I found a list of things Walker said he wouldn’t do until his son was found alive and well.
He wrote: talk, smile, fuck.
Walker’s son had been taken. Walker was delirious. He said: my son is a beef patty. I said stop it. I slapped Walker. He shut up.
He said where is my son.
I said, beats me.
His wife wasn’t sad about this because she died during childbirth. That was eighteen years ago. Her vagina bled a lot, Walker said.
He could be quite unfeeling, sometimes.
He showed me a picture of her once. She had these big red lips and curly hair. Her face didn’t look human. There was no togetherness to the features. I thought she looked like a Mister Potato Head. Her one eye was higher than the other.
I didn’t tell Walker this because he told me she’d bled to death.
It made me ill to look at the picture, so I told him to burn it and he did.
All pictures of women are banned here.
Walker raised Louis alone here at The Oaks. It’s a place that houses single fathers with only male children.
I just clean the gardens and apartments. It pays well enough. I live with my wife and her mother. Her mother pisses herself a lot and I change her nappies every day.
Sometimes I wish I’d focused at school instead of drawing dicks in the margin.
The Oaks. It’s at the top of this winding road, steep enough to be called a hill. The path to the house is a long one, dotted with signs saying ‘keep off the grass’ and ‘Let Fathers be Mothers’ and ‘Together We Are Not A Tragedy’.
Women are not allowed in here. The president of the Father Society was Glenn Tully Styron. He told me that ‘women could upset the whole equilibrium of The Oaks’.
Styron is fat and covered in polyps. He’s afraid of women.
They all are.
Walker raised Louis without a mother but did, with the help of The Oaks, make sure that Louis had at least 25 other fathers. Every weekend the Fathers would have a Father & Son barbeque.
The Sons would chat, miserably. They’d perform pranks without any heart. The Fathers wept but some said they still had hope for this thing we call Life.
I remember one of the Fathers had a belly that looked like a pustule that was begging to be stabbed.
All the men here are united by tragedy. Walker’s neighbour, Albert, his wife died at a piano factory. Albert didn’t give me any more details than that.
I have to clean the bedrooms here, too. Styron pays me extra for this. Albert’s wicker basket is always filled with tissues.
He’ll cry a bucket if it wasn’t for the Church Service Styron gives every evening that reassures the Fathers that Life is worth living.
Instead of Gideon Bibles, each apartment is filled with naughty VHS tapes. Walker told me these videos were of women. Their faces were covered with plastic bags, used as objects. I’m pretty sure they were corpses.
One of the women is thrown down a lubed-corridor like a bowling ball. She strikes 10 women who are sellotape together like bowling pins. He told me this is to remind us that life without women isn’t so bad.
I told Walker I’d die without women. He told me that’s a pretty lie.
He could talk your head off, Walker.
But he just clammed up. Stopped speaking to everybody. Styron didn’t want the police involved. Said they would only bring more bad press.
A week passed and there was no word from Louis. He wasn’t the kind of kid who would go missing. He’d never left The Oaks before. He was 18.
I remember asking Louis if he ever thought about women. He said no, but he was interested in some crazy things.
He told me he’d use the Internet to research celebrity deaths. He said he was interested in serial killers. He said his favourite was Eddie Leonski who strangled women to hear their voices go high pitched.
I said that was unhealthy.
But nobody expected Louis to send a letter to Walker. On the 216th day he’d been missing, a letter turned up in Walker’s letterbox. Walker ripped open the letter. It was written in pencil. None of the letters were joined up. Like a child’s writing. Walker read the letter to me.
Fuck you. I am alive and not well. I’ve just realised I have a cock. It fits in my hand. I measured it against somebody’s head last night. Cool. Dad why didn’t you tell me about the World? I don’t love you Dad. But maybe I am in love with you? Who knows. I am far from home. I got a job in a bowling alley. Because of that pornography tape. Influenced me. I am really bad at my job. I might get fired. I had sex too. I had to learn the hard way about sex. I met a girl. She was old enough. She’s pregnant now. She’s full of me. I’m going to be a Father now. I think I hate women. I think life is difficult. I think Cheeto dust on my fingers is better than the Cheeto itself. I am alone in the world. I never want to be inside a woman again. Only two times a man should be inside a woman: birth and to procreate, once. Every man deserves the chance to be a father. If you want to find me, you won’t. I don’t want to be found. I sleep in a car. Tell everybody at The Oaks they’re jerks. You’re all in danger.
Yours (mine now),
I think we all understood Louis wasn’t coming back. Nobody could understand the last line, though:
You’re all in danger.
Did that include me? Was I in danger?
I am just a gardener and cleaner, I told Walker. Why should I be included with all you Fathers? I trim grass and boil wash towels. My life isn’t supposed to, you know, be endangered.
Time passed. It always does, unfortunately.
Walker helped me water the plants. He started giving lectures on weekends, too. About being a Father Without A Son and the vulnerability of each and every Father here at The Oaks. Were we man enough to look after ourselves? Had we failed?
I sat in on these lectures. Interesting stuff. Walker, a hell of a talker. He’d stand there at the pulpit, his eyes all sunken and face like a lemon skeleton, finger pointing.
Had Walker gone mad? Probably.
None of the Fathers really cared. They listened because they had nothing else to listen to.
But all the while, sitting there in those lectures, I felt like somebody was watching us. Watching the Fathers at work. Watching me, the Cleaner of the Fathers.
We got a note one day and it said this:
Next time you wake up, you’re all going to melt.
Styron filed it away with all the other threats.
Walker told me he was scared, so I stayed with him that night. When we woke up, nobody had melted.
Walker told me he wasn’t a good man. That he did things to Louis. I asked what kind of things. He just said things. I don’t know what things means I said. He said, well, have a think about things.
I had a think about things. I still didn’t get it.
And Styron asked me, how’s Walker. I said he’s okay, but he’s feeling sore about things because he did some things to Louis. Styron said that’s only natural; all Fathers do things to their sons.
I said, isn’t that a bit general.
He said no. All Fathers do things to their sons at The Oaks.
I think I get it now.
Walker had stopped doing his lectures. Instead, this one weekend, he turned up to the Father & Son barbeque. I was helping to cook the sausages. Obviously, he was without a son. But he was dressed like a child. I can’t explain it, but his beard was gone. He looked like he’d completely waxed himself. And he didn’t talk to the Fathers. He only spoke to the Sons.
The Sons treated him just like a child, which is exactly what they were. One Son, his name was Willy, he shot a water pistol in Walker’s eye.
Walker cried and pissed himself by the pool. He fell to the floor. One of the Fathers, I think it was Bob – big fat asshole – came running over and cradled Walker.
There, there, Bob said. Walker nestled his head in Bob’s armpit. I think he said: I’m scared Daddy.
Bob kissed Walker on the neck. And then the other Fathers came over and offered to hold Walker.
Styron called me over and asked me to clear out Walker’s room immediately. I asked where Walker was going to stay. Styron said he was going to move in with Bob and his sixteen sons in the Palace Suite.
Walker was a Son now. He started wetting the bed. The Fathers gave him a bell and pad. Treated him.
I didn’t see him a lot anymore. Styron gave me time off. I spent more time at home. I changed nappies a lot.
The Oaks still received letters from Louis. Idle threats, Styron said. Nobody cared what Louis said. He was out there in the world. He was so far gone that he’d send us excerpts from the United States foreign relations archives. He sent us words he’d learnt.
Words like pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism.
I watched Walker from afar. He played with balloons and didn’t talk much anymore. Didn’t do anything anymore. Just played by himself. Those Father & Son barbeques, Walker’d just stare at the world outside. The cars moving, heads moving just above the fence.
When I asked Walker how he was, he said he was fine. I asked what he did last night and he said he was with the Fathers. What did you do with the Fathers, I asked. He turned away.
Things, he said. Happy things with my Fathers.
Oliver Zarandi is a writer. His recent publications include Keep This Bag Away From Children, Hobart, Mad Swirl and the Chicago Centre of Literature and Photography.