What do we know about our parents? They’re never anything but parents. They do what parents do, listen but never speak. Help you up but they themselves stay down. One day you’ll start to wonder who they are. Those people who’ve always just been there. You realize that you don’t know what they’re thinking about in their beds at night. You don’t know what they dream about. Your memories don’t provide any answers, they can’t reveal their true selves. You’ve never wondered. There was never any reason to wonder, until now.
I remember a nightmare, perhaps one of my first. I’m in the pale pink nave of a church, close to the front near the altar. Four strange men with shaved heads are leaning over me. One of them is holding a mirror. There’s something about the atmosphere. Something that isn’t right. You have to look at yourself in the mirror, one of the men says. When I turn my face away, they hold my arms and legs down while one of them grips my chin. At the very moment that I’m supposed to meet my own gaze, the large church doors swing open. The men flee and my dad approaches me. You’re not allowed to look into this one, he says, raising the mirror high. Then he hurls it to the stone floor and shards of Dad’s image fly across the room.
Blind Alley, 2011
We take the E4 south, me and my husband. We drive along Lake Vättern with the light of the sunset on our faces, and veer off onto the country roads of Småland. Arriving at the red house by the meadows and the lake brings a kind of calm. This place has always welcomed me with a peace that I’ve not found elsewhere. But this time it feels different. The tractors plough through the fields. Black earth covers the cut wheat, which only a month ago was tall and swaying elegantly. It’s autumn now.
The house has its own blind alley that can be used for parking, but three years ago Dad got it into his head that he wanted to transplant his raspberry bushes and lay a gravel driveway. It took several weeks; Dad was so invested in that driveway that it became comical. I did think it was charming, that Dad’s stereotypically male characteristics were charming. There must have been something about them that I liked, because the thought of him losing them scares me to death.
I see Dad in the kitchen window. He doesn’t see us. Dad is cooking, moving in that jumpy way that suggests that he’s stressed. We walk into the red hallway. It smells like it usually does. It has just been cleaned. Jackets hang neatly in the hall. On the ground floor, you don’t notice. The threat is upstairs. We eat dinner and I stay at the table for a long time, stretching it out as long as I can. My husband carries the bags up and eventually I, too, will have to make my way through the house. My childhood home, once the safest place in the world, has become a minefield. I’m not safe anywhere. Anywhere and at any time they might make themselves visible . . . traces of the new Dad.
My translation of this extract of Ester Roxberg’s Min pappa Ann-Christine was first published in English on 1 June 2015 as part of Words Without Borders’ Queer issue. Read the rest here.
Lead image Copyright/fotograf: Lina Alriksson