Three weeks prior to the Silhouette incident, my father, Reese Alan Quinn, disappeared from our home. He left behind his wife, Maggie, and a son, Alan. In the time leading up to his disappearance, the lives of my family had taken on several unique changes.
My family moved into an older house in the quaint Town of Ashton, Alabama on my thirteenth birthday. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but there were some cosmetic disappointments. The second floor windows were boarded up. Our screen door, littered with holes, struggled to stay on its hinges. Weeds and dead flowers covered the front yard. Old dogwood trees blotted out most of our sunlight. The house itself was small, but had just enough room for four people. We filled it with three and the occasional appearance of unwanted visitors. It wasn’t a house I’d brag about, but it was our home.
Home had become a foreign concept to my family. We had lived in several of them in the past five years. The one in Alabama was number five. Its gravel driveway, woodland surrounding, and distant proximity to neighbors was tolerable as long as we weren’t going to move again. My father promised we had moved for the last time. That was becoming one of his common phrases.
Dad tried his hardest to sell the idea of Ashton to my mother. He touched on her love of painting and the curiosity of something new. He said, “Think of the old house as your canvas. Wasn’t it just the other day that you had been talking about picking the hobby back up?”
Mom never lightened up, but she didn’t fight back either. The prospect of calling a place home for longer than a year was good enough for her no matter where we ended up.
See, my father worked in dream studies. A few years back, he was hired by a private contractor with a blank check. The contractor was willing to let Dad conduct research anywhere he wanted. The studies began as extra overtime here and there to help out with bills at the house, but they quickly evolved into a priority. Dad wouldn’t tell us exactly what he found in his studies, but he claimed he made a breakthrough.
But, as Dad made breakthrough after breakthrough, he became increasingly paranoid that someone was coming to destroy his research. Whenever he’d have a freak out, Mom would say, “Dear, your tinfoil hat is showing,” and he would eventually snap out of it. Sometimes it became too much and he would start to throw things and scream like a lunatic, “They are coming. They are all coming.” The next day we would move. I should have gotten used to it after a while. Just at thirteen, I had already moved four times to different sectors of the globe.
It would be difficult to tell with my American accent, but I grew up on Australia’s Gold Cost until my sixth year. While I do have a few fond memories of my time in Australia, Dad’s first freak out is the memory that stands out. He had insisted on having no guests for my party, which was fine by me since I had not made any friends at my school.
Mom had placed a chocolate cake on the table, testing my will power not to shove the whole thing in my mouth. Drool gathered. My pupils widened. Mom, who noticed my face was a few inches from the cake and gaining ground, pulled me back into upright position. She said, “Can we at least get a picture of you blowing the candles out before you eat all of it?” She motioned for my father to light the six candles placed in a straight line on the cake.
Dad reached into his pockets for the matches, “Where are they? I am going to go search for them, eh?” and ran into the other room like he was being chased. I glanced over at Mom, but she was just as puzzled. “I’m sure he will be back soon. Let me go check to see what he is doing, okay?”
Not a minute later, wearing a small belt hooked around his bald head, my Dad returned to the kitchen. The belt made him look like Mr. Clean if he had escaped from a mental hospital. He said I could call him Quailman, but forgave me for missing the reference. Mom had looked down at her feet when he entered the room. It sounded like she was whispering a prayer.
Dad opened his hands, revealing a matchbox, and went about lighting all of my candles. I think he noticed how confused I looked. He said, “Alan, today is an important day. I know it isn’t clear right now or that I look like I am out of my mind, but I am just trying to make sure we are all safe. Mr. Darius told me we need to be careful.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was too young to understand what he was talking about and Mom was getting agitated. Mom had placed a hand to her head, “Don’t worry, Reese, it was my fault for asking. I should have just lit the candles myself.”
Dad looked like he was going to say something in his defense, thought better of it, and stepped away from the cake. Mom took a deep breath, put a smile back on her face, and said, “Make a wish.”
I closed my eyes and thought of a wish, probably something along the lines of all the cake I could ever want, and started to blow out my candles. I heard a crash. I opened my eyes. The cake and my father were on the other side of the table in a big chocolate mess on the floor.
Mom said nothing. Her face turned a pink shade of red. She walked out of the kitchen and locked herself in her bedroom. Dad stood up from the pile of cake looking like Gloppy from Candy Land. He caught his breath. He said, “Tomorrow… we are moving.”
I’m still not sure what happened that night.
The next morning Dad insisted a shadow had blown out my candles. He said the same shadow was behind me the entire time, waiting to strike. Dad had leapt on the cake because he was scared the shadow was about to get me.
Afraid that my dad had lost his mind, I said, “Thank you,” and took a step away from the conversation.
Mom remained silent. She saved all of her emotion for her eyes, which were shooting daggers throughout the whole packing process. Dad took note and dropped the story.
Later in the day, Dad’s employer sent a car to pick us up. As we pulled away, a few men in sharp, black suits packed all of our cases into a truck.
Mom spoke through gritted teeth, “Well, hero, where are we going to live now?”
Dad crossed his arms, still shaken from the night before, “Brazil.”
Thomas William Shaw is an author and stage actor from Birmingham, AL. He lives with his wife, Lauren, their children, and their cats in a quiet place. Occasionally he will post about it.