Thayer House

BY Jamie Winger
 

Everyone in our family wears ties. We come home from school in a row of pressed collars and slim creased pants. Our father sits at the head of our table, white sleeves folded up to his elbows, tie blossoming out of his vest, a wilted black lily. Our father crosses himself, forehead to heart, shoulder to shoulder, his silence telling us to do the same. His grip on our hands reminds us that he loves us, and his prayer reminds us that we are all waiting to die.

During harvest season the wind will blow through our town from the fields that surround it. Shavings of dried grain will flutter from the top of white towers and fall onto our house like snow. Our father tells us to sweep the sidewalks around our house. He tells us to brush the fallen shavings out of the crevices in our house's window sills. Our father says our house is old, Victorian. We have to take care of it.

When children come to our house, they are wheeled in between tall narrow windows, beneath pointed turrets that stretch into the sky. When children come to our house, there is no laughing or crying, only silence. Our father tells us to keep out of sight. We play quietly upstairs so no one can hear our laughter floating down through the chandeliers. Our father tells us that as we get older, there are fewer people who love us and who will cry for us. Everyone loves a child, our father says.

When a child comes to our house, our father goes to the child's parents' house instead of asking them to come here. He tells them to gather a collage of pictures. This gives the parents a reason to look at their child through years of discolored photographs. This gives them something they can do. When a child is dead in our house, our father places white flowers over the child's eyes, shuts the door quietly, and sings a lullaby as he massages color back into the child's limbs.

 

Andrew Cullom, 1955-1973


When Andrew was in our house, we slipped past his body on our toes, our breaths half held, waiting for his headless figure to disappear into the attic, float up into the rafters and become cobwebs, crisscrossing the inside of our house's pointed turrets like forgotten lace.

Every time we left his body in a room, we wished to never see him again, but he stayed. We helped our father, read to him by lamplight outside the door while he reconstructed Andrew's head from the spinal cord up. He labored for nights, laying wire across an empty abyss like a cartographer tracing lines of latitude and longitude in space, until the form of a human head expanded into three dimensions.

He caressed wax into cheekbones, brows, lips, working from faded Polaroids that gave only impressions of who Andrew was. Our father brought those uneasy impressions, those haphazardly kept pieces of memory, into a coherent whole that was better than the original.

Even as children, we knew we were looking at something impossible. Beautiful. Something too special to spend eternity in the ground. Something seen for just a few moments so we’d sleep a little easier when we felt Andrew's breath on the edge of our dreams.

 

Listen to poems from our National Poetry Month "30/30" combo issue!


Jamie Winger lives and writes in Chicago. He enjoys spending time with his robot girlfriend, who makes attractive "gleep glop gloop" noises, pays attention to his jokes, and makes him feel witty, intelligent, and loved. He is also frequents 1980s New Wave dance clubs and is a lover of finely crafted burritos.