My father is singing.
High above Cayugas waters, theres an awful smell.
Some say its Cayugas waters, some say its Cornell.
He always sings in the car. He has a low voice scraped out by
cigarettes and all the yelling he does. His big pointy Adams apple
bobs up and down, turning the tanned skin white wherever it moves.
He reaches over to the puppy in my lap. Yous a good little rascal. Yes you is, he says in his dog voice, a happy, hopeful voice he doesnt use much on people.
The puppy was a surprise for my eleventh birthday, which was yesterday. I chose the ugliest one in the shop. My father and the owner tried to tempt me with the full-breed Newfoundlands, scooping up the silky black sacks of fur and pressing their big heavy heads against my cheek. But I held fast. A dog like that would make leaving even harder. I pushed them away and pointed to the twenty-five dollar wirehaired mutt that had been in the corner cage since winter.
My father dropped the last Newfoundland back in its bed of shavings. Well, its her birthday, he said slowly, with all the bitterness of a boy whose birthday it was not.
He didnt speak to me again until we got into the car. Then, before he started the engine, he touched the dog for the first time, pressing its ungainly ears flat to its head. Im not saying yous not ugly because you is ugly. But yous a keeper.
From the halls of Montezuma, he sings out to the granite boulders that line the highway home, to the shores of Tripoli! We have both forgotten about Project Genesis. The blue van is in our driveway, blocking my fathers path into the garage.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, he says in his fake crying voice, banging his forehead on the steering wheel. Why me? He turns slightly to make sure Im laughing, then moans again. Why me? We hear them before we see them, shrieks and thuds and slaps, a girl hollering William! William! over and over, nearly all of them screaming, Watch me! Watch this!
Is you new neighba, my father says to me, but not in his happy dog voice.
I carry the puppy and my father follows with the bed, bowls, and food. My pool is unrecognizable. There are choppy waves, like way out on the ocean, with whitecaps. The cement squares along its edge, which are usually hot and dry and sizzle when you lay your wet stomach on them, are soaked from all the water washing over the sides.
Its my pool because my father had it built for me. On the morning of my fifth birthday he took me to our club to go swimming. Just as I put my feet on the first wide step of the shallow end and looked out toward the dark deep end and the thick blue and red lines painted on the bottom, the lifeguard hollered from his perch that there were still fifteen minutes left of adult swim. My father, whod belonged to the club for twenty years, who ran and won all the tennis tournaments, explained that it was his daughters birthday.
The boy, Thomas Novak, shook his head. Im sorry, Mr. Amory,
he called down. Shell have to wait fifteen minutes like everyone else.
My father laughed his youre a moron laugh. But theres no one in the pool!
Im sorry. Its the rules.
You know what? my father said, his neck blotching purple, Im going home and building my own pool.
He spent that afternoon on the telephone, yellow pages and a pad of paper on his lap, talking to contractors and writing down numbers. As I lay in bed that night, I could hear him in the den with my mother. Its the rules, he mimicked in a baby voice, saying over and over that a kid like that would never be allowed through the clubs gates if he didnt work there, imitating his mothers Hiya down at the drugstore where she worked. In the next few weeks, trees were sawed down and a huge hole dug, cemented, painted, and filled with water. A little house went up beside it with changing rooms, a machine room, and a bathroom with a sign my father hung on the door that read WE DONT SWIM IN YOUR TOILETPLEASE DONT PEE IN OUR POOL.
Father of the Rain © 2010 by Lily King, reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Grove Atlantic, Inc.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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