This story was first published December 1, 2014 at the Citron Review.
My father had see-through skin. My mother and four older brothers looked through him because of this, as if he were made of air.
When I told my father he was see-through he said I should keep it just between us, that my mother wouldn’t understand. Then he looked at me without that usual sadness in his eyes. I peeked through his chest and saw his heart beating just for me.
My father’s skin started acting up after my mother wanted him to get a real job and made him quit being an extra in the movies. In a picture of him on a film set he rides a donkey with big ears like his. His shoulders are slouched forward the way they were when my mother looked through him to her reflection in the mirror, or to her new sequin dress, or to Wheel of Fortune on the TV, but his veins are brighter than I’ve ever seen. They flicker like flame beneath his see-through cheek.
Sometimes I saw a ghost of his flame when we walked from our apartment to the Coney Island boardwalk and paced back and forth pretending to be cowboys. When I was seven he pointed to the old Thunderbolt rollercoaster. Its empty arms spiraled into the sky like the curly straws we bought at the 99-cent store once. Moss like old shoelace strings threaded through the tracks.
Isn’t that something? my father said.
Can we play Skee-Ball now? I said, and then we walked to the arcade like gunmen going to a showdown and won enough tickets playing Skee-Ball to get matching scorpion rings. My father wore his scorpion on his ring finger where there had once been the gold band that matched my mother’s. I wore my scorpion ring on my thumb.
That night I dreamed we went back to the Thunderbolt. My father unbuttoned the top three buttons of his pale turquoise shirt.
Look Pedro, he said, pointing to his skin that shimmered like a waterfall, wavy with yellows and pinks and greens. His collarbone poked through the mist of skin. Green moss curled below bone where his chest hair used to be.
Don’t become a dead thing like me, he said, unbuttoning the rest of his shirt and pointing to where his organs flickered softly like dimming constellations. I reached out to trace the cage of his chest, his gray blood filling it like sky. There, beneath the wood bars of his bones beat my father’s heart, wispy and bent like a crescent moon. It beat and winked and beat and winked the way my father winked at me when Mr. Migley at the laundromat called him Paulo instead of by his real name, Pablo, even though he had known my father for seventeen years.
The next summer my father died. The doctors said it was a heart attack but I knew that his crescent heart had simply disappeared. My thumb ached and ached. When I looked down it had turned all fizzy, as if I were looking at it underwater.
Do you see it disappearing? I asked my mother and my brothers and my weird Aunt Jazmin who collected postcards of Mary Magdalene.
We don’t see anything, they said, looking through me to the empty shelf where my father’s picture had once stood.
When I looked down at my thumb it had vanished. There were only the floating green claws of the ring my father and I had won.
My mother sent me and my brother Carlos to live with our Aunt Josefa in Queens. Carlos was nine and still wet the bed. I never wet mine, not anymore, but my bottom lip was gone now in the mirror when I brushed my teeth and my bellybutton had vanished like the moon during an eclipse. I thought my mother knew I was disappearing—that she could see through my lip to the beginning of my black hole teeth—but she only said she needed a lighter load with my father gone, as if me and Carlos were laundry.
One Sunday when Aunt Josefa went to church I took the subway to Coney Island. The silver ghost of the train shimmied in the river as we crossed the Manhattan Bridge. There it faded to blue, the same pale ocean turquoise of my father’s shirts. Next to me a man stood with his little boy. I imagined that beneath his dark beard the man was my father—that we were not on this train but on an older one running over wood tracks and gravel to a town of cowboys.
In the river the ghost subway windows reflected yellow rooftops. They were the yellow color of my father’s faded eyes.
It was already dusk in Coney Island. I walked to where I could see the Thunderbolt shooting up from long, pale grass, a sad giant with mossy skin. I climbed the fence. I walked to where the giant dreamed. In the dark I could hear the faint whoosh of ghost cars racing across its curly straw arms. Little boys and their fathers screamed on the wind—look, no hands!
A heart beat in the giant’s chest. It lit up the graying sky and the dark wood bars and the grass tickling my legs, a yellow crescent winking after an eclipse.
I closed my eyes. I saw the pulse of greens and pinks. Of yellows and pale, pale blues. My missing thumb pulsed like a color beating. I pressed it against dirt where it left its imprint, its ghost blue echo.
When I opened my eyes the crescent heart was gone. The fathers and their little boys were gone. The colors were all gone. But in the soil I could see the echo of my father’s finger, too.