Cover Photo: Neil Before Jane by Doug Benerofe

Neil Before Jane

The father wound and first dates

My junior year of high school, I visited the library and searched through phone books of various big cities for my goddamn father’s name. Seated with a stack of the books at a table inside the main branch of the New York Public Library, I located a Daniel Gluckman in Washington D.C. Could it even be the same man? Surely, there must be other Daniel Gluckmans in the world.

I believed I could escape from my grandmother, mother and sister into a kind of pleasant and dreamy detachment. My girlfriend, Daphne, and I lived in the Williamsburg Section of Brooklyn. No direct bus or subway line existed between our place on Havemeyer Street and my mother in Park Slope, or my grandmother in Brooklyn Heights or my sister in Manhattan. I believed I’d found a kind of refuge. I could collect my unemployment checks and sleep late and linger over a coffee at some hipster café up on Bedford Avenue and see my family only if and when I felt ready.

"Neil," I said.

"I'm Heather," she said, and smiled at me.

“Where would you take a first date?” Heather asked. She had a slight space in between her two front teeth, no wider than a baseball card, which added to her charm. There was a tattoo of a three-dimensional box on her shoulder.

“Probably to a bowling alley or a stock car race,” I joked.

And she laughed, and shook my hand and told me a few things about her life. She claimed to be a painter. Days, she worked as hairdresser in an expensive salon, and nights she did her artwork.

“I’m all about freedom of expression,” Heather said.

“What does that box mean on your shoulder?” I asked.

“Oh, I got that by accident when I was drunk one night."

I paid the bill, and we walked a few blocks to her apartment building. We climbed up a wooden staircase, and then through a metal door. Her place was decorated with her paintings, which all looked basically the same -- canvas after canvas filled with three-dimensional boxes. Boxes overlapped boxes, boxes existed inside other boxes, and boxes existed adjacent to, under, over, within other boxes. They were all done in the same dark pencil.

“Let’s create something,” Heather said.

She went to a stereo in the corner of the room and flipped a switch, and the room filled with Gregorian chanting. Above the stereo, tapped to the wall with masking tape, a hand-written sign read, ‘Only those who care about you can hear when you are quiet.' I recognized the quote. Daphne had it written inside one of her drawing journals.

She motioned for me to sit at a table in the center of the room littered with various kinds of paints, and then handed me a sheet of sketch paper, and smiled. She set to work on something, drawing with a pencil, and it didn’t take long to see what she was up to: more three-dimensional boxes.

I dipped the brush into a dish of orange paint, moved it across the paper without trying to create anything in particular. I painted an orange blob, an amorphous creature. I dotted it with two dark eyes and a nose.

“What are you making?” Heather asked.

“Myself,” I said.

“That’s probably all you ever think of,” she said.

Doug has published fiction online with Narrative Magazine, Necessary Fiction, Medium, and He also published with the print journals Rosebud, Sonora Review, and South Dakota Review. He just completed his first novel, The Pen Salesman. The stories here on Catapult are part of a collection of stories about the same New York family.