By Tyler Paskal

Written in 2020

Your daughter was fifty-one when she found out. You don’t know your daughter, don’t remember her, and she knows this but she’s grateful you at least have the wherewithal to pretend. Oh, daddy, was all she said to you. Oh. She doesn’t cry anymore, knows it could be worse, knows you could be like Annette next door, poor thing has lost all of her mind but the part that knows how to suffer.

She holds a large cloth-bound binder in her lap next to you. Look, dad, she says, and opens the book. There are lots and lots of pictures inside, all of people, all of strangers. Do you remember this? She asks you. Do you know who this is? You find it hard to focus on her, what she’s saying, what she means. Who is she?

        I don’t know her, you say. You’ve gotten tired of saying that you don’t know.

        She looks sad at this. Her mouth tightens and she places a hand on the side of your face.

That’s mom, she says. That’s you and mom.

She’s showing you an old photograph of a wedding. A beautiful, dark haired woman in a conservative white gown and a handsome man in a cheap tuxedo. They smile wildly at the camera.

Oh, you say. Oh. That’s all you can say. They look so familiar.

Behind the couple are, lined up, the groomsmen and the bridesmaids. And just behind the man’s shoulder, one of the groomsmen stares at the camera. He doesn’t smile.

        Your daughter is gone and you’re in pain. How long have you been in pain? Can you remember? Where does it hurt, Mr. Hansen? A nurse asks. You don’t know.

        The photograph of the wedding was left in your room by the woman who was here earlier - your daughter, you remember. You stare at it, run your fingertips at first over the groomsman’s face but don’t linger, move to the bride’s face; can suddenly recognize her dark eyes, her uncommonly beautiful smile, and you remember Jane.

        Your first date is at the roller rink. You’re drifting like stars in a galaxy, rotating lazily to organ music. You have your hand on the small of her back, feeling the muscles next to her spine flex and relax as she skates around the rink. She’s better at it than you, and she moves away from your casual embrace and turns around, begins skating backwards without breaking eye contact, managing to weave through the other couples as she goes fast enough to pass them. She smiles at you, teasing.

        Later that summer you visit the small farmhouse she shares with her father and her seven younger siblings, the favor of each you had to win over as the two of you dated. They all share that same dark hair, dark eyes. Her father had stopped planting crops a few years back and instead sowed grass seed, growing lawn to be sodded up and transplanted into suburban yards. You and Jane take a lot of walks over that sea of endless lawn, immaculately cared for by her father and brothers. Barefoot, letting the time take care of itself, watching the sun set and talking about your future. You’ve set up a picnic for her, had to ask her father if you could stop by early to set it up: a red gingham cloth and a wicker basket, with some candles for after dark. There’s a rose in a heavy vase. All that’s missing is the apple pie, she jokes. You see a streak of sunset rest on her cheekbone, how the orange shines on her hair and makes her eyelashes blaze, notice her clavicle under her collar. Her thigh as she kneels. The grass behind her, framing her, framing both of you. You’re shaking a bit, feel damp in your armpits, forget to wait, and you take her hand and ask her to marry you. She cries, and you kiss, but for a moment - a tiny, tiny moment - you wonder about Cal.

        Your daughter has taped Christmas cards to your refrigerator. Families, couples, young people. You don’t like to look at them too long. Some people come to visit - carolers, a small group of young men; they might be from a local church. They sing their songs, and they’re unenthusiastic to say the least, but you’re in rapture. You see their eyes, their hair. You see curly hair, damp from the lake, otherwise sundrenched, sweaty - nevermind that. All you say is thank you, and your daughter looks pleased that you did. Thanks, she says to the boys. One of them says something quietly and they all slide out the door.

        Was that Cal? You ask.

        No, comes the answer. Who is Cal?

        There’s always been something I wanted to tell him.

        What is it?

        You don’t respond. You aren’t in your room anymore. Your daughter hasn’t been born yet. The sun is blazing down.

        You’ve always loved to run. After school, in that September heat, the tail end of summer, the beginning of cross country season, back when Jane was just a squeeze. You like the solitude of long runs, everyone at their own paces pulling apart from each other in usually the first mile. The coaches made you run in the heat to train for races, and it alone was enough to bring down a man, forget the running; the sun quietly smearing the homes and yards into an unsaturated blur of rural roads, brambly prairie, thick forest; heat melting away most thought and both amplifying and numbing the normal pain of running hard.

        This season though, someone was able to match your pace. Cal. You don’t know his name quite yet, wouldn’t learn it for a bit, but you’ll never forget it. You don’t know why but looking at him makes you think of your girlfriend.

        The coaches plan a camping trip for the cross country teams, just before races start. They call it a retreat. It’s a campsite in the mountains, near a lake; it’s sunny, and at this altitude the leaves have already begun changing colors. The teams have piled their backpacks and suitcases on the picnic tables around the fire pit. You pull your duffel from the back of the coach's truck and set it down the next table over from where Cal is. You try to not see him, barefoot in running shorts with one knee on the bench as he reads a book. That’s a snapshot forever in your memory - the profile of his face against the shining lake in the distance, the breeze in his curly hair. The musculature of his legs. You want to stare but he turns to face you and you look away.

        You want to tell him something.

        Near sunset, after a hard afternoon run, both teams go to the lake to bathe, giggling at the absurdity of the idea. Half empty shampoo bottles drift on the greenish surface of the water, joined by suds from your hair. Most of the men’s team is nude, running shorts discarded on the rocks and modesty preserved only by the opaque water. You try to catch a glimpse of Cal but some soap drips into your eyes and stings like hell and you interpret that as fate.

        That night, after dark, you and the team are sitting around the fire. You’re keeping to yourself as the others chat and laugh, have your knees up under your chin as you stare into the flames. Someone taps your shoulder and you look up and see Cal. Want to go skinny dipping? He asks it just like that. Want to go skinny dipping? It’s a full moon.

You jog to the far side of the lake from the campground. You won’t get back to your sleeping bags until just a few hours before dawn. The next morning you’ll both be exhausted on an eleven mile route with the team. He’ll run with you. It’ll be a nice morning.

        Cal puts his hand in yours. You look down at it and see instead your daughter’s. Your hand is old, the skin thin and soft, the veins protuberant. You’re back in your room.

Do you remember your friends?

You’re holding the photograph.

Who are they, dad?  

You have your fingers over Cal’s face.

That’s Cal.

That’s Cal? You were asking about him before. He was one of your groomsmen, huh? What did you want to tell him?

The reception was on the sod farm. Your marriage, the whole day, surprises you with its intensity. You can remember Jane perfectly now, her white dress against the green, her bouquet, her mouth, her breath. Her hair is up and you dance and feed each other cake. She whispers something in your ear and you laugh.

Cal is not your best man, you two had decided, and it would be the same at his wedding. He can’t stay so close. Besides, you had made it clear to yourself you love Jane - you repeat it in the bathroom mirror sometimes to solidify its truth. You love Jane. Cal is something else.

Who’s Cal?

You had two bachelor parties before the wedding: the one Jane knew about, that her brother came to, and the secret one with Cal. This is the last time, you say to each other, joking about making it count, it’s the last time. But you don’t believe it, know you can’t live off of that kind of finale. Know that if it began at all it wouldn’t be able to end. Yes, you love Jane, but with Cal it’s different. It’s not love, you tell yourself. It’s just erotic. You’re comfortable with Jane and uncomfortable with Cal, unsure why, but your emotions are so intense that they’re a real thing, as if you could touch your chest and find it wet with emotion, feel it burn in your palm like it did in your chest, you could cup Cal’s face in your hand and he would feel it too.

Was that what you wanted to tell him?

You don’t run competitively anymore, just for fun. With Cal, without Cal; the latter more than the former. Now that you’re married there seems to be less and less time for Cal. Can’t sneak away as often, can’t be seen together out at a restaurant or a motel, can’t lie to your wife convincingly. You tell him this.

Bullshit, he says.

Then your daughter comes and things are going to be different, you say to yourself. I can’t cheat anymore. As much.

It’s not even cheating when it’s with a man.

What did you say?

After a while you’ll stop telling yourself things like that, stop pretending that, like the night before your wedding, like the weekend before your daughter’s birth, it’s the last time. Cal had moved but he wasn’t too far, close enough that once every couple of months one of you could take a day trip.

Divorce Jane.


Divorce her.

You don’t speak for a moment. This has caught you off guard. Finally: I can’t do that.

Then the anger. You can fucking cheat, lie to her face every single day, you can be miserable, but you can’t divorce her?

That felt rehearsed.
        No. I love her. Anyway, you always ask for too much.

        I don’t ask too much, Jane says.


        No, daddy, it’s me.

Cal laughs. Bullshit, you love her. You don’t do this if you love her.

Dad, do you remember my name?


What is it? She has tears now in her eyes.

Do you love me? He says this softly.

I… I don’t know.

You don’t know?

Or you can’t say it?

I can’t divorce Jane. I can’t leave her for a man.

Divorce mom? What do you mean?

You feel a moment of clarity; you’d almost forgotten this feeling. Like coming up for air. You’re sitting in a communal living room, news playing on the TV and dozens of forgotten grandparents in wheelchairs and blankets littered about. Your daughter is holding your hand.

What do you mean, you wanted to divorce mama?

You stare into your daughter’s face. She looks like Jane in sorrow. You can feel the memories swelling just behind her skin, feel like you haven’t forgotten but just forgotten how to remember.

Daddy, who is Cal?

Who was Cal.

What was it you wanted to say to him?

Cal is like the dream of a childhood home. A reality that exists only in your mind. Ephemeral but real, idyllic but unsettling.

What did you want to tell him?

You see him for the last time. You’re older now, but you haven’t gone bald yet, thank God. Your hair is graying and you’ve gained weight you can’t run off. You told Jane you had a business trip; not entirely untrue, you do have to meet with a client, but there’s no reason for you to get a hotel and spend the night.

But that’s untrue. You have a reason.

It’s a nice hotel, popular with skiers and snowboarders who throng the nearby slopes; it will be, anyway, once it snows. Here in the off-season the hotel is practically vacant. So you invite Cal. You share a couple of beers out next to the pool, the mountain peaks circling in dark silhouette against the post-sunset sky. The water is lit from underneath, the leaves littering the surface casting shadows on the wall. Cal gets frustrated by this and takes the pool skimmer and begins to clean the leaves himself. The ripples in the water distort the light cast on the wall and his face, and you think my God, how old we’ve gotten. It’s been decades, Cal, you say quietly. What? He asks. Nevermind. Cal, unlike you, is balding, his curls classical in youth now thin and cut short. He hides this fact with a baseball cap.

No, what did you say?

It’s… it’s just, it’s been decades we’ve been doing this, Cal. That’s all.

Yeah. It has been.

He comes back to sit by you.

Two decades of nothing.

The pool is clear of leaves, the surface still warbling and dappling the wall with light.


A gust of wind blows a few leaves back into the water.

What has this been to you?


What has this been for you? What are we? Where are we going with this?

Are you angry at me?

He turns to look at you and his eyes are at once sad and wild.

What am I? You have Jane, you have your daughter. What do I have? Your coattails for the last twenty years? Your… your breadcrumbs?


I’m fucking forty-two and have done nothing with anything! You’re the only -

He stops.

You can’t even say -

The pool is still again.


Is this Cal?

Your daughter places a printout of an obituary in your lap. Two pictures; one, black and white, youthful, curly hair. The other dappled with light from the pool in the hotel in the mountains.

You debated going to his funeral.

You don’t remember if you did.

I’m sorry dad, I don’t want you to cry.

Did you -

I mean, were you -

Was he special to you?

Want to play a game? Cal asks. You’re sitting cross legged in the shower, knee to knee. He’s smiling at you, his curly hair wet and matted.

What kind of game?

Guess what I’m thinking. He sits up straighter, closes his eyes as if meditating, opens them again and grins.


You’re thinking…

The water is too cold? He shakes his head.

Okay. We should get pizza tonight?

Not even close!

You lean forward conspiratorially. You wanna do it again?

He wrinkles his nose. No. I love you.

Oh. Your throat catches. You open your mouth.


The water runs over your bodies.

You’re lying in the grass next to Jane. Your hand and hers intertwine on her stomach. I love you, she says.


I love you too, you tell her. But the words feel meaningless in your mouth. You look at the clouds through a film of tears.

Oh, your daughter says.


I wish I loved anybody but you, Cal says.

She’s on the phone now.

No, I think this is a big deal. Like, an affair.

No, awhile back. For years.

She holds her hand on her face. She looks at you but you stay looking at the obituary. Calum Robinson Walker. 1944 to 1987. What was it you had to tell him?

No, I don’t know if he’s…

Well, it was with a man.

I guess so.

That’s what he said.

No, I don’t think he meant to.

I don’t think my mom ever found out.

You look at the obituary, the first picture, and you remember again. Your teammates are setting up tents, one is starting a fire. The glint of the setting sun on the lake is eclipsed by Cal’s face, bluish smoke intermittently drifting past. The breeze in the trees sounds like a river. Cal looks now like you first remember him, the way he appears in your dreams, early in college, silently matching your pace. The air pushing through his hair, one knee up on a bench in his shorts as he reads a book. You can see his fingertips as they clasp a page in his book and turn it, you can smell his clothes. He turns to look at you and you don’t look away.

You remember.

I love you.