air flowed into the room like cold water, and Tyler stirred
and saw that his father was in the room.
For a time, the presence of his father
got mixed up with his dream, with other impossibilities.
In his dream, Tyler had been looking at a great thick
book whose title he could not make out. When he opened
it, the flat pieces of paper sprang up into three-dimensional
houses and banks and churches—a whole world from
It was strange. The air was so cold,
yet he was sure his mother had closed the window at bedtime.
He had the impression that autumn air was flowing into
his room straight from the town in the book. Tyler watched
from his bed as a flat silhouette moved from the window
and became his father.
"Damn," his father said, tripping.
"What the hell was that?" It was Teddy, Tyler's
"Hi, Daddy," Tyler said.
"Shut up, Tyler." Tyler felt
pushed back into bed by his father's anger. "You'll
wake up the girls." His three sisters were down the
"Yes, sir." Tyler found that
he was whispering, as if he were in on a conspiracy. "How
did you get up here? Does Mother know?"
"It's none of your business whether
your mother knows it or not." His father stood over
the bed, breathing hard. "Don't you think I have
a right to come into my own house?"
"Sure. Yes, sir." Tyler knew
he deserved the rebuke; it was a dumb question. Anyone
could get the ladder from the paint shed, climb to the
roof of the back porch and open the window.
"I bought this house," his
father said. "I paid for this house. I come and go
as I please."
This was not true. Daddy was the reason
Mother locked the doors and nailed shut the windows downstairs.
But, "Yes, sir," Tyler said. "Yes, sir."
It could not be said that his father
was swaying, but there was something unsteady about him,
like a big tree coming loose from the soil where it is
rooted. Tyler smelled liquor. But there was also the reassuring
smell of his father's jacket, a mixture of tobacco and
wet leaves and, somehow, musty books. He pictured his
father on the bed upstairs in his own mother's house,
where he lived now, smoking and reading books from the
Then something changed in his father's
manner; anger flickered out like a match.
"How did you get that knot on your
head?" He touched his son's head gently. "I
can see it in the dark."
"Softball hit me."
"It must have hurt."
"What position do you play?"
"Right field. That's where they
put the bad players."
"No. That's all right. Right field
is an important position. What happened?"
"Pop-up fly. I missed it."
"No, you didn't."
Tyler started to laugh but stopped,
afraid to make noise. His mother and his big brother were
downstairs. He had heard stories from his sisters about
what happened when Daddy broke into the house. His sisters
didn't quite know, either, but they reported that a terrible
commotion took place downstairs while they huddled at
the top of the stairs.
One morning Tyler came downstairs and
found his older brother Robert at the breakfast table,
ignoring a bowl of cereal.
"Where's Mom?" Tyler said.
"She's at the doctor's." Robert's
voice was flat.
"What's the matter with her?"
His brother considered for a moment.
"She fell and bruised her head."
"Didn't you hear anything last
Tyler was alarmed. "What happened?"
"Daddy was here last night."
"What happened? What happened?"
"Shut up, Tyler. Don't get so excited.
I told you. Daddy was here."
It seemed to Tyler then that his brother
was looking at him with contempt for his ignorance. And
when his brother got up from the table and announced,
"I hate Daddy," Tyler felt ashamed of himself
for not quite knowing why.
Now, his father was here in Tyler's
room. "Daddy, why did you come?"
"Why?" Exasperation came back
to his father's voice. "It's my house. It's my own
family. Isn't it?"
"What are you going to do?"
For a moment his father seemed to be
listening to something. Tyler could not tell if it was
something outside or the sound of the television downstairs,
where Mother and Robert were.
Now his father's voice was quiet and
even. "Tyler, I'm sorry I woke you. I just wanted
to pay you a visit. I can come into my own house anytime
I want, can't I?"
"Good night, son."
The window closed and his father was
gone. There was peace in the house that night because
Tyler awoke from a dream about a book that sprang up into
streets and houses and churches.
Many years later, Tyler would
have another dream, of a silhouette appearing in the window
of his childhood and coming so close to his bed he could
almost touch it: his father emerging from a lost and unknowable