Papi by Christopher Dehon

typewriter
My parents probably spoke Spanish to each other when they lived together. I don’t remember. Dad never learned English, and Mom stopped speaking Spanish after they separated. On the weekends with my dad, I only needed two words. Sí, Papi. I know he said terrible things about my mother. I couldn’t understand him, but I was sure that they were “bitch,” “whore,” and, when my future stepfather came along “gold digger.” When he would pause and look my way. I’d say the only Spanish I knew, Sí, Papi. When I was a kid, I said this to appease him. When I was a teenager, it was because I agreed.

Later, when I was old enough to decide whether to spend weekends in his cramped, dirty apartment, when hard labor and hard liquor had wreaked havoc on his body, I still went. Mom reminded me that I didn’t have to. By then I felt sorry for him. Mom had remarried. Her new husband was younger and much better looking than my dad was. Dad was better looking when he was this man’s age, though. Dad kept a picture in his apartment of the three of us on a road trip to the beach that I’m too young to remember taking. His shirt’s off, and he’s smiling with his arm around my mother’s waist. My girlfriends would drool over someone who looked like that. If I’d known how to say it, I would have asked him why he kept that picture on his fridge.

My new step-dad never hit my mother. He never lost his job or wrecked the car. He never drank away the grocery money. He didn’t speak Spanish. If he did, he wouldn’t have needed the Spanish words for “bitch” or “whore.” They had two more girls. Girls who wouldn’t get pregnant at 15 and get tattoos of their baby’s name on their chest above their tits (as if being proud of them made them legitimate). Mom said it was the weekends with dad that were the problem. At dad’s I only knew Sí, Papi. At home, I knew every way to say “no” to my mother.

I don’t remember when mom’s man started coming into my room at night. She was pregnant with my youngest sister when it started. She was in kindergarten before I told anyone. On the nights he didn’t come in, which outnumbered the ones that he did, I’d think about how my dad would learn English. He’d get a good job. He’d lose weight, quit drinking, start running. He’d know what was going on without me even telling him. He’d walk in the house without knocking. He’d look my step-dad in the face, and they’d both know that he knew. He’d pick up my little sister’s aluminum softball bat she always left on the floor. He’d cock it back at my step-dad’s head, and he’d look at me, waiting. And I’d say the only Spanish words I knew.

 

Christopher Dehon

 

Header photograph: By Dan McCoy, 1936-, Photographer (NARA record: 2389842) (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

10 thoughts on “Papi by Christopher Dehon

  1. You describe a pretty abject situation in a well put together story that ends with great impact. You write nicely and it reads easily. You also, although you may disagree, ask us to condone beating people about the head with a baseball bat, which makes me feel uncomfortable. This story follows a format which we’ve seen here before, whereby victims of awful abuse, or some kind of Robin Hood character acting on behalf of the victim, take the law into their own hands. This sort of denouement is, in my opinion, morally questionable and, from a literary point of view, a bit overworked and lazy.

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  2. I think readers should note that the violence implied in the ending is the narrator’s IMAGINED violence. And even if violence actually came to pass in the story, isn’t the point of using fiction to be emotionally honest and cathartic, to allow possibilities as a narrator that the writer might not allow in real life? I think the previous commenter is confusing the voice of the narrator with the voice of the writer. It’s perfectly reasonable to be disgusted by violence, and to disagree with the writer’s choice of ending. But I don’t think the writer is condoning violence. He is allowing the narrator to give voice to his own story. There’s a big difference there.

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