Penelope Coaching and Consulting – fiction from Ron MacLean


I wear my father so he shows.
I wear him like a crime scene, a Christmas sweater. A dead skin, scored and
perforated. I wear him (only) at high tide, wary of mucking in the shallows. I wear him
like a felled tree: a used sports section: a tired mug. Like the striped thrift store shirt
(too big) I wore too long (believer).
I am the carpetbagger in the basement; an unschooled kid with a rug-burned
eye, a soiled face. I stayed until I could read the score in the ink on my fingers.

(The dog crawled into my lap and died. I’ve never been clearer on what a being wanted.)
My phantom sister treats me to tea she pours from her handless arm. Her skin
smooth where it burned. We have dinner on Tuesdays: she roasts meat and root
vegetables. We sit close at her too-small table and disagree about the past. Rutabaga.
My phantom sister fixes flat tires free of charge. She smells of rubber, glue, and
ash. Lives with a set of identical twins who don’t get along. This doesn’t trouble her.
“They’ve never gotten along,” she says.


My phantom sister carries a canned ham in a cloth bag. She says the only faith
worth having is one that’s impossible to articulate. She says: sometimes the waves
knock you over. (What then? Get back up: walk wet.)
My father sits in a recliner in the corner. Wallpapered-over. Mummified. His
presence delicate: if bumped, it could crumble uncontained. I hover with a flashlight,
tired of this teasing husk. My shirt, shorts, shoes drip water. The flashlight too big. Its
beam bounces – off musty flocking, rug remnants, exposed pipe. For half a second, I
steady it:

The cellar abounds with beets (luminous, magnificent) that no one – not even my
sister – will claim. We walk, hand in handless. The ham in the bag bangs against her leg.
Slosh. Accept the weight of wet. The way you feel – adjust for – a limb no longer there.