Andy Hobin

Your Dad Communes with God’s Creatures: Five Episodes

I. Your Dad at Rest

Your dad is sleeping. In his mind’s eye it is a red dusk in a valley, and he sees roasting spits. Lots of them. Great hogs are skewered mouth-to-anus and rotating lazily over abundant beds of glowing coals, their flesh wrinkling and browning and smelling of sweet apples and of something savory and unnameable. They seem happy, in a way. The spits are set in rows which form a geometrically flawless grid. Your dad turns his head to the left and then the right, but he can see no beginning or end to the lines of spits and fires. The rows seem to stretch on to infinity as if the roasting hogs form an unbroken chain around the full circle of the globe. Standing on his tiptoes, your dad can only just see over the backs of the hogs, and those rows of sizzling beasts seem also to carry on until they disappear beyond the horizon. It is as though a decision had been made to exterminate a species in the most delicious way possible. Your dad looks down at his hands, but they are no longer his hands. His left hand has become a platinum spork, and his right hand has become a silken towel. The towel is somehow able to moisten itself, and when it does, your dad is overcome with a hunger. But not a hunger for nourishment so much as a deep, all-consuming, soul-quaking lust. The lust feels natural, and primitive, and beautiful, and urgent.

Your dad wakes. He transfers his bag of deli ham from the refrigerator to the back of the freezer and makes a small salad for breakfast.

II. Whatever You Do to the Least of My Creatures

Your dad is taking the stairs at work because a man has to get his exercise when he can. Today, between the second and third floors, your dad looks down and sees a stink bug lying flat on its back, trapped there by the unfortunate broad flatness of its being. The bug’s legs are thrashing, and it reminds your dad of an upended turtle that he saw on the side of the county highway last summer. He had pulled over to the side of the road and righted the animal. He watched it scoot away into the woods. Wondering where the nearest body of water lay, your dad composed a haiku on the back of a Burger King wrapper picked up from the side of the road:

Out of the gloaming

We seek the swaddling of a

Day long past and gone

Your dad produces a pencil from his backpack and kneels down. Using the soft end of the eraser instead of the lead point, he tries to flip the stink bug over. But he is unable to wedge the eraser beneath the bug in such a way as to thrust the eraser up and right the bug. So he scoots the bug over to the lip of the step and nudges it over the edge. Success! The bug lands on its belly. Your dad pockets the pencil and proceeds on his way, pleased with himself.

The next day, on that very stairwell, your dad glances down and sees the stink bug, one stair below where it had come to rest on its feet, lying motionless on its back.

III. The Duck

Your dad is walking a long meandering walk across a college campus trail in order to break in a new pair of shorts. It is a sunny day in the mountains, surely the best kind of day there is in all the world. The air smells fresh. The water on a nearby duck pond appears as smooth and cool as steel. A fine day to take a new pair of short pants for an inaugural stroll.

Your dad hears a rustling of feathers. He glances behind him and sees a duck standing in the trail. It is a brown duck with a green head, a plain duck, but handsome nonetheless, the kind of duck you see in picture form accompanying the definition of “duck” in dictionaries for children. Your dad grins and waves at the duck and says, “Hello there, Sir Quackingtonsworth! Nice day to be out and about, isn’t it?” The duck looks at him and says nothing.

Your dad continues along the trail. He sees clouds in the shape of a goat, and of a hippo riding a crocodile, and of two horses fucking. What sights! But when he turns around, there again is the duck. It is closer to him than before, only a few feet away, and it is looking up at him with what your dad believes is an expression of expectancy in its round black eyes. Your dad is unnerved. He continues on his way, a little faster now. But when he glances over his shoulder again, there is the duck, waddling after him with an unmistakable urgency. Your dad quickens his pace, but the duck quickens its pace too, and when your dad finally breaks into a panicked sprint the duck takes wing after him, flying behind him in a bullet-straight trajectory only a few feet off the ground.

When your dad reaches an administration building he slams the glass door behind him, between himself and the duck. The duck stands outside the door tapping its bill against the glass, which sounds like the tapping of a nickel against a plate. Then it turns and walks away, as if bored of the whole thing, or resigned. Your dad stands with his hands on his knees wheezing and gasping for breath. When he has all but regained his composure, he staggers down the hall in search of a water fountain.

And it is as he is walking down the hall that your dad glances down, and it occurs to him: Isn’t that the damnedest thing? Those new shorts of his all of a sudden fit like a dream.

IV. The Room

Your dad is rolling around in a room full of koalas. Oh my gosh they are just so fuzzy and cuddly and wonderful! Your dad has paid one thousand dollars for this privilege, and he believes it to be the best one thousand dollars he has ever spent, or ever will spend. Do not ask him how he acquired the one thousand dollars. He giggles and paws at the koalas with the gentleness of a kitten, and they smile at him – Koalas can smile! Who knew! – and hug each other and clap their little hands. A group of koalas clusters together in the shape of a heart, and another group of koalas clusters together to spell out with their bodies your dad’s name in an elegant cursive script. A set of speakers mounted on the wall is piping in music: Spike Jones, Tiny Tim, Raffi. The wallpaper is baby blue. Your dad almost wishes that the koalas would band together and smother him, smother the breath out of him, for he believes that to die happy is to be touched by the very finger of God. Then he thinks that he might kill the koalas in such a way, for they too are certainly as happy as he, and don’t they deserve to be touched by God, though surely by virtue of their snuggly-wuggly perfection they have already been so touched? But the thought of snuffing out a room full of koalas strikes your dad’s heart with a stabbing awfulness, a terrible punch of agony, and he folds himself into a ball and weeps there on the floor. The koalas lick his tears.

V. Your Dad at Rest Redux

Your dad is there in that sublime cocoon of near-sleep when he hears what sounds like the tapping of a nickel against a plate.

His eyes spring open and there, just beyond his bedroom window, is the duck, suspended amazingly in the moonlight like an enormous hummingbird. Your dad shrinks back in his bed and pulls his flannel Garfield sheets up to his neck. The duck, eyes bright and wings a-blur, stares at him intently, almost lovingly, as if all of the generations of duck have rolled along through time only to finally arrive outside your dad’s window, as if the duck has no other choice than to regard your dad as its god, as if wherever your dad chooses to call home is an ark bobbing atop a flooded world, as if your dad is the answer to the question.

“Let me in,” says the duck in a golden voice. “You can let me in now.”

Andy Hobin is an MFA candidate at Virginia Tech, where he edited fiction for the minnesota review. Find his work in The Rumpus, Midwestern Gothic, Staccato, Communicating Literature, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and A Prairie Home Companion’s “First Person” series. Favorite animals: sandpipers, not-yappy dogs, hummingbirds. Least favorite: peacocks, cats, alligators.