The Success Dream Book

by Lori Jakiela

My father said many things that embarrassed me growing up. Most of these things he’d say loudly, on repeat. Most of these things included the word “ass,” which my father molded like Playdough into a fun factory of insults. 

“Little Miss College,” he’d say. “I have more brains in my ass than you have in your head.” “Little Miss College,” he’d say. “I could wipe my ass with what you know about love.”

There were some standbys: “You can’t tell your ass from a hole in the ground,” and, “You couldn’t find your ass with both hands,” and, “Your ass thinks your shit don’t stink. Trust me. It does.” 

Sometimes my father would revert to something simple like “dumb ass,” and I’d almost be disappointed, like he wasn’t even trying. 

None of this bothered me much. My father, the steelworker, was gruff, but he loved me, and I loved him back. But the one thing he’d say, the one that cut, was this: 

“Wake up and face reality. You’re living in a dream world, kid.” 

My father, I knew, had stopped living in a dream world years ago. He gave up singing. He gave up dancing. He gave up nice suits and cigars. If he allowed himself a tiny sweetness—a lunchbox pie, a knock-off Twinkie—he ate it standing up in the corner of the kitchen, his back hunched with guilt at allowing himself this small pleasure. 

I’d seen what all this giving up had done to him—every unhappiness etched on my father’s face like a relief map.

“Don’t be like me, kid.” 

My father said that, too.

When my father was dying, I tried to hold onto my own dreams—flying, travel, New York, rootlessness—for as long as I could, though even then I knew we all eventually wake up whether we want to or not. 

One weekend I was on a Stockholm trip, a 48-hour layover, when my mother called my hotel room to tell me my father, who’d been in remission, was once again very sick. 

“He’s talking in his sleep in Polish,” my mother said. 

My mother, a nurse, hadn’t worked full time since she married my father, but she practiced her nursing at home and sometimes worked weekends at Braddock General Hospital. As my mother’s daughter, and as a child who grew up in hospitals, I knew all the clinical words for body parts and diseases. I never had colds. I had upper-respiratory infections. I did not have a belly button. I had an umbilicus. I knew the difference between a side-stitch and pleurisy, leg cramps and blood clots, code red and code blue. I could name viruses and cancers the way other kids could name constellations and state capitals. My mother read the Physicians’ Desk Reference while her friends read cookbooks. She diagnosed every fever, every sniff and cough. But now, where my father was concerned, she sounded helpless. 

“I don’t know what he’s trying to say,” she said, her voice cracked and pleading, as if my father’s survival depended upon my mother translating his dream-speak, as if she had already failed.

My father, the son of immigrants, never taught me Polish or spoke it much in our home. He was embarrassed by his first language. 

“I speak American,” he’d say. 

But now he’d returned to the language of his childhood, and my mother, who’d been married to him for over 40 years, couldn’t understand the words. 

Over the past year or so, on visits home, I noticed my father had lost weight, even though his appetite for covert sweets was stronger than ever. He had a pain in his back that seemed to be getting worse. He had a huge black mole on his neck that he scratched until it bled. He’d been having recurring dreams, too, something he rarely did or at least didn’t talk much about.

“The damnedest thing,” he said. “This black dog shows up and carries a yellow cat across this river. Night after night. Now, what do you make of that, Miss College?” 

My father, who helped pay my way through college, who was alternately proud and pissed off at all the education he felt I may have wasted, said, “What did they teach you about that in those schools of yours?”

I didn’t talk to my father about Jung or Freud. I didn’t talk about Hemingway, my beloved, who called depression Black Dog and who named his own dog Black Dog, and who died broken and sad. 

I think I told my father I didn’t know. 

I think I said it was good he was dreaming. 

As much as he didn’t believe in a dream life, my father loved to gamble—stocks, Vegas, the Pennsylvania Lottery. He’d bought a book, The Success Dream Book by someone named Prof. De Herbert. The book promised to match images from dreams with winning lottery numbers. 

In the introduction, Prof. De Herbert, who wrote his last name in all caps, declared his book the most complete dream book in the world. 

“The author has worked laboriously and unceasingly in order to produce this first-class Dream Book,” he wrote back in 1959. “He has traveled all over the world to gather correct data. There is nothing miraculously attached to this book: It is truly a dream book of the highest order and enables you to get all the main facts of your life at a glance.” 

Prof. De Herbert, who may have been the Donald Trump of prognosticators, called dreams warnings. The book was illustrated with questionable and/or racist images of turbaned fortune tellers and genies. Along with dream interpretations, it included lucky birthday numbers, lucky holiday numbers, and a list called “Notions: Things You See, Hear or Happen and What to Do With Them.” The list linked lottery numbers with events from waking life. 

“When you are surprised by—play 367” 

“When your left eye jumps—376” 

“When your right eye jumps—659” 

“When you see a riot—293” 

“Sudden grief—144”

I don’t know where Prof. De Herbert got his ideas from or where my father found this book, but I know my father never won the Pennsylvania lottery. He kept a record of winning lottery numbers, along with his losing tickets and The Success Dream Book, in a shoebox he stashed under our kitchen table. He’d pull the box out to show visitors how close he’d come, how many times he’d nearly hit.

“Almost,” he’d say, again. And again. 

“What do you make of that?” My father wanted to know about his losing streaks and now, about his dream.

In The Success Dream Book, a black dog in a dream “denotes a dangerous adventure.” Play number 371. 

A cat is “a sign of approaching danger.” Play 144. 

The color yellow: “Success in all undertakings.” Play 336.  

A river: “Strife and ill luck.” Play 419. 

Every number, even 419, was supposed to bring good luck. 

Prof. De Herbert wasn’t much for irony. 

My mother, a trained medical professional, was superstitious too. She read horoscopes. She read Dear Abby.” I think she sometimes consulted The Success Dream Book. My mother believed she possessed psychic powers and was part gypsy. She was certain my father’s dream was an omen.

“He didn’t tell you Mitch Paitch was in that dream, did he?” my mother said. 

Mitch Paitch was a name I hadn’t heard in years. He was one of my father’s few friends from the old neighborhood—someone who remembered when my father drank bourbon and sang Cole Porter songs and dressed up to take my mother dancing at The White Elephant. 

I remember Mitch Paitch and my father one night on our porch. I’m not sure how old I was, but I was in our backyard, trying as usual to fill a mayonnaise jar with lightning bugs. Citronella candles burned on the porch steps. They didn’t stop mosquitoes, but they were the only source of light other than the red tip of my father’s and Mitch’s cigarettes, which bobbed and glowed as the two men tried out bars of a song I didn’t know. 

Mitch Paitch died decades ago. My father never talked about him much. My mother lost touch with his wife. 

“It’s strange for him to just show up in a dream,” my mother said. “It’s no good.”

To dream of a friend, The Success Dream Book says, is “to wish for the peace of a well-trained person. Play 259.” 

What Professor de Herbert meant by a well-trained person or the peace that came with that, I don’t know. 

Maybe he meant someone who knew the realities, which is what Hemingway called life, the truth that everything and everyone we love is temporary. The peace that comes if we can accept the cruel beauty of that. 

“Forget your personal tragedy,” Hemingway wrote in a letter to his friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald, in 1934. “We are all bitched from the start and you have to hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it—don’t cheat with it. Don’t think anything is of any importance because it happens to you or anyone belonging to you.” 

Later, my mother took my father to the doctor. The doctor decided my father needed back surgery. 

“The damnedest thing,” my father said. “The doctor usually sees this in young men, never men my age. A goddamn disc. I told you I’m going to live to a hundred. Hell, my back doesn’t even know how old it is.”

I came home the morning of my father’s surgery. I was still in my flight attendant uniform, blue polyester suit, red silk scarf, wheeling my squeaky roll-aboard suitcase which left a black trail on the hospital’s just-waxed floor. When I entered the waiting room, my mother began to cry. 

My mother had been right about my father’s dream being an omen, of course. When the doctors opened my father, they found cancer. The cancer had spread from my father’s lungs to his spine. The liver, the doctors said, was involved. The brain, too. 

“He’s still unconscious,” my mother said. “He doesn’t know yet.” 

My mother and I were there when my father woke up, groggy, but still proud because he believed he was suffering a young man’s disease.

“The damnedest thing,” he said and smiled at me.

I can’t remember how much time passed before my father was fully conscious, before I had to tell him what had gone wrong. My mother couldn’t do it. I didn’t want it left to the doctors. 

“Dad,” I said. “It wasn’t a disc.”

He didn’t believe me. He didn’t believe the doctors when they came in with their charts and diagnoses and treatment plans. He made a nurse write the words “metastasized adenocarcinoma, both lungs” on a piece of paper. He looked at the paper, with its ad for a new blood pressure drug, then folded it into a neat square. 

“Put that in my wallet,” he said. 

Later, after my father died, my mother would find it there, tucked behind his driver’s license. Later, when my mother died, I’d find it in her wallet, in the space where she kept a $50 bill for emergencies and a medallion of The Virgin Mary she’d had blessed in Rome. 

But I’m leaping time. 

Back in my father’s hospital room, my mother wanted to know how long her husband, my father—one of many other husbands, many other fathers, many other wives and children who’ve faced such human news—would live. She pulled the doctors aside, one by one. They hedged. They consulted charts. Finally, she cornered one of the nurses. 

My mother said, “I’m a nurse. Tell me. How long?”

“We can’t be sure, we can never be sure,” the nurse said.

“Please,” my mother, who already knew the answer, said. 

“Usually a year,” the nurse said, and turned her wrist over and looked down at her watch. 

Time grounds all of us, maybe. Maybe the opposite. 

This nurse, like my mother, wore her watch with the face on the inside of her wrist, at her pulse point. Many nurses did this back then. The inside of a wrist, that tender place, the skin a membrane, rice paper, all those veins, the vena amoris, the vein that connects the hand to the heart. 

Look at your wrist, those bridges of veins. 

Feel the pulse.

How does time feel for you? 

From that point on, I came home on my off days. 

Sometimes I’d wake up in hotel rooms and not know which city I was in. Sometimes, I woke up in my pink childhood bedroom. Some days, if my father had a bad night, I’d lie awake on a small sofa next to the rented hospital bed we’d set up in my mother’s old sewing room, which we called the spare room. 

How many people had rented that bed before my father? How many daughters had stayed awake next to it? How many people had slept in the hotel beds I’d slept in all over the world? 

Sometimes I still imagine the stories, all the love and loneliness, all the small details of living and dying.  

I’d lie awake and listen to my father breathing. A few years later, I’d listen to my mother’s breathing. Many years later, I’d lie awake and listen to my children’s breathing. And my husband’s breathing. Everyone I’ve loved.  As if listening to their breath, as if syncing my breath to theirs and placing my hand on their chests could keep them with me forever. 

When my father was dying, my world shrank—an airplane cabin, the low ceilings and tiny rooms in my parents’ house, a taxicab, a single bed in my crash-pad apartment in New York, a hotel bathtub. 

If I was away for a week, I’d come home to find my father changed. He took chemo cocktails and radiation treatments. There were more pills for my mother to look up in the Physicians’ Desk Reference. Each time, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I’d ring my parents’ doorbell and wait for someone to open the door, with all the chain locks and bolts my father installed to keep everyone he loved safe. 

It took a while. 

A few weeks into chemo, my father started wearing an old knit cap he’d kept from his Navy days. He’d worn that cap as a crew member on The Lexington, a World War II aircraft carrier that had been in the Pacific. 

That cap and my father survived kamikazes and air strikes and storms at sea. It didn’t matter that it was now Spring, that the western Pennsylvania humidity had already set in. 

When I pulled up one day in a taxi, there was my father, under the hood of his Chrysler, that blue knit cap pulled low over his eyebrows. He was wearing his old work clothes, a uniform stained with decades of grease and graphite. 

My father, usually happy to see me, barely looked up. 

“Your mother’s inside,” he said. 

“What’s with the hat?” I asked my mother, who was in the kitchen, bent over the sink, peeling carrots and potatoes for a pork roast, one of the few things my father still wanted to eat.

“His hair,” she said. “He’s upset about his hair.” 

When he was young, my father had thick, dark, wavy hair. I’d seen pictures, but my father’s hair had been mostly gone for years. My father, his brothers, and most of the old Polish men I knew in Pittsburgh looked like John Paul II, the Polish Pope. They were almost completely bald, except for spidery strands of white hair they’d grow long then comb over. 

My father, in one of his final gestures of vanity, carried a comb in his back pocket. He kept a travel-sized bottle of hair spray in the bathroom. Aqua Net, I think.

Going forward, I never saw my father without his cap. He wore it through dinner when he picked at the tiny piece of roast on his plate. He wore it to watch the news. He wore it when he fell asleep on the couch. He wore it when my mother helped him to bed, and in the morning, there it was. 

He never said anything about it to me and I didn’t say anything about it to him. Instead, I’d ask how he was feeling. 

“What do you think, smart ass?” he said. “Like shit. They’re poisoning me.” 

On his nightstand, my father kept a prayer book, some cards, and news clippings neighbors cut out and sent, along with handwritten notes touting the latest cancer miracle cures.

If there was an escape from death, my father would find it.

I believed this.

Around the time my father laced all our doors with locks, he also did intricate mathematical equations to ensure the trees he planted in our yard would never—no matter how tall they grew—fall on our house or hurt anyone he loved. Then he set up a nuclear fallout shelter in our basement. 

This was in the 1970s, the Cold War, and not so uncommon. The world is always terrifying, but sometimes more so. 

My father built the shelter by hand with cement blocks he bought at Busy Beaver. He stacked the blocks in double layers and made walls within walls. He built a room within our laundry room. He outfitted the shelter with rows of shelves, then stocked them with huge cans of peanuts and creamed corn, boxes of Slim Jim beef jerky, and supplies of Milk Bone dog biscuits for our dog, Tina, who would not be left behind in the event of war. 

The shelves buckled under gallons of distilled water and Regent Pop. The basics my father couldn’t buy at Foodland he mail-ordered from creepy survivalist magazines: a bottle of Minuteman Survival Tablets, camo tarps, and a huge bag of apricot pits. 

The survival tablets—touted as “a compact lifesaving food ration fit for any emergency”—went into the bomb shelter, along with the tarps. The apricot pits went upstairs in our refrigerator’s crisper drawer. My father ate a few every night. 

According to survivalist magazines, the pits had a bit of something awful in them—cyanide, I think—just enough to ward off cancer. 

They didn’t work.

I tried some once. 

They were bitter.

They tasted like dust. 

"All are of dust, and all turn to dust again,” Ecclesiastes says. 

Of all parts of the Bible, I have loved Ecclesiastes most. I thought it meant good news. The word feels like fireworks in your mouth. 

Say it. 


What a beautiful, hope-filled word. 

But in translation, Ecclesiastes is about the vanity of human life.

Temporary, my beloved Hemingway would say.  

All our joy. All our pain. 


Maybe that’s good news. 

Maybe not.

“Do you know what that jackass said?” my father asked. 

We were sitting on the couch in my parents’ living room, watching 60 Minutes. It was an episode about Lance Armstrong, years before Sheryl Crow or those Livestrong bracelets or the doping scandals. The episode was all about the rock star Lance Armstrong, Super Human, and how he beat cancer. 

Lance Armstrong beat cancer, then went on to win the Tour de France three more times. 

The episode was titled “Miracle Man.” 

The promo: “Lance Armstrong won’t stop flirting with death.” 

My father had on his blue cap. He looked at the TV while he talked. 

“That doctor,” my father said, talking about his own doctor, his own unwilling flirtation with death. “That jackass asked me, ‘How old are you? 75?’ He said, ‘Well. You lived your life.’ What the hell kind of thing is that to say to a person?”

On TV, Lance Armstrong was telling 60 Minutes’ Bob Simon about his “Cycle of Hope” campaign. Lance credited good doctors, good medicine, and good technology for his survival. 

“20 years ago,” Armstrong said. “I would’ve been dead.” 

“What kind of asshole says that kind of thing?” my father wanted to know about his own doctor.

I didn’t say anything. 

I didn’t know what to say. 

On TV, Lance Armstrong, with his square rich-boy chin, expensive shirt, and loopy smile, was talking hope.

“I knew there were people just diagnosed, or family members of people diagnosed, or survivors or people being treated,” Armstrong said. “They were going to see me. They were going to say, ‘That guy’s one of us.’ And they were going to get hope from that.” 

My father looked at me, straight on, in a way he hadn’t in years. 

“I’m dying you know,” he said. 

“Yes,” I said. 

“There’s no way out of it,” my father said. 

“Yes,” I said. “I know.”

“Okay then,” he said, and turned back to the TV.

Hemingway said, “Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” 

Years later, after my father died, Lance Armstrong was called the dirtiest cheater in the history of sports. He took enough performance-enhancing drugs to make a hippo fly. Those drugs made his super-human victories and survival seem attainable, beyond mortal.  

60 Minutes, feeling guilty, would air four other segments debunking Armstrong and exposing his doping scheme and subsequent cover-up. Each time, Armstrong would threaten reporters, right up until Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey, the world’s priest, in 2013. 

Armstrong told Oprah he used blood doping, transfusions, testosterone, human growth hormone cocktails and more to elevate his strength and endurance for each Tour win from 1999 to 2005. He likened the drugs to “keeping air in his tires.” He said he even looked up the word “cheat” in the dictionary and decided it didn’t apply to him, given that it meant “to gain an advantage on a rival or foe.” 

“I didn’t view (doping) that way,” he told Oprah. “I viewed it as leveling the playing field.” 

“We absolutely helped create the myth,” CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager said about 60 Minutes. “We put Lance Armstrong on our broadcast in front of millions and millions of people. We called him Miracle Man. We wanted to believe it. Who didn’t?”

“Don’t worry about me, sweetheart,” my father said. “I’ll be around.”

That was the last thing my father said to me before he died. 

I believed it. 

He was my father.

I will forever be his child.

It was hard to find a place to be alone in my parents’ house, so that night, after my father told me he knew he was dying, after he fell asleep on the couch, his head tilted back, snoring, I shut off the TV. I went down to the basement, where years ago my father had built a bathroom out of the cement blocks left over from his bomb shelter. He’d put a shower stall in there so he could take showers after work without tracking graphite through the house. The work my father did in this life was filthy—his clothes torn and stained, his skin blackened, his lungs diseased. Good jobs, people who remember the mills and machine shops of Pittsburgh-past, say. 

I took a shower. 

Then I sat on the yellowed floor of the makeshift shower stall. 

Since my parents wouldn’t be able to hear me, I let myself weep.

In the weeks before my father died, people started to come by. Cousins I hadn’t seen in years, neighbors, my father’s stockbroker, my father’s bookie. 

Growing up, I thought everyone had a bookie. I’d answer the phone when my father’s bookie would call and say the words my father taught me, placing a bet on a number that, in keeping with my father’s luck, would never hit. My birthday in a box for a nickel. My mother’s birthday in a box for fifty cents. Something from the Success Dream Book

When I was very young, my father’s bookie would send me cards on my birthday. The cards would have trees on the front, with slots he’d fill with quarters or fifty-cent pieces, heavy silver fruit on all the branches. He’d sign the card, “Your Fairy Godfather,” but I always knew who it was, even though I never knew the bookie’s name, such is the life of a bookie. 

When he showed up at my father’s deathbed, the bookie looked different than I imagined. He was tiny, stooped, ancient, in a sky-blue polyester dress shirt, a pack of Pall Mall cigarettes in his chest pocket, and pleated pants pulled up to his chest and cinched with a belt. My father’s bookie looked like he shopped at J.C. Penney. He looked like an old man who’d sell sno-cones. 

“He’s a good man,” the bookie said about my father and shook my hand like we were making one last deal. The bookie’s hands were small, soft, like he never hurt anyone, like he could never hurt anyone. 

Maybe he didn’t. Maybe it was all just numbers and dreams. 

“I’ll say the rosary for your dad,” the bookie said. “I’ll say a Novena for you, too, sweetheart.” 

I thanked him, even though I stopped believing years ago.

In his last weeks on this earth, my father wanted to talk about Frank Sinatra, who, along with the movie critic Gene Siskel and King Hussein of Jordan, was also dying—cancer, cancer. 

“That bastard,” my father said about Sinatra. “He’s afraid to go to sleep. I saw it on the news. He’s afraid he won’t wake up.” 

My father, who could sing like Sinatra, who loved Sinatra despite his mob ties, who loved his brother, despite his mob ties, who loved his bookie despite him being his bookie, was afraid, too, though he wouldn’t admit it. 

“I’m a man,” my father said often. “I’m a man and I know it.” 

To be a man meant being stoic. It meant being silent about things. “Grace under pressure,” my beloved Hemingway, who like my father knew war and loss, called it. To be a man, in my father’s eyes, meant taking care of the people he loved. It meant not scaring people, even when you were dying.

Cancer didn’t kill Frank Sinatra, though he suffered from it. He had a massive heart attack instead. 

Frank Sinatra’s last words: “I’m losing.” 

For my father, people were always a problem, at the end even more so. 

My father didn’t trust the sweet hospice nurse, who was also a nun, who wore Winnie-the-Pooh socks and a large crucifix around her neck. He didn’t want the hospital bed she’d ordered, and all the ghosts that came with it. He didn’t want the pills. He didn’t trust my mother, who he feared now would outlive him. 

“You’re trying to kill me,” he told her. “You want me dead.” 

When my mother would leave my father’s sick room weeping, I tried to talk my father down, but he wouldn’t have it. 

“You don’t know a damn thing,” he’d say. “Little Miss College. What did they teach you about this, jackass? What’s in those books of yours?”



Once, when a delivery man showed up with tanks of oxygen, my father was lying on the couch. I could see him sizing this young man up. The delivery man was probably in college. This job probably paid for his books. 

“Let me ask you something,” my father said. 

The man, a boy really, wore paper boot covers on his shoes. His hair fell over one eye in a heartbreaking swoop. He carried a clipboard. 

So many orders to deliver. 

So many people suffering. 

My father glared at him. “So,” he said, “how long do people live once you bring this stuff?”

The boy smiled, awkward, nervous. He held out the clipboard for someone, anyone to sign. 

My father said, “Are you the angel of death?”

I signed the boy’s clipboard. 

“Thank you,” I said. “Sorry.”

Then came the drug deliveries. The drugs kept getting stronger—Ativan, morphine. 

“We want to keep him comfortable,” the hospice nurse said. “We want him peaceful.”

There is no such thing as a good death. I’ve said that. So did Simone de Beauvoir, whose grave I visited in Paris. 

I love Simone de Beauvoir. She called death an aberration. Anyone who knows death knows she was right. 

My father was anything but peaceful. 

Before he died, my father went in and out of consciousness. My uncle, who could speak Polish, who spoke that native tongue with my father when they were children, was there for some of this. 

He was there when my father tried to open a door he saw dangling above his rented hospital bed. 

He was there when my father cried out for their mother. 

He was there when my father went on speaking in Polish. 

He was there when my father began waving his hands near his mouth, tiny floating gestures, back and forth over his lips. 

I hoped my uncle would translate for me, but he wouldn’t. 

“It’s nonsense,” my uncle said. “He doesn’t know what he’s saying.” 

My uncle is dead now too. Cancer. In his casket, he looked so much like my father. Whatever their relationship was like as children, whatever love they shared together, whatever fury, is lost to me. But back then, as my father was dying, my uncle’s eyes filled with tears as he told me something I’d never known about my father. 

“What happened to his harmonica?” my uncle asked. 

One Christmas, when my father was a teenager, my grandfather, in a moment of tenderness, bought my father, who loved music, a harmonica and a songbook. My uncle said that, for years, my father never went anywhere without it. 

“He’d sit on a stoop and play until I wanted to pull my ears off,” my uncle said. 

I’d never seen this harmonica. I never heard my father mention it. But my mother remembered it, too. 

“He used to sit on the porch and play and play,” she said. “He’d sit there for hours in the dark, not talking to anybody. Just him and that damn harmonica. Gave me a goddamn headache. ” 

My mother didn’t know what happened to the harmonica. She couldn’t remember when my father stopped playing. 

After my father died, I expected to find it tucked into the pocket of an old jacket or hidden in a drawer somewhere, but it never showed. 

“I didn’t have anything else to lose,” Lance Armstrong told 60 Minutes. “That was the beautiful thing.”

Dear Reader, I know when I try to tell you about my father, his harmonica, this is just memory playing it as it lays. 

Fuck you, Lance Armstrong. 

Lance Armstrong was, by all accounts, a lousy human. He’s still alive. He invested in Uber and made millions. He owns a café in Austin, Texas called Juan Pelota—One Ball, a joke about his testicular cancer. 

On Lance Armstrong’s Facebook page, for his bio, there’s just one word. “Survivor.” 

When I think about that night my father spent with Mitch Paitch on our porch, I hear a harmonica, the smooth metal notes that capture my father’s breath, gliding out into the dark.

“It is only the details of how he lived and how he died,” Hemingway said, “that distinguish one man from another.”

Mitch Paitch, my father had figured out, was the dog in his dream. 

“I was the cat,” he said. “Mitch carried me. We were singing. I don’t know what song. What do you make of that?”

In my memory, I’m there with my father and Mitch Paitch. I’m in my parents’ yard. I’m at my gruesome business, ripping the lights from the poor bugs I’ve caught in my lightning jar. I crush their bodies, smash their lights into a yellow paste I rub on my arms and cheeks. 

I don’t think this is cruel. I think I’m Goldie Hawn in “Laugh In” – sock it to me. 

I think I am a spirit, a ghost girl who wants to be beautiful. 

I want my father to see me in the dark, the way I can still see him, his cigarette a small heart keeping the beat. 

In my dreams, I run to my father. I cry, Can you see me?

I want my father to sing. I want him to tell me what an asshole I am and will always be. I want him to be happy, peaceful. 

“What do you want now, Miss College?”

I want to cover us both in light. 

About the author

Lori Jakiela is the author of several books, including Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe, which received the Saroyan Prize from Stanford University, and How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen?-- a collection of poems which was awarded the 2021 Wicked Woman Prize from Brickhouse Books. Her next book--They Write Your Name on a Grain of Rice--is forthcoming from Atticus Books in 2023. She lives in Trafford, Pennsylvania with her husband, the writer Dave Newman, and their children.

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