journalist, was a writer of formidable imagination. Throughout our shared years, he wrote letters to me in which he envisioned the lives I might live. In one, I could be a naval intelligence operative cracking an adversary's code; in another, an international businessman closing brilliant deals in Paris or Kuala Lumpur; and in yet another, a professional interpreter for the United Nations who has mastered Chopin on the piano and has a mean tennis serve. These letters came in a steady procession, sometimes as many as five in a day. Reading them, I felt like someone in a fun house hall of mirrors who keeps walking into the glass. I rarely replied, and then only to report on my schoolwork, the weather, and other news. Once, in a fit of adolescent vexation, I threw away about five years' worth. I don't wish them back. I do wish, though, that he and I had visited on our travels together—he was also a redoubtable traveler—the painted caves at Lascaux or Altamira when it was still possible to enter them.
Mark Seidl loves New York's Hudson Valley, where he lives and works as a special collections librarian, but he wishes the region had more dogwood trees. His work has appeared in several online and print journals, most recently The Bakery, Burnside Review, and YB.