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winning submissions & honorable mention pieces

Honorable Mention: My Father the Sleeper

October 22, 2017

The air is thick like honey. On my knees in front of my sleeping father, I dream of the park and the shade of trees and the sound of both a fly in my ear and the subway beneath my feet. Sweating, I get up and follow the fan as it moves side to side across the room. The sweat only gets heavier. I move back to my father.   


I poke his face—he does not stir. I don’t expect him to. This is my father, the sleeper. It is his superpower, I told Niya when she asked why she’d never seen him awake. It is a special power to snooze through storms, car horns, screaming, the TV, my mother, my grandmother, and me. 


There is this rule I don’t want to break—never go to the park alone. “Child, you go alone when you is grown,” my grandmother says each time I talk back about this. I find the phone tucked beneath my father’s elbow and pull it to my ear as I settle cross legged on his stomach. It rings endlessly at Niya’s house. I look down at my father’s face and run my fingers through his uneven beard. 


“Daddy,” I say loudly. “Do you want to go to the park?”


“Mmmm,” I growl deeply to imitate his voice. I pull his head up and shake it back and forth. 


“Why not? It will be fun,” I beg. 


I move his head up and down in a nod. “Oh, okay,” I say as deep as I can. 


“Great! Let’s go!” I roll off his stomach and onto the floor. 


Before he became a sleeper, my father stayed awake all night. I once went to work with him to watch him wear his uniform and sit in a little glass box. He brought a blanket for me and I slept curled up at his feet. But this was before his power—soon after he started sleeping in that little glass box until he came home one day and said he wasn’t going to be a security guard anymore. I realized he had powers when my mother threw a dish at the wall that morning and he didn’t even stir. 


I manage to get him onto the wheelie chair that used to be my grandmother’s dinner chair. We don’t need it for her anymore since my father doesn’t come to dinner. He’s woken up for it once since he became a sleeper, but he ended up face down in a plate of mashed potatoes. My mother said that was the last time she was going to bother trying with him. 


With a jump rope, I secure him to the chair and start pushing with all my might towards the door. I pause at the front steps, looking down at the concrete below.  


The reason sleeping is a superpower is because my father, I figured out, is taking care of something in the World of Dreams. There is some evil that needs to be defeated, and he can’t wake up until it is. As I stand at the top of the steps, he is on the edge of a cliff—looking down into a valley of sharp rocks and rushing waters. 


A soaring bird with great big wings swoops towards him and lifts him over the edge just as the mailman comes and lifts him down the stairs. 


Free from obstacles, I start pushing the chair as fast I can down the sidewalk. When we get stuck, the guys on the corner push my father out. One of them says hello and shakes his hand as if he is awake. When we pass others, I lift his arm so that he is waving—I know he would be saying hello to everybody right now if he wasn’t busy with his journey. 


At the park, I let him rest, untying the jump rope and easing him onto the grass. I spread out his limbs like he’s making snow angels. He is sleeping in a meadow right beside a cave. Soon, he will go in and face the enemy. But right now he lays here and remembers making snow angels with me in the park and how we accidentally turned up yellow snow that one time and screamed about dog piss the whole way home. He will laugh about this before he goes into the cave and faces the enemy. 


For now, he rests. I spin around in the sun a few times before I’m overcome by the heat. I lean back into the thickness of the air—knowing it will catch me when I fall. 

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@2017 by Aimee Murphy and Encounter Youniverse project collaborators.