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I’d lost the electric inflater, so I sat opposite my father on the hard-wood floor while we took turns blowing air into the rubber nipple. The more the mattress amplified, the faster air escaped. To offset the pressure lost, we inhaled deeper and blew harder and before we knew it we were feeling pretty high.

“In Nam,” my father said, hugging the mattress with his tree-trunk arms, “They dropped me from twelve-thousand feet with nothing but a bed sheet.”

He huffed and puffed and slid the mattress to me.

I said, “I hope they let you keep the sheet.”

“Get a job,” he said, “and maybe you could buy a spare set for when your old man visits.”

I tried not to think about my father’s slobber while I blew into the nipple.

“Hey,” my father asked, “Are you feeling light-headed?”

“Do I look old enough to be wearing shorts designed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?”

The mattress was a game of pong between us, a rubber lung receiving and releasing air with every pass.

“True style never fades,” my father answered, adjusting his elastic waist and cotton headband.

“Only sanity,” I said.

My father blew and handed me the mattress, wet with arm-sweat. It was 110 degrees outside.

“When I caught touchdowns back in college,” he said, “I did back flips in the end zone.”

I bit the nipple with my teeth but air slipped out. I was in fact a little dizzy. I couldn’t catch my breath.

“No, Dad, that was Uncle Skip.”

And it was Skip, my father’s older brother, who went to Vietnam. My father was, it’s true, in the airborne division, but he jumped from helicopters, not planes, and never from more than a few hundred feet. He was too young for the draft, and the war was over by the time he’d joined the infantry. But Uncle Skip enlisted in his junior year, and no amount of back flips could land him back in Jersey. He died over enemy lines.

“I’m high as a kite!” my father cried.

His laughter came in bursts, his tired lungs intaking air before he had a chance to blow it out again. Crying, I let go of the mattress and it flew like a balloon around the room, and we waved our arms as if we could touch it. [End Page 12]

Brian Phillip Whalen

Brian Phillip Whalen is a doctoral candidate in Creative Writing at the University at Albany, NY. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from Iowa State University. His work most recently appears or is forthcoming in Blueline, The Chattahoochee Review, Chautauqua, Cutbank, the Newer York, PANK, and Rhino.


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