MY MOTHER, MY FATHER by Alyssa Asquith


This morning, I woke to the sound of my father putting another nail through the door.

He spent a good minute or two with the nail, pausing between whacks to grunt and curse. When he left, the poor thing was bent over and clinched, all dotted with nicks and scratches and dings, sitting low and deep in the wood.

My father used to take more care with his nails. He would sit in his chair just before bed and count them, one by one, looking for nicks and bends. Now that he’s older, and the house is, too, it seems his nails go wherever they can go: through doors and tables; walls and floorboards; old shoes; photo albums; throw-pillows; books. All the comics I read as a boy have been nailed to the inside of their shelf.

“Someone’s got to do it,” my father says, when I ask.

My mother doesn’t mind the nails. She spends her days watching the birds at the window, making chittering sounds, like a cat.

I can’t say whether they’ve changed, or I have. It seems things must have been different before, but before was too long ago to remember.

The woods, like the tides, are coming in. I don’t know how much time we have left.


At night, my mother escapes to the woods.

She returns in the early morning hours, sometimes with crickets or rocks. Last night, she brought home a small, yellow kitten, which my father nailed to the floor by its tail.

“Now that’s a find,” he said.

I spent most of the morning freeing the kitten, which was angry, and bit down on my hand.

Years ago, when I was still young, my mother would have treated the bite with honey. Now, she sits alone on the front step, licking her own wounds, watching the woods. Between licks, she raises her head and wails for the kitten.


Early this morning, when the sky was still red, I found my father out on the back lawn, near the woods.

He was lying face-up, palms flat and open. Something, I noticed, had torn out his insides and scattered them over the grass.  My mother had not yet returned from her nightly prowl.


All day, I stood watch by my father’s body. Now and then, a seagull would land and hop towards us. I threw rocks, and cawed, and flapped my arms.

My mother crept out of the woods around dusk. Her eyes glowed round and yellow, like the moon.

I let out a caw, then threw a rock, which fell short. My mother stopped, to watch it fall, then lifted her head and kept creeping.

I raised my arm to throw another rock, then lowered it.

She came to a stop by my father. Crouching low, she lifted him off the grass easily and draped him over her shoulders. When she stood, her eyes — now more white than yellow — met mine.

I rubbed my thumb over the rock and blinked, once.

She turned and ran for the trees. As I watched her go, I couldn’t help but marvel at the length of her stride, at the raw power and force in her legs. Perhaps, I thought — even after all this time — there were things I was still too young to understand.


I always thought my father was tied to the house. My mother, I thought, was tied to him — and me to her.

Every morning, at sunrise, I pack up my things and start on my way down the road. As I walk, and the old house fades into the woods, a strange horror stirs, someplace low in my stomach — a terrible lightness, not unlike the sensation of falling from a great height. I fear, suddenly, that I’ve forgotten something, and the lightness swells and fills my chest, leaving me breathless and dizzy.

Inevitably, I return to the house. The rest of the day is spent wandering, pulling up nails, searching for what I’ve forgotten. I’ve found many things: old photographs; crickets, rocks; the poor kitten, nailed shut inside one of the cabinets.

But time is running out. At night, the old walls creak and moan; the loose nails rattle and roll over the floors. The woods are approaching. The air is warm, and smells of rot.





Photo used under CC.