It’s the captain’s wheel that’s driving me crazy. It’s a ship wheel made of brass, hanging on the wall behind him and I can’t focus on what he’s saying, because all I can think about is how much I hate brass. As a metal, as a general rule. A general rule of distrust against a metal that tries to look like gold, which I take as a huge affront. I have two knobs in my apartment made of brass—in the kitchen, on the door on the way in, and on the door on the way out. Which is probably why I always leave the door open so I don’t have to touch them. Though maybe on a trumpet I would like it ok—in the hands of a small boy in a parade, or watching a parade in the Midwest wearing a sailor suit and a crew-cut hair cut. Then it’s probably ok…
“I’m sorry to hear about your mother.” He breaks into my thoughts, startling me.
“You didn’t know her. Don’t try to get into my head.” I say, reflecting, shortly, abruptly, looking at the cufflinks on his shirt; two gold anchors. I remember a girl once, with bluer eyes than mine and black hair sitting in a corner booth saying, “It feels like you’re in my head. Nebulous dreams and you’re in my head.” I wonder if that’s how she said it. Whatever nebulous means, and anyways it’s all fuzzy now. She’s fuzzy. It was too long ago and too many women, but it’s strange how some women stick with you. They stick in your head like a pocket of air that’s been trapped just in case you come to a time in life when you have trouble breathing. So you save them, just in case…
“I appreciate that this is personal for you, but if you are unwilling to cooperate, we can’t go any further,” Dr. Cufflinks cuts in again.
I look at the brass wheel to the side of his head and think, “I am every man in the whole world, every man but you.” But I regret thinking it, and I take it back, all in my head I take it back. I don’t think there are many people like me, most people think that though. Most people think there is no one else like them, but really, I think most people are like all of us. Even the doctor here probably looks just like me when he goes home to his wife and opens a beer. It’s just here, with the captain wheel behind him that he looks and sounds nothing like me.
“And you understand that if I cannot complete this evaluation, you will be found unfit to retain any custody of your child.”
A man in an office with a brass wheel and gold cufflinks is talking to a man with brass knobs on his kitchen door and there is all this space between us. It feels almost palpable the space between us, weird as that is—that you can touch the places where people don’t touch. But if you could, really touch the space I mean, I think that it would feel like wooden planks, raised off the ground and nailed down at chest level, so that if we got up to move, we would still stay the same distance apart, like we were balancing a broom between us that we were afraid to let drop.
“You understand that you might lose custody of your daughter?”
Yes. I understand. It makes me sad thinking about my daughter. I think about her, and I see her sitting alone in a room waiting for me. The room looks like her bedroom, but she’s probably with a social worker. And I don’t want her there, even in my head, so I push my fingers gently against the walls and they drop down all around her. I close my eyes tighter and she’s in a field with wildflowers and some horses. I think all little girls should have a horse. And letters from their fathers far away at sea. I can’t seem to picture myself in the field with Claire. I can’t ever seem to picture myself with her. Instead I put myself in a boat, and push off from the shore with my foot and float into the ocean, with my hands behind my head and my eyes on the stars. And my whole body relaxes. Can I be your dad from here? The idea seems moot and separate from love. I wonder if this doctor would understand that. I look up at the ceiling at the white perforated tiles and connect the dots, making Orion.
I look back at the doctor.
“I’m sorry, I’ll continue. I’m sorry.”
He nods and I think this doctor must be a good man. And he’s probably a good father. But maybe some people just aren’t supposed to have ever been parents. Maybe there was an order broken somewhere and a mistake made. But not for him, not for this doctor. I bet he’s a good father and I bet he would be a good sailor at sea. I wonder how we’d talk differently if we were on a boat together putting out the sail or hauling in fish. I bet it would be different. Perhaps at sea I would like brass better; on an anchor, or a ship wheel, a sailor’s coat, a moat, a boat, a goat, on a poem written down to send to a daughter far far away.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
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