The trouble started when my parents called me downstairs to perform tricks for their bombed friends who were over for an impromptu party, the natural outgrowth of a Friday, this one stretching until Sunday night. I'd been asked to do tricks on several occasions. My best one: penny-snatching. My ambition to become The Guinness Book of World Records holder. At the time, it was seventy-two pennies, attempted and caught, by a Belgian Olympic weightlifter whose hands were rumored to be as large as a normal man's foot. My personal best thus far had been thirty-two pennies out of forty attempted. But I was young, and the record could be achieved, assuming continued practice and a growth spurt. “Go ahead and show them,” my mother said. “They'll love it.” My father whispered theatrically, “It's really quite daring. I hold my breath every time he does it.” So I prepared myself, lining my pennies in stacks of ten across my forearm, concentrating . . . holding . . . holding . . . . This time, though, the pennies scattered, like buckshot, rather than dropping neatly into my palm, nicking four people in the eye and chipping Mr. Engler's front teeth, hospitalizing Jean Brokkow, whose mouth was opened at the time of contact, laughing at a joke my father told her, the flirtation the very thing that mis-calibrated my concentration, so in reality it was my father's fault, not mine. But that remained our little secret.
Dreaming of Roy Orbison
My father loved Roy Orbison, loved the juxtaposition of that quivering falsetto, the girlish sadness of those high-pitched songs emerging from the black jeans and satin shirts, the plastered jet-black hair, the dark sunglasses that made you wonder if he was blind. My father died years ago in Las Vegas. I didn’t go to the funeral because I was pregnant and only sixteen, already suffering from toxemia and the varnish of my shame. In the strange time after the birth, I kept dreaming of Roy Orbison. Each night he would take my hand in his, and I would be surprised by the smallness of his fingers, the soft, pink palms, the guitar-calloused fingertips. He escorted me to a theater on top of a hill and sang: I’ll be cry-yyyy-in’ over you. Cry-yyyy-in’ over you. Oh, what can I do-oo-oo? It wasn’t sad in the dreams, just tender and high-pitched, and each time, as he crescendoed, I feared that his voice would crack, and the crack echoed like a ghost sound in my head. On those nursing nights when I dreamed, I didn’t make the connection, didn’t even think about my father’s love of Roy Orbison. Only now, years later, my own son living with my ex-husband several hundred miles away from me, do I really miss my father, really sense that he is gone and will never return.
K. L. Cook is the author of three books of fiction: Last Call, The Girl From Charnelle, and most recently, Love Songs for the Quarantined, winner of the Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. He teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing and Environment Program at Iowa State University and Spalding University's low-residency MFA Program. His website is klcook.net.