Fatherling, Father-Thing, Flutter Feathers

Masha Kisel

All three of my mother’s ex-husbands were universe rippers, black-hole drillers. They locked me out of my childhood, pushed me out of stories, made me languish in silence when I longed for lullabies. I never had a father.


I’m thirteen. Fatherling calls after a five-year absence, howls his loneliness into the telephone.  He demands my pity.

           “Can you act older so I can call you mama? Can you be more beautiful so strangers will think that you’re my much younger mistress? I want you to grow into the mother I lost, grow into the lover I never found.” He created me to love him, not to be loved in return. Of all the children he’s abandoned, I’m the only girl, so I must have abandoned him. He can’t understand women. He made me in his image, why can’t I be a woman who understands him for once? We don’t speak for another ten years. Then never again.


I’m sixteen. Father-Thing squeezes my hand. “Help me. Tell me how to live. Before I kill myself. Please.” I show him how to breathe. How I count 1, 2, 3, focus on nothing, repeat “There’s no self” until it’s quiet. This is how I survived him. He can’t remember the things he’d said to me when he was married to my mother. He doesn’t remember hitting me. He doesn’t remember squeezing his fingers around my neck. He doesn’t remember. He counts. “There’s no self,” he repeats after me. Better, he says. He survives, orders a Siberian bride. Kicks her teenage son out of the house when they have a child of their own.


I’m eighteen. Flutter Feathers waltzes in. “All your friends want to pluck me” he says “All your friends want to fuck me.” He’s glitter and ballroom moves, his bald head glistens with delusion. Flutter Feathers is the one who breaks me. He tiptoes around fidelity, he flutters in and out. Was he the worst, or was he just the last? Straw man, the wind carries him away one day and he disappears, too.


I’m forty. I conjure them up and swallow all three down, Kronos-style, creation-in-reverse. The fraternity of daughter-destroyers must serve their time. They crowd between my lungs and spleen. I feed them breath and bile, I feed them lines so they don’t talk back.

Masha Kisel holds a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures. She teaches at the University of Dayton. Her work has been published in Gulf Coast, Columbia Journal, Vestal Review and elsewhere. You can find her on Twitter @MashaKisel1.

© Variant Literature Inc 2021