Alex McElroy’s short fiction has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail and Prime Number Magazine. He lives in Arizona, where he serves as the International Editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review.
In my earliest memories of Dad and me together, I am two years old, and Dad is riding me piggy-back through the streets of Phoenix, Arizona—a Sunday tradition. I was a large child—17 pounds 9 ounces at birth—and Dad was a compact man. He had these thin little legs and blocky torso. Like an old TV flipped upside-down, walking on its antennae. Dad didn’t want me to turn out as tiny as him. Shortly after my birth he implemented a series of strength-building and stature-enhancing exercises. He dumped rattlesnakes in my crib to toughen me up. I had to carry a baby ram up the hill behind our house every morning. He bathed me in nuclear gunk (it was easy to get in Arizona back then). My skin still has a faint lime tint to it. It glows sometimes, at bars, or when I stand next to microwaves. As a toddler I was three times the size of my peers. So as we rode through the streets every Sunday, I already looked less like the toddler I was than the big green man I became.
My grandfather joined us once a month, on leave from the old folk’s home. His frail body added little weight to our vertical caravan. Neither Dad nor I noticed any reduction in speed. I liked having Grandpa there. With his father around, Dad was more kind, complimenting me as I crawled—“You’re doing it,” “Great work sport”—perhaps trying to prove that he could ride his son more compassionately and productively than he had been ridden. But if that was his intention, I doubt Grandpa noticed. The older man would laugh and clap for the duration of our trips. He thoroughly enjoyed himself. All subtext lost on him. One hasn’t seen Phoenix, he told staff at the home, till one’s seen it from the backs of their kin.
Then one month Grandpa showed up clutching a muddy potato sack full of bones. We spent an hour putting Great-Grandpa together, best we could, with duct-tape and Elmer’s. We replaced his missing femur with half a baseball bat, filled out his ribcage with Phillips head screwdrivers, and then strapped him to Grandpa with the remaining duct-tape. Dad glued an American flag to Great-Grandpa’s palm. Giddyup, Dad said, and I got on a-toddling, the asphalt dimpling my pudgy forearms and knees. As we trod on, I snuck an occasional peek at Great-Grandpa, who—way up high and jostled by wind—appeared to be waving the flag, waving with an unbroken swagger unique to the dead.