Cover Photo: John Frederick Peto, "HSP's Rack Picture" www.lacma.org
John Frederick Peto, "HSP's Rack Picture" www.lacma.org

The Room Inside My Father’s Room

“‘I guess you’re a man now,’ my father said. ‘Technically.’”

When I grew too big for my room, I forced the door open. My father was waiting for me in his favorite chair.

“I guess you’re a man now,” my father said. “Technically.”

I looked around my father’s room. It was at least three times as large as my room and wrapped itself around mine on two sides in the shape of an L. 

“I’ve always hated that room,” I said.

My muscles ached, and I tried to stretch out the kinks.

“I built that room for you, just like my father built this room for me.” My father held out his palms, showing me his callouses.

“I notice your father made your room much bigger than you made mine.”

“I still needed space for me,” my father said. He seemed embarrassed and wouldn’t look me in the eye. “I was a grown man, and you were a child. Remember?”

Seeing him lounging in his chair made me angry. “I don’t even have a place to sit in there!”

My father’s lips curled up with his mustache. He got out of his chair and pointed a finger at my chest. “You know how ungrateful you are?” He spat on the floorboards. “Before you came along, my room was much larger! I even had a bed back then.” He was towering over me, growing with indignation. But I was out of my room now and would not back down. 

“I never asked to be born in that room,” I said. I glared at him with a son’s hate, and he seemed to shrink back down to my size, then smaller. Soon he collapsed into his chair.

“I did the best I could,” he said to himself, barely above a whisper. “No one can say differently.”

“Your best was shit,” I said without much force. He was already weeping into his plate of sausages.

*

I couldn’t stand to see him like that, but I also couldn’t stand to go back into my tiny room inside my father’s room. There were only two doors in his room. I opened the other and stepped into a room even larger than my father’s. It was in the same shape, my father’s room filling the upper right fourth.

This room was much messier though. The floor and walls were covered with old knickknacks and trinkets. Everything was coated in a film of dust.

My grandfather lay in his cot in the corner. “What do you want?” he said when he saw me. “Did your father send you to complain to me about how small his room is?”

“No, I’m looking for a bigger room for myself. I can barely fit in mine, plus the heat’s broken.”

“Well you can’t stay here,” my grandfather said. “There’s barely enough space for me.”

I was raised to respect my elders, but this made my blood bubble. His room was at least four times as large as my father’s! I wanted to wrap my hands around his wrinkled throat. When I stepped forward, something crunched under my feet.

“This place is a mansion,” I said. “It only looks small because you’ve filled it with old junk.” I picked up the cracked baseball trophy and shook it for emphasis.

“Put that down,” my grandfather screamed. “That’s my thing. One of the only things I have left!” He pulled his old quilt up to his neck as if to shield himself from me.

“Look, I’ll just sleep in the corner,” I offered, “between those stacks of old magazines.”

“Impossible!” he said, and then he waved a finger in the air. “And if you think this is large, you should have seen my father’s room. They built real solid rooms back in those days.”

I sighed. “Well, maybe he’s got a space for me then.”

My grandfather merely laughed in response. He seemed lost in his old memories. He looked away from me and closed his eyes. As I left, I heard him beginning to snore.

* 

My great-grandfather’s room smelled thickly of mustard. His plates weren’t cleared, and he was curled up on a massive canopy bed.

When I spoke, he looked up without recognition. Then he waved me toward his left ear. 

My great-grandfather seemed sympathetic as he listened to my tale. I told him about my tiny room and the way his son and grandson had treated me. But when I was done, he shook his head.

“You can’t stay here. Everyone gets their own room just for them.”

“You don’t understand how small my room is. It isn’t fit for a man.”

“Ha! I remember saying the same thing to my father when I was your age.”

He reached up and tickled the hair behind my ears.

“Great-grandfather,” I said in a tender voice I thought might appeal to his generation. “How about the other door? Can I find a room for myself through there?”

My great-grandfather slowly pointed at the door I had walked in from, which was still open.

“That door goes to the room I built for my son.” He twisted his body in the other direction. “And that door leads to my father’s room.”

 

“Does your father’s room have an exit?”

“As far as I can remember, it’s laid out the same way as mine. This is, mathematically, the most efficient way. I would advise you to lay out your own son’s room in the same way, when that time comes.” He smiled at me and shook his head knowingly. “Every young’un thinks they’re a rebel. But we can only build what we know, and from the space we have.”

I was so angry my nostrils were flaring. Then my anger turned to pity. My great-grandfather was even more small-minded than my grandfather and father! The whole lot of them were rotting away in their narrow rooms, never thinking of anything larger. 

It was my turn to shake my head as I left his room.

*

Still, despite my distaste at that time, what my great-grandfather had said stuck with me, and many years later I repeated his words to my own son when he tried to start trouble.



The Room Inside My Fathers Room  is reprinted by permission from  Upright Beasts (Coffee House Press). Copyright © 2015 by Lincoln Michel.

Lincoln Michel is the editor-in-chief of Electric Literature. His fiction has appeared in Granta, Oxford American, NOON, Tin House, Pushcart Prize anthology, and elsewhere. He's the author of Upright Beasts.