Spring 2007

Volume 2, Issue 1



Hanging a Painting

It’s a painting of a brown horse with a stringy blackbrown mane and white nose, and behind it, off to the right, is somebody’s barn among some of the tallest, greenest trees I’ve ever seen, and behind that a wave of lazy summerdry hills. He thinks it was given to us by some cousin, aunt, maybe uncle. A birthday gift, Christmas present, nobody knows for sure. It’s been in the closet, behind the Hoover, for years, even longer, and now, just because it's Sunday and he has nothing to do not mow the lawn or watch football or take Toby for one of his walks to the park and back – he’s decided to hang it in the hallway, right where nobody ever bothers to look because there’s nothing there but empty hallwall anyway. I can hear him tinkering in the garage, moving boxes from here to there, knocking over the snow shovel, all the while talking to Toby, telling him what a good boy he is. Sunday.

He doesn’t believe in God. Course, I’ve secretly guessed it all along, and if Stacy or Sara, or even Dana had ever asked me, I’d have said, “He doesn’t believe in stuff like that.”

“How do you know?”

“I know.”

“He ever tell you?”

“No, not me.”

“Then how?”

“Just do. I’m his daughter, aren’t I?”

If they ever asked.

But that was all before that Saturday afternoon in October or maybe it was November but anyway in the backyard, when Mr. Ferguson, who had just finished having one of his loud arguments with Marge, his wife, had slammed the porch door and grabbed a rake and was leaning over the fence to say, “Hi, what’s new? New York, New Mexico, New Jersey. Ha Ha.” Giving me one last push on the swing, Dad nodding, smiling. Before long they were both up against the fence, and after a while one thing led to another and before you knew it they were talking about politics, church, Sunday school, bibles. By now, his one last push was just about all used up, and I was no good at getting my own push going. Finally, I could tell that they were just about done talking because Mr. Ferguson was fidgeting with his rake and all done leaning, when Dad said, “Well, it doesn’t really matter anyway because I’m an atheist.”

That’s when I stopped swinging long enough to look up see what an atheist father looked like, and he looked the same, except maybe shorter and slanty because he hadn’t stopped leaning against the fence. Getting a bigger, better grip on his rake and then looking back at his porch, Mr. Ferguson nodded, saying, “Yep, I know what you mean.” Right after that Mrs. Ferguson came out on the porch, letting the screen door slam extra hard, still red in the face, hands on hips, the wind picking up.

By now he has the hallway lights on, with painting, hammer and nails ready and waiting. He’s never been one for measuring, for calculating, just that the painting is going to hang right there, and the nail will go here, and the whole thing will end up hanging in the hallway, and that’s all there is to it. What’s to measure?

The first big bang is a good one, filling the house like a tiny explosion. But he doesn’t care for it because the nail hasn’t moved, and he mutters, “Concrete.” The second bang is softer, sounding all wrong and that’s because he’s smashed his thumb or maybe his finger and thumb, and as the nail pinwheels over his head, off the ceiling and into the flowers that is more vase than flowers, he drops the hammer and yanks back his hand, screaming, “Goddamnit!”

Toby barks and is at the backdoor, paws on screen, squinting in personlike, trying to see what’s what. Barking. As I watch from the kitchen doorway, the best I can do is think about one of the new vocabulary words we’d learned that week. Miss Holt had said it was a good word but we had to use it carefully, “gingerly.” She gave us two then three examples, and I didn’t really get it until the example about politics. She made us pronounce it three times and use it in a sentence. With that new word still fresh in my mind, because after class Miss Holt said my sentence was one of the best, maybe the very best, I step out of the doorway, and with Daddy all done shaking his hand and getting ready to start again, reaching down to pick up the hammer, I say, “Daddy?”

Not even looking at me, but at that new nail he now has a grip on, holding it up against the wall with new, unhammered fingers, “What?”

But I want him to look at me because anything that has to do with God is pretty special. “Daddy?”

“What?” Still squinting at the new nail that he’s holding like it’s something bigger, more important than any old nail.


“What?” And this time enough it's enough, jerking his head to get a hard look at me.

“Daddy, does this mean you’re a hypocrite?”


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