1) On a cold, steely morning, I walk to the police station.
2) I have an appointment with the head detective of the precinct.
3) I have to help identify the countless victims of my father, who had recently been exposed as the elusive serial murderer blighting our community.
4) I read online that he had started his murder spree on the very night I was born.
5) He had finally been caught 26 years later, due to a simple, stupid slip-up outside of a gas station on Lincoln. He had killed a sizable number of people. Our relations were estranged.
6) The last time I had talked to my father was just about eleven years ago, after I had started high school and before I had moved out of the house. He had asked me to leave, so I found a job working nights at a warehouse, boxing lunches to be sold at gas stations
7) On the day that I left, I remember how we said our goodbyes, quietly, awkwardly. When we hugged each other, the touch felt far too light all things considered, my father and I being kin, being flesh and blood and all.
8) So hearing of his murders hadn't surprised me; it made sense, given the kind of man my father he is.
9) In my head, the image of my father as a taciturn, unemotional man.
10) In our home, we separated ourselves into our own spaces: me in front of the television in the living room, him in the locked basement, each passing the time in our own carved niches, mindful of the other's boundaries and space.
11) I watched a lot of cartoons. We'd go days without interacting with the other.
12) He’d just stay in the basement, and sometimes it got to be so quiet in the house that I would wonder whether or not he was still alive. Should I check, I would think to myself. He would tell me that these were useless thoughts whenever I'd bring it up to him.
13) I would come to understand that when working, my father’s focus was so absolute that he would never let himself be distracted by my embarrassing, plaintive outbursts.
14) That he would be so committed to the thrall of his work despite my desperate protestations, my rattling of the doorknob, my fists, small and weak, against the door. The indifference to the peeled skin of my knuckles, to my strained throat, my dimming lightbulb of a voice. The small streaks of blood lining the oak of the door.
15) Often when I ran out of energy, I would lie down there on the floor and place my face by the door's crack. What reassured me was the smell of chemicals and the sounds of buzzsaws would drift to me through the crack. They would gave me peace of mind, telling me that despite my imagination veering towards the worst, my father was still alive and kicking down there.
16) These are things that I had recounted to the detective. Stepping into the station, the detective leads me to a recently emptied out office, now reserved as the evidence room for my father’s case.
17) "We really needed all the space we could get on this one," the detective tells me.
18) Against the wall is a shelf of evidence devoted to my father's murder spree. There is his shrunken head collection, pinned raisins covering the plywood board.
19) Seeing it, I am soon swallowed by a wave of nostalgia and sentimentality, and in the instant I bask in honeyed memory.
20) Remembering how sometimes on long weekends, my father would let me downstairs into the basement as long as I stayed good.
21) “Come on,” he’d say.
22) Then he would place his hands over my eyes and lead me down the stairs into the basement.
23) His hands were somehow both cold and warm, and smelled of iron and aftershave.
24) It’d be years before it dawned on me that his hands were stained, and I took offense that my father didn’t even have the decency to wash his hands of the blood he had spilt before cradling my head, my face in them.
25) Still though, looking back, I think of those weekends as little, jeweled joys.
26) He’d take me to a shelf in a curtained-off section of the basement, to a wall lined with glowing holiday lights.
27) Then he would wave his hand with exaggerated aplomb towards his shrunken head collection.
28) There, for the rest of the day I'd stare at each and every single head soaking in the faint, multihued colors of our Christmas lights .
29) I would talk to the heads and oftentimes marveled at the alien sounds my voice made. I only really talked to those shrunken heads.
30) I sounded like a stranger to myself whenever I talked.
31) After saying everything I could think of, I would then sit still and try to see if they would respond back, if I could hear the voices of the shrunken heads like my father did. I would hope for them to whisper to me too, and that they would talk loud enough to drown out the sounds of my father as he hacked at something, sawed at something, cleaved at something.
32) Over the thunk, thunk, thunk of what I would realize later as the sounds of dense, dead flesh being mutilated.
33) At the time, he told me he was preparing for a summer barbecues, big ones, so big we'd need to fill the whole of our backyard with grills to cook everything, that we'd need gallons of barbecue sauce and that we'd have enough brisket to make ourselves sick of brisket for several lifetimes.
34) I remember all of the summers he said we'd have barbecues and I remember these barbecues never coming to fruition, just like the hikes in the mountains, the trips to the ocean, the fishing in placid lakes, the endless road trips, and other such things that my father promised me.
35) He'd do these things on his own, and he'd often be gone for days.
microwaveables 36) I was left with enough in the freezer to suffice his absence.
37) "If you get hungry, there's bread in the pantry. Never, ever go into the the basement," he'd say to me. "If you do, I will no longer love you."
38) But yes, in the police station, the detective is enlarging pictures of the heads on his computer and printing them out. The sheaf of papers is towering and is growing larger and larger. He asks me to sift through them and identify the heads I can recognize.
39) Yes, this is–was my neighbor, Mrs. Everton.
40) Yes, this was my third grade teacher.
41) Yes, the boy from my school.
42) So on and so forth, all of the heads being various people I had known up until the age I had turned sixteen.
43) They ask for an idea of my father's motive, and I try to imagine ways in which these people might have slighted me in the past, how they might have inspired in my dad a kind of vigilante justice for indignities that had been done against his one and only son.
44) An eye for an eye until the whole world is filled with cyclopses.
45) No, no, I was treated well by all of them, I say to the detective. Maybe it had something to do with your mom leaving, the detective suggests.
46) And I told them, no, no, nothing as simple as that.
47) I tell them about how my father would look at me when we were outside of the basement, when I'd catch him in the kitchen sometimes, or in the hallway to our bedrooms, his eyes glassy and listless and indifferent as he stared at me, as if he was looking at a trail of ants making their way to the cupboard, or an item in the room one cannot remember purchasing before.
48) As a strange, foreign thing outside of the self. As a thing that was just there.
49) I say to the detective, "I think my father never really loved either of us, so there's no way it could be because of me or my mom, so."
51) The detectives go outside to convene together, away from my prying ears.
52) I shut my eyes and if I focus my hearing, I can hear someone in holding rattling their knuckles against the iron bars and I am thinking to myself, no, no, that is not my father, those are pathetic sounds, nothing like the sounds that I know of my father, my father is a man of a quieter dignity.