Sarp Sozdinler

Baba

The day before she died, my mother told me that I should plant an oak tree in her homeland to make up for the damage she caused all this time by breathing. We were occupying the opposite corners of her hospital room like a pair of edgy boxers on a ring and watching some beauty contest on mute. That night, she didn’t look for once like the sum of her wrinkles under the jaundiced light fixture, that bleak air of old people.

On my way back home, I received the news that her condition got bad off one town and worse off the next, my ears turning at once hot and cold with a deafening zing, the sound of my grieving silence blending with the sound of the nurse’s practiced silence. I tasted my mother’s smell in the first gulp of orange juice that morning, saw her bleeding from the crude edges of my colorful wounds. For days to come, I got drunk and peed under oak trees and only fed on what she would make me eat as a kid. I dreamt of large plumes of smoke at night, or of something melting off the earth merging back with Earth, only in a different shape and color.

The day my son turned nine, we had a fight about synonyms and antonyms. He didn’t understand how some words could have both and some had neither. I kept to myself how much his grandmother’s casket smelled like childbirth. I didn’t tell him that my father, in his absence, had become like one of those words that could also mean their exact opposites. I didn’t tell him why I could be a father to him but not a husband to his mother.

“I don’t know why,” my son said years later when he called me on his last day of college, “but I sometimes feel like the last man standing when I’m around other people.”

The night I had left home, my mother told me that whenever I feel lonely or out of place, I should look for a sign from Baba, for it would be the eyes and ears of one true God. Under a calm and clear sky in the desert, she pointed up at a star and told me that it was my father. Although I liked the star for its abnormally bright stellar luster, I knew it was just a part of Orion’s Belt, yet another dead pulse hiding two hundred lightyears away and radiating nothing but lies, like my mother.

My son and I celebrated the New Year’s together. We sat at a sports bar and ate burritos off wax paper and drank peppermint schnapps — my mother’s favorite. Just before the countdown, he ordered a bottle of champagne and looked me in the eye to say that he could love another man in the same way men and women love each other. We stood in silence glancing at everyone in the bar but each other until the fireworks started popping.

“Father,” I then said, pointing out and up.

In truth, I didn’t know of any other constellation.

Sarp Sozdinler splits their time between Philadelphia and Amsterdam. Their writing has been featured or is forthcoming in the Kenyon ReviewMasters ReviewThe Normal SchoolHobartHADMaudlin HousePassages NorthThe Offing, and elsewhere. Some of their pieces have been anthologized and selected as a finalist at literary contests, including the Waasnode Short Fiction Prize judged by Jonathan Escoffery. More on @sarpsozdinler or at