Rules and Regulations


Do what Dad says, but think what you want. He is a shriveled, jaundiced thing, and his phantom limbs are as corporeal as your phantom sister, the pain of them proof that he will not be outlasting anyone as predicted.

Take dictation – fluff his pillow in the morning, change the channel now and then, turn out the lights when you see he’s asleep, enact your revenge with double-knotted bows and dirty linen. Every happy family is as corporeal as his phantom limbs. The unhappy ones are like us. We are tired and angry phantoms. Admit it. Just ask yourself when you do what Dad says. Why are you so tired?

Take dictation – take your vitamins. No, the ones that make you tired. Change the bedpan, bite your tongue. Next time do it before you try to remind him that his arms and legs are attached to his shoulders and crotch, respectively, respectfully enough. Not for him. Bite your tongue again while he berates you for the reminder, but think what you want. Think the bathroom is five feet from his ass. Even his voice is shriveled and jaundiced. Even as it tells you it is going to outlast you all it is falling asleep. The process can take hours. Try not to gag when the process has taken its time. Try not to jitter while trying not to gag.

Take dictation – warm up something from a can, take your vitamins and mix them in, take it to him, spoonfeed, wipe, repeat. Try not to think of the airplane game. Try not to laugh when you think of the airplane game. He is too tired to care, but don’t push. Ask yourself while you do what he would say. Why are you so sad?

Be your own dictator – turn him on his side so his phantom limbs don’t get phantom bedsores. Ask yourself while you watch him look like a sleeping baby. Will this shriveled baby outlast us all? How will this jaundiced baby last with us all gone? Is this phantom tired or is it another unhappy trick? Tell him you were not talking to yourself. Tell him you were talking to your corporeal sister. Tell him you do so have a sister.

I’m sorry. This has been my fault, but you will have to do what Dad says. Think what you want. Think we all thought he would be more tired than he is. Think who is tricking whom.

Take dictation – put him back on his back, change the channel, go start a pot of coffee, take it to him, spoonfeed, wipe, repeat. Apologize for the airplane game. Apologize for the laughter, all laughter everywhere, and for babies who are children who will outlast their parents. Apologize for being so dramatic. Apologize for spilling about a drop of coffee on his shriveled, jaundiced chest. Try not to spill anymore. Tell him to stop screaming. Ask him to stop screaming. Plead. Try not to notice how he fans the burnsite with his phantom arms, but if you do, bite your tongue. You’re learning.

Take dictation – go get a bag of ice, notice the ice cream beside the ice cubes.

Be your own dictator – make up for it all with a bowl of ice cream. Take your vitamins, crush them up and sprinkle them on. Don’t be stupid, they don’t look like sprinkles. Slather the ice cream in chocolate syrup, take it to him, apologize, go get the bag of ice, apply, apologize again, spoonfeed, wipe, repeat. Think what you want. Think how did you ever think that the airplane game was funny. Do not do the airplane game. Don’t be so sad. Your trick is working, this time it is. He’s tired, so tired that he doesn’t stop himself from pushing away your corporeal arm with his phantom arm while dribbling the previous mouthful down his shriveled baby chin. Wipe. Say there, there if you can’t resist. Say Dad. Dad? Are you awake? Poke him with a finger. Not in a phantom limb. Poke him on the chest. Say are you awake.

Be the only dictator – turn him on his side. Don’t think about the cold, rubbery feel of his baby body. Don’t look at all. Don’t look back. Do what you want for a while. Sit in a chair at the kitchen table and think what you want. What do you want? Do you want an unhappy family? A family is happiest when it wants what it has. This family has any number of phantoms. Which phantom is angriest, the chicken or the egg. Go be a chicken or an egg. Take another vitamin if you’re chicken, but go do it. Do what Dad wants. Think what Dad says. Don’t look at him. Don’t think about how his skin glows jaundice in the dark. Stop thinking.

I’ll be your dictator – reach under the bed for the soiled sheets. They’re soiled. All the better. Say Dad you soiled the sheets. When he doesn’t respond say my Dad is a phantom shit factory, a big yellow armless legless baby with arms and legs, my Dad is good for nothing but spoonfeed wipe repeat. Keep it up, not louder but going. Check for rapid eye movement while you lay the soiled bedclothes on the floor beside the couch. It means he’s asleep but not too deep. It means your monologue is being the dictator of his phantom dreams. It means just a tweak in volume when the time is right and things will go exactly as you want for once. Don’t talk to your corporeal sister. Not now. Say you know as well as I do that I believe in you but I’m in the middle of something that’s not going to do itself and if you want to watch you can but it isn’t going to be pretty.

You need a new dictator – get back to Dad quick. Tell him you never ever believed he would really outlast you all. Lie. Tell him you hardly expect him to outlast the night. Separate the strips you ripped last night from the mostly intact and in any case corporeal mass of the soiled sheet. Use the strips to tie your father’s phantom limbs together, wrist to wrist behind his back, go easy if he stirs. Grin when he doesn’t wake up. Say What. What would you do about it anyway, baby Dad? Your sadness is the last thing on your mind now, isn’t it?

Try dictating for yourself again – raise the volume slowly as you lift the soiled sheet to his ear. Go ahead and put it down to double check the knots if you must. Continue to raise the volume as you lift the sheet again.

Take Dictaphone – press record and lay it on the couch beside Dad’s head. Lower your mouth to Dad’s ear and raise the sheet. Talk while you tear. Say Dad this is the sound of tearing, of anything tearing, a sheet, a skin, a limb from a limb. Raise the volume as he startles awake. Tell him you are tearing him to pieces as you start another strip. Throw the first strip in the air and watch it flutter like a long, wrong snowflake to your father’s face and laugh as he struggles then whimpers, begs and finally cries saying he wants his arms back, his legs, how he knows you are good and he is bad and how he can he fix this. But he can’t, because for now you’ve forgotten your sadness, and the memory of his miserable face and the sound on the tape and the fact that you’ve left your father’s phantom limbs bound on the couch with him will keep you company until you fall asleep and wake to clean up your mess.

Christian TeBordo has published three novels, most recently We Go Liquid. His first collection of short stories, The Awful Possibilities, is forthcoming from featherproof books. He lives in Philadelphia.