My elementary school, a few flat, one-story buildings connected by windowed corridors, lay across a narrow access road from the cemetery. A modest playground was situated by the inner curve of the road. I was making swirlies in the sandbox with my fingers when I first saw the tall man standing at the wrought iron fence. He was bald on top, long-haired, the hair a flat brown, damp. He wore tiny wire glasses that sat crookedly across a substantial and accusatory nose. A white shirt that showed shadowed ribs from under a dark grey waistcoat. He did not have to beckon with his long finger; his eyes, a brilliant blue, called me across the road. I was six. He could have been forty; he could have been fifty.
How did I know that he was my father? I had known only that my mother was my mother and had been so for eternity. I had known forever that the man who lived with her could not have been my real father, though that was the charade. He treated me like a baffling stranger, and I was grateful for it.
He was vaguely unpleasant, and one sensed he was somehow...off. The armpits of his white striped shirts were perpetually stained. He spoke bumblingly, in a dopey and sing-song voice. He worked at and for the church in some capacity I never understood, and The Lord came first for him. Perhaps only for him. He seemed removed. His conversations with my mother were hushed and muted and few. They would read most nights; she her romances and he his worn Bible.
But the man at the cemetery was a vital man, a man who looked at the world with fire and at me with only embers, which I regarded as warmth. Warmth and excited recognition. The first time I saw him, as I said, I went to him across the road. He knelt and regarded me, grinning widely. I noted that behind his yellowed teeth was another full set of teeth--top and bottom, also yellow, also pointing this way and that. His gums were red and, below and above his canines, split to the bone.
He said to me that day the following: You must always take what you want, however you can. You'll find, he said, that once you are known for taking what you want, you won't have to anymore. It will be given to you freely.
Then he rose, not without effort, and strode away. I went back across the street and Mrs. Wisert looked at me quizzically and with trepidation. I shrugged and went in to fetch my coat and go home.
The next time I saw the man was not more than a week later. It was drizzling rain. He was by the fence again, and I rushed to his side. He told me I knew who he was. He said, I have some history for you. Listen carefully and do not speak. You were not born alone. You had a twin. I knew that one of you was good and one of you was evil. Like in a fairy tale. I buried the evil boy next to the mausoleum.
He gestured. The mausoleum was a small, windowless brick house with a pointed roof and a small crooked spire.
I only saw him once more, years later, as I was showing my new wife my old school. She was in using the bathroom, and I turned and there he was. He was grinning at me, but he turned and strode away when I approached. He looked like a giant bird to me, somehow, as though black wings would sprout from his back, and he would leap into the air, blotting out everything. He didn't. He merged with the fog.
I walked to where he had stood, and there was a transistor radio leaning up against the fence, rusted with age. A window revealed squarish white numbers along a gray line, a red line bisecting the 8s most of the way to the left. I turned it on and his voice spoke through a squeal of static. "It's an an-teek," he said, drawing out and tasting the word.
When I was fifteen I went to the mausoleum and next to it found a patch of lighter colored grass. I had brought with me a shovel, and I dug as the crickets chirped all around me. The blade hit wood, and I pulled up a small box. I lifted the twisted, torn black clasp and raised the lid. The box was empty. But I remembered from long ago the inside of the box, the smell of varnish and the lines of light that glowed, glowed more faintly, and then disappeared.
I was not the good one.