‘Deniers’ by Sam Lipsyte
New York Movie, Edward Hopper, 1939
From The New Yorker:
“Trauma this, atrocity that, people ought to keep their traps shut,” Mandy’s father said. American traps tended to hang open. Pure crap poured out. What he and the others had gone through shouldn’t have a name, he told her friend Tovah, all those years later in the nursing home. People gave names to things so they could tell stories about them, goddam fairy tales about children who got out alive.
Mandy’s father, Jacob, had never said anything like this to Mandy, not in any of his tongues. He’d said other things, or nothing at all. He had worked for thirty-nine years as a printer in Manhattan. The founders of the company had invented the Yellow Pages.
“Think about that,” he’d often said.
Mandy did think about it, the thick directory that used to boost her up on her stool at the kitchen counter.
She’d spent her childhood mornings at that counter, culling raisins from her cereal, surveying the remains of her father’s dawn meal, his toast crusts, the sugared dregs in his coffee mug. Sometimes she’d wondered if he would come home from work that day, but it was a game, because he always came home. He’d eat his dinner and take to his reclining—or, really, collapsing—chair, listen to his belly gurgle, read popular histories of the American West. Maybe he’d watch a rerun of “Hogan’s Heroes,” the only show he could abide.
His gastric arias mostly stood in for conversation, but some evenings he managed a few words, such as the night he spotted Mandy’s library book on the credenza. This teen novel told the story of a suburban boy who befriends an elderly neighbor, a wanted Nazi. Mandy watched her father study the book from across the room. The way he handled it made her think he was scornful of its binding or paper stock, but then he read the dust flap, shuddered. He whispered in his original language, the one he rarely used, so glottal, abyssal.
“Daddy,” she called from the sofa, her leotard still damp from dance. She liked the way the purple fabric encased her, the sporty stink.
“Daddy,” she said.
He spat out a word that sounded like “shame,” but more shameful.