Penelope Thinks She Remembers Her Father

Penelope Thinks She Remembers Her Father
Photo: "Mother and Children" by Chase Lewis via Flickr
Photo: “Mother and Children” by Chase Lewis via Flickr

Periboea hid her infant daughter as soon as she was born, knowing that Icarius had wanted a son. As soon as Icarius discovered the baby girl, he threw her into the sea to drown. However, a family of ducks rescued her. Seeing this as an omen, Icarius named the child Penelope (after the Greek word for “duck”) and raised her as his favorite child.

I was three when I fell into the pool at my father’s friend’s house. I was climbing up on a chair and the next thing I knew, the chair was sliding to the side and I was being taken with it. I wasn’t scared as I felt the world tipping, carrying me tightly. I heard the splash, the cool water wrapping itself around me, and then the muffled underwater sounds of people yelling, one (probably my mother) screaming, and then the hands grabbing my dress and yanking me backwards. I turned around to look and there was my father, his hands on me, setting me on the side of the pool in front of him, smoothing out my dress and my hair over and over and scolding me softly for being too near the water.

Maybe I did smile and that’s what made him cry, just a little, as he kept his hands on my legs, holding a girl in a sunshine yellow dress, who was dripping, melting into him, melting into me. You would think that it would be like the child who fears dogs after being bitten by one. Me — I adored the water and felt no fear of it. Water muffled all sound and made the world reassuringly blurry and, sometimes, when you least expected it, people came after you if you plunged in too deeply, people who pulled you toward them and with them. I loved the water from that moment onward.

I dream of it, live in it. And in it, I sometimes see him coming toward me, a hazy vision swimming closer and then, as if suddenly caught in a school of fish, moving away into the shadows, disappearing into the watery divide that always holds me away from him, as if my father is pulling me back gently, telling me, you don’t need to go. You are safer here, in my warm, watery world, where nothing is clear, nothing is sure, where the world floats in and out of focus.

I ache to rise to the surface, to learn what real vision is like in the hot fire of the sun, to learn what real sound is like above the hazy, muted surface of the water. Above the rippling surface I am sure there is the clear song of a voice, someone calling me.

But I’ve chosen my fate: to spend my life in the underwater days of believing I once had a father, a father who loved me, a man who would risk his life to save me.

Andrea Witzke Slot

Andrea Witzke Slot

Andrea Witzke Slot lives between London and Chicago. She writes poetry, fiction, essays, and academic work, and is particularly interested in the places in which cultures, ideas, and genres intersect. She is author of the poetry collection To find a new beauty (Gold Wake Press, 2012), and her work is forthcoming or has recently appeared in such places as The Adirondack Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Fiction Southeast, Mid-American Review, Nimrod International Journal of Poetry and Prose, Southeast Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, while her academic work on poetry and social change has been included in books published by SUNY Press (2013) and Palgrave Macmillan (2014). She’s been a finalist, runner-up, and honorable mention in several recent writing awards, including Southeast Review’s Gearhart Poetry Prize, Black Lawrence Press’s Hudson Award for her second book of poetry, AROHO’s Clarissa Dalloway book prize for her first novel, and the 2014 Calvino Prize for her short fiction.

Andrea Witzke Slot lives between London and Chicago. She writes poetry, fiction, essays, and academic work, and is particularly interested in the places in which cultures, ideas, and genres intersect. She is author of the poetry collection To find a new beauty (Gold Wake Press, 2012), and her work is forthcoming or has recently appeared in such places as The Adirondack Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Fiction Southeast, Mid-American Review, Nimrod International Journal of Poetry and Prose, Southeast Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, while her academic work on poetry and social change has been included in books published by SUNY Press (2013) and Palgrave Macmillan (2014). She’s been a finalist, runner-up, and honorable mention in several recent writing awards, including Southeast Review’s Gearhart Poetry Prize, Black Lawrence Press’s Hudson Award for her second book of poetry, AROHO’s Clarissa Dalloway book prize for her first novel, and the 2014 Calvino Prize for her short fiction.

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