My father comes home at ten at night and groans as he eases himself into the chair nearest the amber lamp. Handling paper all day has left his hands dry; when he reaches for a novel on the end table, the dehydrated noise that comes from his fingers scraping against the 600 page tome incites the clenching of a writer’s jaw from across the room. He takes his glasses (with their extra-thick lenses) off strong cheekbones still browned from when he picked rock as a child, buries his lupine nose and white-black beard into the musty fold, and reads until he passes out.
I am grateful that, at nineteen, I still live with him. The man knows everything there is to know about paper. He knows less about things like the 1980’s and 90’s, when the institutions of military and marriage made their mark on his memories, and almost nothing of the Internet (which he refuses to purchase even in 2017).
For every night he comes home, scouring a paperback fantasy novel and falling asleep with the book across his face, I remember the stories he tells. After the customary remark about having too much “free time” in his head, he intones tales of coworkers, civil wars, and extensive elven lore as if he was reciting the Edda buried in his sock drawer instead of a single parent of two with a life timed around when he works. As the purple dusk inevitably fades into the choking growls of the motorcycles racing past our house, I remember the words he used when talking me to sleep as a boy, some myths made modern by my presence as a Xena-like character in a plot we made as well as the mutterings of Shakespeare on pamphlets thrown out to the trash because of how they were printed.
He knows the stories I tell, too. I’ve caught him eyeing what I’ve submitted to magazines and anthologies, writings on men and their Goddesses, butch women, trans Pagans, video games, youth and sex. His sharp blue eyes have read the utterances scant others have ever encountered, musings on how in the year 2017 the mother which-I-may-or-may-not-have cannot read, legends I have penned on young men who work at recycling plants with blisters on their hands and masculine folk who grow up to be their fathers.
My accounts emanate from a frightened place, and he is a dauntless reader.
After midnight, even a spirited booklover wanes. Sometimes, I shake his alert shoulder. Often, aggressive snores alert me that he is perhaps asleep; I turn off the light, lift the book from his forehead and, failing to find his bookmark, press the open pages flat against a table to keep his spot. I leave him in that chair by the front door in the hope that his gurgling will scare off the pre-dawn bikers. Both spines will be compressed in the morning, but he won’t really feel the ache until his feet meet the print shop floor.