Monday, October 16, 2017

Fiction #75: Robert Hilles  

A Trick of the Brain
            
I was at the kitchen sink when my father lit his hands on fire. It looked like a trick at first. But everything moved so quickly. First my father’s hands were on fire and then I was on fire. And then the kitchen was on fire. My father had mistakenly used gasoline instead of fuel oil to light the stove.

“Jesus,” my father said, although not religious man. Then, “Robert hold the door open,” which I did.

An October gust blew flames everywhere. He and I were on fire and shook from the cold.

“Jesus,” my father said again and I screamed.

My mother hurried my sister, brother and I out the bedroom window. Then she went back to help my father fight the flames with coats and blankets. And for a few minutes my sister, brother and I huddled together outside terrified that both our parents would perish in the fire. But they got the fire out. My father’s hands were badly burned, but he drove us twelve miles to the hospital in Kenora. He didn’t say anything all the way there. My mother was silent too. Us kids sobbed in the back seat.

He carried that guilt for many years.

I never held him responsible and thought him brave in fact. But I never told him that and now I wish that I had. He would have liked to hear that. Would have liked to know that it made me love him more.

For years I thought everything was held together. Whole. But now I see it’s always coming apart, never finished or complete. Chaos breeds more chaos and only the small details are orderly. Molecules, particles, yet they too burst out of control make fire, wind, and rain. Become dangerous one moment or veer off at some odd angle. Fire is caused by one molecule being attracted to another.

Later at the hospital we were sent to different rooms for treatment. Only my father and mother went home, his hands and her legs bandaged. He went to work in the next day.  Every evening for the next two weeks he visited me in the hospital. He sat in the chair beside my bed. He’d already figured a way to hold a cigarette despite the bandages.

He said little between puffs but always rubbed my head with his bandaged hand before he left. When I think of my love for him I think of those visits and how we didn’t speak and yet we were as close as we’d ever be.

*

Robert Hilles won the Governor General’s Award for Poetry for Cantos From A Small Room and his novel, Raising of Voices, won George Bugnet Award. His second novel, A Gradual Ruin, was published by Doubleday Canada. His books have also been shortlisted for The Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Prize, The W.O. Mitchell/City of Calgary Prize, The Stephan Stephansson Award, and The Howard O’Hagan Award. He has published fifteen books of poetry, three works of fiction (including A Gradual Ruin) and two nonfiction books. His latest poetry book, Line, will appear in the spring of 2018. He is currently working on a short story collection called, Little Pink Houses and a novel set in Thailand tentative called, Our Silken Finery.

Photo credit: Rain Hilles.

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