The war emptied our house. A thick stack of envelopes, brutally wedged into the mailslot in the front door had sent brothers to the Pacific, the Atlantic, New Spain, Old Spain, The Middle East, The Midwest, The Arctic, The Subarctic, The Antarctic, Right America, Left America, and Scandinavia. By tomorrow, the house would stand silent, particles in the air vibrating only for my father's frustration and the arrhythmic beating from my broken heart.
While brothers packed, my father retrieved a weathered map of the world from his den, unfurling the delicate parchment on the middle of our dining room table. The entire world occupied only a small section of the oaken surface, sized to serve 16 with a foldaway addition to accomodate 20 when guests would still come. After forcing a small pushpin into each brittle corner, my father hovered over the tiny Atlantic, evoking a greying Poseidon perched in the heavens. One at a time, each brother received and opened an envelope from the stack aside my father, wrestled a packed duffle onto his shoulder, and walked out the door to assured death. Upon each brother leaving the house, my father wrapped a new colour of yarn, dragged from my mother's knitting kit (sat ajar just west of the Pacific), around a single, large nail driven into the map. I thought about all of the tiny inhabitants of Toronto living peacefully within the map's black dot before they were crushed by Poisedon's rusty trident (unident?).
Andy left first, guiding his giant thread of yellow yarn to British Columbia where he boarded a submarine which dove below, dragging the yellow thread into a hole my father had drilled into the blue expanse (and oaky mantle below) off the coast of Vancouver Island. Argo carried a red yarn East, stuffing the disorganized tangle into the rack above his seat before both flew to a small sheeping town with tactical positioning in southern Finland. Ames bounded southeast dragging mauve, Anthony southwest with aqua, Angus north crimson, Axel farther north green, Ajax farthest north cerulean (transcending worldly boundaries by landing in a topographical insert my father had excised from a national geographic and held down with scotch tape north of Earth). Adam turquoise, Abe claret, Ace pink, Ahmed purple, and finally Terry's unique zigzag across three oceans, delineated by a ripped strip of beige curtain, for the abandoned knitting bag had reached the end of its rainbow.
My father leaned back in his chair as the front door closed for the final time that day, a loud creak followed by almost silence, if you're kind enough to awkward lub dub quietly emanating from behind my ribs. We admired the starburst of conquest laid before us upon the world. I noticed my father's shoulders start shaking in a silent weep, though I could not ascertain if his tears came from each fuzzy strand geographically repelled by even the idea of southeastern ontario, or the unmistakable beauty in the explosive rainbow emanating from a single nail impaling our house. From where I stood, I could not see the frown on his face.
By dinnertime, my father's disgust in the day's earlier exodus had become apparent. He could no longer look at the taut strands of yarn, each holding a tiny brother far from home in a new land. I sought to alleviate some of his stress by setting the table at a far end, from which the bizarre string art took on a new form, difficult to reconcile with the radial pattern as seen from above. And whereas my father would enter hungry, his eyes would inevitably grace the distant string art, his brain would perform the spatial transformations to mentally position himself in a hover above the map, and he would begin shaking as he watched his sons all leave anew. Hovering over the map after my father's exit, I contemplated his decision to snip the end of each yarn, which I felt unfairly robbed my brothers' of the capacity to continue outward, exiting one end of the map to reappear on the other, as in my video games, and continue back to their origin. After two days of my father wandering into the dining room hungry only to rush out unfed, I opted to cover the map with an array of dish towels. My father found both the map, now an alien topography of sparse disorganized mountains coated in floral patterns and grease stains, and my meals much more palatable. A triumph for the parts of me retaining their normal functions.
Later, when my father failed to wander into the dining room at all, I found him standing frozen in the front room. The stack of mail he was retrieving lay piled below his open hand and his whole body appeared entranced with imagery beyond the door's top window. I crept up behind and positioned myself just over his left shoulder, mimicking the angle of his chin to orient my own gaze upon the burgeoning tulip tree occupying the front garden. I reasoned that the new spring buds were rather arresting in their beautiful pink-tinged white and that the changing of the seasons is a powerful emotional symbol.
Noticing the off-time thumping of heartbeats pounding behind his back, my father slowly turned his gaze to me. Parrying my movements, he guided me by the shoulders to now stand in front of him, resting a straightened arm on my shoulder, his fingertip acting the crosshair to aim my gaze. He shuddered out whispers of the name of each brother as he traced the tulip branches from the thick trunk out to their bud-laden terminations. With each whispered brother, accompanied by a trip down a new branch, my stomach felt heavier. My father had mentally recreated the delicate system of radials hidden below a thin quiltwork of dish towels in the dining room. And with the returning imagery came his depression. My father never made it to the dining room that day.
Unsuspecting of the arms race I would soon be entering, I combatted my father's fear of branches by forbading him from retrieving the mail and crudely pasting newspaper over the house's front windows the next morning. In the afternoon, after noticing my father directing a familiar sullen gaze upon our back neighbour's aerial antenna (a complex explosion of metal rods emanating from a single support nailed into their balcony railing), I pasted over the back windows as well. On bright days from then onward, I noticed death tallies and helicopters projected upside down on the floors of the front half of the house. In hopes of distorting this harrowing imagery, I doubled up on my pasting job. This bizarre superimposition of newspaper-on-newspaper produced the overlay of a tank and a great fire when you opened the front closet at 10:45AM and, though my father discovered this disturbing image, it did not scare him like a tree, an antenna, or a pile of yarn could.
Sensing my father's growing obsession with the problem of loose ends, radiations, and spokes, I brainstormed his next discovery. But, while I preemptively purged the house of umbrellas, hairbrushes, and flowers (each petal rebelliously reaching outward from a yellow centre, balanced atop another system of stems and leaves), my father froze and cried over forks, mops, and rugs (laying on his belly, isolating each strand of shag to cry over and try to push back down into its woven base). I spent an entire day stacking books on the curb after my father learned to open each tome wholly, front cover touching back cover, to watch the edge of each page reach outwards from the now broken spine.
I could not keep up. I relented to my father's rampage to dissect all that was into another dispersion, another system of radiating paths away from home, leaving and staying left. My father began bellowing and groaning overtop of garbled lyrics produced by playing his records backwards, insisting the tiny etched tracks in the vinyl were intended to carry the needle farther and farther away from its centre. When it got dark in the evenings, he would point at the ever escaping needle and then the dotted sky above, insisting that he had read in Scientific American that each of the stars above would follow a similar trajectory until we could not see even the dots they were now. I closed my eyes and imagined an entire night sky free of celestial bodies, though when I reopened my eyes, I realized that the practice had incidentally done the opposite.
My father's obsession with the philosophy of dispersals, that the universe was comprised entirely of opportunities to leave, soon entered the world of experimentation. He would sit me down in the backyard and hold handfuls of crockery and rocks above our heads. He would call these objects, "matter" (elaborating on this naming convention, my father explained that all of these objects mattered--"imagine having dinner without them and you'll see what I mean") and told me that old dumb men thought that matter was comprised of energy. He asked me what energy was. I told him it was what I used to do my exercises. He laughed and said that I shouldn't worry, because although the war did not take me because of my heart, it wouldn't have taken me because of my brain either. He said energy is a made-up word to fill sentences in large books few would read but many would worry about reading. Instead, matter was comprised of compacted, latent opportunities to leave. He argued that, if given the opportunity, every crumb of matter (according to my father, matter was comprised of crumbs and not atoms--"atoms are too small") would leave as efficiently as possible. In demonstration, I watched as he smashed an array of mugs and dishes with either his hammer or reasonably sized rocks. He would take careful measurements of each shard (crumb), tracing the lines between their destinations and the site of impact with sidewalk chalk unearthed from a shed corner.
I don't know if it was the dull scraping or pastel tones of each line sketched onto the patio bricks, but I soon noticed my father taking more interest in the lines he drew than in the liberation of matter via dispersion. Distracted, he would often keep drawing lines beyond where shards of plates and saucers lay, adding curves and turning only when the lawn's edge threatened to terminate a line. As his lines grew longer, tracing laps around the small brick patio, the shaking and tears began to return. Through muffled wails and on all fours, my father hypothesized aloud to no one that the act of drawing itself is a form of dispersal. When I challenged his position by drawing a circle beside him, ensuring my line overlapped with its origin generously, my father referenced the old dumb men who had discovered the tiny height of chalk crumbs and how the end of my line sat neatly atop the beginning on it without ever occupying the same, original homespace.
He extrapolated his theories into the invisible while kneeling on the floor beside the radiator, watching hot waves emanate off of warm metal. The slamming of the mailslot on a Friday morning alerted him to a pile of dispersals neatly sealed in stamped envelopes on the welcome mat. It didn't help that much of this mail begged for additional dispersals in the form of a line drawn from our bank account to another's. Through reasoning that drawing is dispersion and writing is drawn, my father further stumbled into reasoning that communication is a metaphysical form of dispersion for, "our words and thoughts leave our mouths never to return" (he nodded self-satisfied after speaking this quote, hastily writing it down with seemingly not a tear). When I argued that we hear ourselves talk always, my father darted off upstairs. He soon returned with a child's coloured tape recorder I recognized from earlier years. He hit record and insisted I recite my argument into the yellow and green perforated plastic microphone. Stop. Rewind. Play. My father pointed out how we always sound strange in recordings because, unsurprisingly at this point, what we receive of ourselves is different from what we emit/disperse/radiate/emanate. He spent the rest of the day pacing in the backyard, idly kicking chunks of plate and scraping through chalk lines with his soles, before coining this phenomenon "dispersion echo". Upon refining his new subdiscipline arguing that the act of communication was another form of dispersal, his voice began to shake while he wept for each word sputtering out of his wet mouth, until he ceased speaking altogether.
Tired of fighting trees, death counts projected on my bedroom floor, satanic lyrics constantly leaking out from behind the parlour door, cutting my heels on sharp crumbs in the backyard, and a lot of noise but no talking, I confronted my father in the dining room. I told him fine I agree, the world is built of latent opportunities to leave (though mine had seemed particularly latent). But what good is a philosophical deconstruction of the world if it amounts to the slow drifting away of everything? Do you think you deserve a prize, a big trophy, for identifying an endlessly reductive mechanism that can break down even the most arbitrary rock into nothing? Are we to idly sit as we float away? Can we do nothing but watch?
With a final slam of fists on table, I marched upstairs to play video games, in which I can run and jump and kill just about anyone I want. I left my father bright red, huffing and puffing and really wanting to talk in the dining room. He looked around the room, cataloging every loose end and, whereas he had always sworn each termination was reaching farther and farther away, he suddenly felt closed in by the bristles of rug below and the blades of the ceiling fan above. He looked upon the small mountain range of dish towels sitting on the dining room table and then my mother's knitting kit. The bagged beast bled rivulets of coloured yarn from its mighty maw. The murder weapons had been left in the slack corpse: two grey, plastic knitting needles impaled the tangle right between the lips.
Hearing the clacking of the plastic needles in his head, sounds that had not dispersed among the crumbs of this house for years, my father found his solution. Post-dispersism was born.
My chest winced at the rushed pouncing of my father storming up the stairs. Kicking in my door, my father almost ended my heart right there. Armed with a plastic needle in each hand, I suspected my father might kill me, ridding the world of dispersion's greatest critic. I tried to play my video game faster, squeezing in as much running, jumping, and killing as I could in my final moments.
Pointing a needle at my throat, he bled words haphazardly from parted lips.
"I've by solved one dispersion, omni!"
"You weaved thought, creating, "no" ex."
"It ends. Was anew obvious nodum!"
My father had had a stroke. I relaxed, returning my gaze to the television.
He dropped his arm, anger building at my immediate dismissal. He looked to my hands, busy dancing across the plastic controller. His gaze traced the cord from the back of the controller, down to the floor and back up to the grey console docked below the television. Notice a bevy of other cords erupting from ports in the various electronica housed in the cabinet, my father wandered over. Following the cords through various holes positioned in the back of the cabinet, my father discovered the hibernaculum of wiring carelessly piled in my bedroom corner. Visibly strained, my father dragged one side of the cabinet forward, nearly toppling the television from its balance. I sprung up and tried to interrupt his violence but was immediately met with a threatening needle pointing back to my throat. I helplessly sat back on the edge of my bed, watching my father angle the television cabinet to allow his seated access to the medusa-head of dusty dark grey in the corner.
Incredulous, I witnessed my father repeat the rhythmic clicking of plastic that graced the hallways leaving the living room when she was still here, weaving together the tangle of cords into a single, knitted sheet. Thoughtfully returning each plug to its outlet, my father stood back and motioned for me to marvel in the stiff sheet of plugs and wires. When I did not immediately rise to admire his work, he idly looked up at the ceiling, waving a pointed finger idly as if performing mental arithmetic, before reciting another apeshit poem.
"Returned loss. Ends home."
"Brought defeated. Together reborn."
I considered calling an ambulance while my father hunted and poked power buttons, restoring life to my devices. After shoving the cabinet back to its original position, he sat excitedly on the bed beside me. He motioned to my controller and then the screen. I tried to play, but the bizarre taut weaving of cords behind the cabinet generated sporadic electrical interference, manifesting as patches of snowy static appearing and disappearing across the screen, impairing my view. My room smelled like burning as my father stood, walking to the monitor and gleefully following the static dancing around the screen. My father was engrossed in the meaningless noise, studying his creation closely for meaning. The fucking mess behind my cabinet would stay. I stopped playing video games and watching television, leaving my father to watch the dysfunctional electronics until he got bored and trudged back downstairs, victorious. That night I would warily fall asleep to the sounds of my father's footsteps and a gentle plastic clicking. I entertained the idea of not waking up.
I hesitantly walked downstairs the next morning. Whereas the footsteps had disappeared gone, somewhere in the house a distant clicking continued to echo through the halls. Stepping down on the landing, a sudden pangs of pain thundered from the bottom of my foot. I reflexively retracted my foot onto the last stair and looked down, finding the shag rug below now a collection of knots. Upon closer inspection, I could see that every fibre had been intricately woven into a purled knot with several of its neighbours. The effect of this knotting perverted a cushy floor rug into a seafoam green torture device.
Stepping over the rug, I passed the foyer, where the front closet door sat ajar. Inside, each hanging jacket had its sleeves delicately tied together into a single long braid. Looking back to the rug of knots, I suspected the pit forming in my stomach resembled something like the one that formed in my father the day he first saw the great dispersal, each brother unspooling great strands of yarn tied to their belt loops. Seeking breakfast, I was dismayed to find that our kitchen had completed its metamorphosis into a knottery.
Drawers hung open, overflowing with forks whose tines had been bent and overlapped into celtic emblems. Curtains had now framed each window in a set of braided pigtails. House plants had been retrieved from outdoors, now woven in single large stems balanced on the window sills, bright green exposed beneath cracks where stems resisted. Blades of the ceiling fan above had been wrenched downward to meet at a single point and encircled in duct tape, a bizarre spinning wooden cylinder failing to agitate the air around it. I followed the clicking through to the living room.
Dish towels thrown to the floor, the world map now supported a knitted yarn spire. The braid seemed to reach for the heavens of the hanging lamp above (whose shade had been cut and bent back inward to press tight to the lightbulb inside). The tower's base gently settling amongst the hinterland of Toronto, encompassing almost all of its greater area. I thought about the residents of surrounding towns being delivered a fatal tucking in from a giant quilt above. A rainbowed Tower of Babel, created by brothers who could speak the same language, but couldn't occupy the same area.
I found the source of the clicking, my father, standing naked in the bathroom. A grin pasted across his face, he had spent the earlier hours painstakingly using the smallest pair of knitting needles to weave the hair on his head into stubby knots. Now, he had set-up a second mirror behind him and was meticulously separating the hairs on his ass into groupings, pinning each with wooden clothespins. In all his ridiculousness, he glowed when he noticed my presence. Catching himself before he could speak, he appeared to mentally recite a speech in his head before opening his mouth, delivering more shitty free verse.
"Good not, morning too."
"Sleep me. Well? busy!"
The proximity of "good" and "morning" in his poem struck me as odd. I had him repeat his poem to copy it down. Spacing each word out, I realized his cheap trick: my father was weaving simple statements (Good morning. Sleep well? Not me. Too busy!) into verbal fabric. I would have preferred he had the stroke. I began carrying a notepad with me at all times, assuming a new role as the geometrical translator of the house.
Breaking for breakfast, I deciphered explanations from my father who, still naked and knotted, sat across the dining room table. I cringed at the clattering of wooden clothespins on the seat beneath. First, he elucidated on his epiphany from the day before, highlighting the cosmic karma in the source of his original troubles, dispersion as revealed from a bag of yarn, as also being the source of his existential solution, the tools to weave and reunite loose ends to produce new meaning. In verbal acrostics, he explained that the patches of staticy noise on my television, which prevented me from using the television in any meaningful capacity, represented new meaning, a creation only possible with the recombination of the dispersed. He emphasized knitting, stitching, knotting, purling, weaving, and tying as the tools of rebellion to reclaim meaning in a universe callously drifting apart. Reflecting on his new verbal structure, my father focussed on times when interwoven statements would produce new meaning. Referencing his poem above, for example, he would underline "Sleep me" and argue that the reconstruction of dispersed language captured meaning beyond the statements from which it is woven (in this case, an unconscious reference to being tired after staying up all night trying to give himself dreads). When my father spoke of power structures, he meant blankets.
Compared to the earlier weeks of endless weeping, of smashing, of emptying the house, of covering what could not be emptied, I was content to let my father reconstruct the universe in his eyes. While I spent mornings untying the legs of my pants and trying to isolate two matching socks from a tangled mass, my father sat below, worshipping pretzels and colanders as the pinnacle of human achievement. In the backyard, he spent sunny afternoons gluing shards of crockery together into new Frankensteined dishes, from which I would eat my cereal with a spoon (a utensil of praise in the house for its weaves were so tight you could, "no longer see the spaces in between") and not complain about the milk leaking from the odd corners and cracks.
And so, a new normalcy emerged. My father sunk deeper into a world of tangles, but with a positive demeanor that came from opposing deconstruction with creation anew. I began reading again, hiding my favourite books in the basement crawlspace and sacrificing those less liked to my father, who greedily shredded and weaved pages together indiscriminately, later spending days identifying new sentences among the mess. When my father learned about the double helical structure of DNA, the blueprint of life, he wrote an entire essay on a sheet of graph paper, shoving individual words into single cells to help his weavings (and hinder anyone trying to read them).
This is where I would like the story to end, with the slow collapsing-in of the world around me into a tighter and tighter knot. I assumed my father would eventually pull the house's walls inward to access the sidewalks, which he would reel in and tangle into the spot where the living room stood. As he'd weave, he would pull in the powerlines, the roads beneath them, and the invisible yarns stretching across the oceans. An infinite crossing and weaving and tying until my brothers, my father, myself, and all of Toronto took up no more space than the black dot on the map. That stroke was looking better every day.
Every month, my father would accompany me to the Children's Hospital, where a doctor would take a picture of my heart and tell me I'm going to die. As we sat in the doctor's room, we participated in the silent, ceremonial admiring the decomposing white on black on her computer screen. Well, most of us did. My father, hidden beneath a gaudy knitted poncho made from a variety of yarns, threads, and strips of ripped denim, was secretly looking beyond the deteriorating atrial walls, squinting to resolve the patterns of light grey innervating the walls of my chamber, not to mention the massive blood vessels that fed and emptied them. My father marvelled in a universe of radiating vasculature dispersed over every piece of membrane, poised to capture every crumb of blood it could. Later that evening, I would catch him quietly unweaving the pages of a medical encyclopedia.
I wish I could better recapture my final moments, however, I was asleep for most of it. Perhaps the EMT or police could do a better job. The last scene I could recall, between the drops of red spackling my vision and the constant pain of my cracked and deflected ribs, was my father, tightly gripping the smallest pair of knitting needles my mother owned. I laughed thinking about the tiny sweaters they would have created.