Amber D. Tran graduated from West Virginia University in 2012, where she specialized in lyrical non-fiction and contemporary poetry. She is the Editor-in-Chief for the Cold Creek Review literary journal. Her work has been featured in Calliope, Sonic Boom Journal, Spry Literary Journal, Cheat River Review, and more. She has work forthcoming in The Stray Branch, Mandala Journal, and more. Her first novel, Moon River, was released in September. She currently lives in Alabama with her husband and two dogs, Ahri and Ziggs.
When I was nine, I smacked my father across the face.
He was sitting on the porch swing and I was lying across the wooden seat, my legs dangling over one side and my head resting on his lap. He decided to tickle me. At first, his fingers did not bother me. He gently jabbed at my sides, and when I failed to produce a giggle, he tickled my thighs and underneath my arms. As his fingers playfully rubbed my neck, I cringed. My body jerked. I didn’t like my neck being touched, but my father didn’t understand why I tried to push his hands away.
“Stop! Stop it!” I cried. The more I screamed, the more my father found it funny. He laughed. I couldn’t laugh with him. I pleaded, “Please, I don’t like it! Stop!” But no. Tears spilled from my eyes onto my father’s arms. They made his tanned skin glitter. The porch swing was bouncing and rocking with the uncontrollable convulsions of my body. I even lost my tennis shoe.
Suddenly, I felt a strong sting in my palm. My father finally stopped.
My handprint painted red on his right cheek. I had slapped him.
The look on his face was something new to me. He gazed blankly down on me with stunned eyes. Between his eyebrows, the flesh began to wrinkle with appalled anger. I stared back at him, wiping away the tears from my cheeks and rubbing my neck. I had never seen my father so speechless—defeated, even—and it was frightening. After a few seconds, my father pushed me from his lap and got up from the porch swing. He wouldn’t face me.
“Do you have anything to say to me?” he asked, his hand poised impatiently over the front door of his house.
I wondered if that’s what my mother asked him after he came home late from Biggie’s, his body bathed in Budweiser and marijuana, and used her like a doll. When he pulled at the strings that held her together and watched as the stuffing fell from her eyes and spilled from her broken limbs. My father inflicted his insecurities on her because he knew she would forgive him. By the end of the night, while she struggled to crawl into bed with him, my mother would always say, “I’m sorry, Ronald.”
He used her apologies like a lullaby and fell asleep to them every night for five years.
I wouldn’t sing like my mother, though. When my father looked over his shoulder, his pale eyes asking me to apologize, I shook my head. “No. I have nothing to say.” He blinked. The pulsating sting on my palm started to fade. He went away, too, disappearing into the house, right after he tossed out all of the memories of my mother.
They scattered on the porch. It was like looking in a mirror.
He didn’t talk to me for five years.