Father Coming Home

Sherman Alexie

Father coming home from work. Me, waiting on the front steps, watching him walk slowly and carefully, carrying the black metal lunch box with maybe half a sandwich, maybe the last drink of good coffee out of the thermos, maybe the last bit of a dream.

Father coming home from work five days a week. Me, waiting every day until the day he doesn’t come walking home, because he cut his knee in half with a chainsaw. Me, visiting my father laying in bed in the hospital in Spokane. Both of us, watching the color television until my mother comes from shopping at Goodwill or Salvation Army; until the nurses come in telling us we have to go.

Father coming home from the hospital in a wheelchair. Me, waiting for him to stand up and teach me how to shoot free throws. Me, running up to him one day and jumping hard into his lap, forgetting about his knee. Father holding me tight against his chest, dark and muddy, squeezing his pain into my thin ribs, his eyes staying clear.

Father coming home from the mailbox, exercising his knee again and again. Me, looking up from the floor as he’s shaking his head because there is no check, no miracles coming in the mail. Father bouncing the basketball, shooting lay-in after lay-in, working the knee until it bleeds along the scars. Father crying from the pain late at night, watching television. Me, pretending to be asleep. All of us listening to canned laughter.

Father coming home from another job interview, limping only a little but more than enough to keep hearing no, no, no. Me, eating potatoes again in the kitchen, my mother’s face growing darker and darker by halves. One half still mostly beautiful, still mostly Indian, the other half something all-crazy and all-hungry. Me waking her up in the middle of the night, telling her my stomach is empty. Her throwing me outside in my underwear and locking the door. Me, trying anything to get back in.

Father coming home from drinking , after being gone for weeks. Me, following him around all the time. Him, never leaving my sight, going into the bathroom. Me, sitting outside the door, waiting, knocking on the wood every few seconds, asking him Are you there? Are you still there?

Father coming home finally from a part-time job. Driving a water truck for the BIA. Me, waiting on the front steps, watching him come home early every day. Him, telling my mother when they think I can’t hear, he doesn’t know if he’s strong enough. Father telling mother he was driving the truck down Little Falls Hill, trying to downshift but his knee not strong enough to keep holding the clutch in. Me, holding my breath. Him, driving around the corner on two wheels, tons and tons of water, half-insane. Me, closing my eyes. Him balancing, always ready to fall. Me, holding onto father with all my strength.