THE BOOK: Father Flashes.
PUBLISHED IN: 2011.
THE AUTHOR: Tricia Bauer.
THE EDITOR: N/A.
THE PUBLISHER: Fiction Collective 2, University of Alabama Press.
SUMMARY: The winner of FC2’s inaugural Catherine Doctorow Prize for Innovative Fiction, Father Flashes re-imagines what the novel can be or do. Composed of stunning vignettes that capture the deterioration of a father’s mind and body, this novel provides poetic insight into the complex workings of a father-daughter relationship.
THE BACK STORY: This book, though short in length, took quite a long time to write. Initially, I wrote the book as poems, but it wasn’t until I transposed these pieces into prose that I found trhe freedom to lengthen the lines and sometimes to depart from the poems’ intrinsic music. This work cuts pretty close to the bone. The writing of my father’s disappearance was cathartic, but it was emotionally difficult to process and then to get down on paper. I could only work in brief stints, thus the brevity — and the density.
WHY THIS TITLE?: The title works on a number of different levels — Father Flashes refers to the literary form of flash fiction, to the camera flashes of the photographer/father, to the glimpses the narrator gets of her father as he deteriorates.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? For the many people trying to deal with the ramifications of Alzheimer’s Disease, maybe this book will offer a sense of familiarity. For anyone interested in family dynamics, maybe this book will offer a glimpse into its complexities. It’s a brutal process, but rather than depressing, I think there’s humor in the material at times. And surprising revelations about self, as well as the afflicted.
“Suffused with tenderness, Tricia Bauer’s Father Flashes is at once austere and lavish, simple and complex, troubling and serene. How to describe the feeling exactly? One feels in familiar territory: a parent will dim and eventually die. A child will grieve. Why then does reading Father Flashes feel so surprising—at once so natural and so frightening?”—From the foreword by Carole Maso.
“For fans of flash fiction and prose poetry, Father Flashes offers an impressive exploration of a hybrid form. Its language is precise and startling, and its insights feel remarkably genuine and deeply human. That alone is an exciting achievement for any piece of writing, however conventional or experimental its mode of expression may be.” — Brett Bisceglia, Front Porch.
“Father Flashes, by Tricia Bauer, is a beautifully written memoir and tribute. A father’s personality, his essence, is preserved even as his disappearing is documented. These flashes linger in the reader’s mind, and all together they build the life that must have been.” —Bobbie Ann Mason
AUTHOR PROFILE: I’ve been writing since I was eleven years old, so a long time now. I was an unnaturally shy kid, and it was my only outlet to try to connect, though I kept my occupation hidden until I was nearly out of college. I’ve fashioned my life around books — reading them, writing them, publishing with an indie and one of the Big Five, as well as a university press, and even working in publishing (children’s educational).
AUTHOR COMMENTS: I am interested in how stories are told even more than the stgories themselves. The most gratifying reading and writing experiences for me are those where structure perfectly matches the story told. I feel like I’ve always been w3orking under rthe radar. My first novel, Boondocking, comprised three different voices, and it came out nearly 20 years ago. My second, Hollywood and Hardwood, was a a series of interconencted stories published in 1999.
Their bodies give them away.
Looming larger, Mother has eaten her way beyond Father, who is shrinking to join the metal men poised in accomplishment on his golf trophies. They try to justify why they no longer sleep together.
He laughs and gestures to indicate the hill shaped in their bed she’s grown so heavy. Dream after dream he rolls into her. She scowls at how he makes himself lighter with every trip to the toilet.
“Every hour,” she says. “All night. Every hour.”
My brother and I, home for a visit, do not understand the new arrangement—them in our old beds. Just by our presence, we force them to turn back that old landscape of nubby chenille and bleached white sheets covering a mattress eight hours older than their marriage. Their feet must bump the sky-blue dust ruffle as they sigh into bed.
My brother settles upstairs, directly above me on the double bed in the room once mine. Mother’s new domain of patterns, lengths of cotton and corduroy, virgin wool, and synthetic silks are colorful as foreign goods from dusty, overland hills. Some nights she sews herself to sleep.
My brother sleeps with his new wife as I pull down the wheat-colored blanket on a bed always his—the single in the smaller room for the second-born. Father claims it’s inviting as a just-mown lawn.
What I hear in the next room my brother must hear, too—Mother and Father turning and turning, determined as animals circling a given spot before settling finally against the ground.
My father wakes at two a.m. and sits totally dressed, complete with overcoat and woolen cap, in his small white house surrounded by the perforations of a chain-link fence that could be punched through into the earth with the right blow. Still, the worn row of other same houses would go on.
My father is waiting for someone to take him home.
My mother wakes to find him out of place, says, “Not again with the chauffeur.”
She demands the driver’s name, his color, his sense of direction, and the amount of gas in his tank. Entering her husband’s reality, she thinks she can release him from it. She never tells him his dreams have spilled out of control across the stain-resistant carpeting, the no-wax floors. She tells him never get into a car with a stranger.
He sighs and says, “The fellah should have been here by now.”
He promises to wait as long as he has to.
The couple next door, who have moved back into her parents’ house until he gets another job, raise the volume of the TV. That laugh track scrambles up back steps and presses against the window nearest my father.
“I think I hear something,” he says.
Each of the walls that now frame him hold photographs he’s taken of his children, his wife, night views of the city he’s lived in all of his life.
My brother, who, like me, now lives elsewhere, calls for quiet, his curses soft as rumors of a mid-summer storm. Was he dreaming of children—scattered seeds in January? His eyes, as mine, must be wide with the dark.
“Kiss me goodbye,” my father says from the living room.
My breathing stops at what might be premonition.
We hear my mother answer, “If the guy does show up, I’m getting in the limousine. You can stay here.”
Tomorrow when I take off, I’ll use the only cure I know: loud music—so loud your whole body could split in half—played in a car driven so fast you can almost reach the moment many young years ago when you still believed it was possible to leave home.
He petitions the small events wheeling around him into a dialogue with himself:
“Did you close the door?”
“Is the front door closed?”
“Did you close the front door?”
“I guess the door’s closed.”
“Did you close the door?”
Back and forth the words flow from the stutterer trying to hold onto sounds long enough, not to be understood, but to force them to accumulate enough meaning that he understands himself. Then, adjusting each image to the tempo of heartbeat, he pulls detail after detail from his imagined past to hold him here:
“Anything can get in. My mother called and called me, so I ran up the hill to our house. My legs ached like I don’t know what. I reached into all my pockets for the keys when this little cat brushed by me and pushed the door right open. There were cats everywhere.”
She repeats the work she has given her life to: helplessness, need, mispronunciation guided into meaning. Farther and farther back she goes—every morning laying out his clothes that smell of sunshine and wind, bending his arms toward the armholes, moving his fingers to buttons, then buttonholes, with a warm wet rag wiping at his face, the back of his neck, the undersides of his feet. Eventually, she knows, he will need diapers.
Every Saturday when I call long-distance she tells me what he’s done all week, the amazing things he’s said:
“How come you only have one ear?”
“What the hell is that pig doing on the clothesline?” the way once she must have reported to her own mother about my first cawing at language.
There is little difference between joy and fear when a woman is in awe of what is expected of her.
The photograph he frames with his fingers, he took five years ago to finish off a roll. “What’s the setup here?” he asks of the image in front of him.
He’d come home, in from startling wind after an assignment to photograph a new Jiffy Lube. His collar turned up, his hair wild as the forest undergrowth near the farm of his youth, he looked pushed through a narrow tunnel and into a still, inland sea of light. My brother, mother, and I were discussing divorces and operations and the end of daylight savings time. Often he interrupted this way and we thought nothing of it at the time.
“One quick one,” he’d said, and the three of us knew immediately that he meant to develop the film right after the shutter click.
“Hold still,” he’d said. “I’ll join you.” The time scraped by in seconds as he made his way to the center of us and smiled. Automatically, we were together.
“Who in the hell are these people?” he now asks, as my mother brushes at the new space between them.
“You know who they are,” she says defiantly, looking down through her bifocals.
He squints and says, “I think I do recognize the fellah.”
“That’s your son.” She speaks the announcement so softly she listens to herself.
“Son, hell. He’s old enough to be my father.”
He shakes the photograph in the air. “Just what’s the setup here?”
Now she is with him, one arm on his shoulder to guide him toward the small orbit we have made of ourselves. She touches the faces of the photograph. “Son, daughter, mother, father.” She looks up at nothing in particular.
“That’s it?” he asks.
“It’s a family,” she answers the solid way she’d pronounce the obvious—”It’s a meatloaf”—at dinner.
“The hell it is,” he says. “Who is this old guy?” he asks, staring at the image of himself.
Then it’s quiet, but for the wind that’s been almost audible all along.
Often the last photographs he took in order not to waste a single frame, were afterthoughts that, over time, have ripened with more meaning than those taken with purpose. The border collie the day before she was hit by a moving van; his mother a week before a mini stroke distorted her smile; once smuggled as a baby from Canada, that tall backyard spruce before smitten by a freak hurricane, or the family before disease expressed its strength; before asides became the conversation.
“The tear ducts are shot,” the doctor says.
The man is tall and smart looking with thick-rimmed glasses, and wise enough to speak to my mother in the colloquial way that she interprets as “down to earth.”
What’s worn away might be a key piece of metal or polymer, not the metaphor for emotional regulation. The doctor turns to me. “It’s actually the mucus membrane that’s deteriorated in his eyes.” He pauses, looks above my mother’s head at a mounted diploma.
“Basically, there’s nothing to hold back the tears,” the doctor says.
If he’s down to earth, I’m up in the clouds and thinking of rain.
Mother stares at Father, who complains anew that he doesn’t know why in the hell he’s always crying. Like a malfunctioning camera, his eyes won’t focus.
She opens her arms for emphasis, one hand pointing in the direction of the doctor, the other toward me. “He
wasn’t the one who used them,” she says.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Books on the Common, Ridgefield, CT.
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & noble, etc.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: firstname.lastname@example.org.