When I was a child, my father’s trombone hung from a hook in the utility room in the basement. It was the color of dull brass, with a few greenish patches. It was an unremarkable piece of household flotsam among the extra furnace filters, metal folding chairs, and boxes of old clothes to give to charity.
He played it a couple of times a year. Played? He would blow into it for a few seconds and move the slide up and down, seldom conjuring up a sound that could be called musical. He puffed his cheeks out comically and crossed his eyes at us kids. We would shriek with delight that our strict, straight-laced father was clowning for us.
When my father came up the stairs with the trombone, my mother, grim-faced, would walk out of the room. If she was in the kitchen, she banged the pots around. Sometimes she left the house entirely.
My father was not given to explanations and we kids were too timid—no, afraid—to ask: Why did he have a trombone if he couldn’t play it? Or could he play it and he just didn’t let on? And why did it upset our mother so much?
When I went back to visit my parents as an adult, I always meant to ask him about it. I’d mostly left my fear of him behind, but each time I visited I had other things on my mind—dating, career, marriage, children, divorce, my parents’ health—and I never got around to it. To that and many other things.
My father died five years ago, but his presence remains vivid to me: his smell, his V-neck undershirts, his anger. Above all, perhaps, his guardedness. I never felt I really knew him.
My mother’s memory is failing her, and now she is moving to a nursing home in another city to be closer to my sister. As we were packing the contents of the house my mother had shared with my father for forty years, my sister asked me whether I wanted the trombone. I didn’t have to think twice.
The trombone hangs on a hook in my basement. I take it upstairs a couple of times a year and blow furiously into it. My children howl with laughter at the fractured sound and my red face. They never ask me why I have it. I’m not sure I could explain if they did.
Joel Streicker is a writer, poet, and literary translator based in San Francisco. His fiction has been published in Hanging Loose and The Opiate, and is forthcoming in Kestrel and Great Lakes Review. Another story of his was a finalist in Epiphany’s spring fiction contest in 2016. Streicker’s English-language poetry appeared in the fall 2016 issue of California Quarterly, and his Spanish-language poetry was recently featured in El otro páramo (Bogotá, Colombia). Común Presencia (also located in Bogotá) published a book of his Spanish-language poetry, El amor en los tiempos de Belisario, in 2014. In 2011 he won a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant for his work with Argentine writer Samanta Schweblin, and in 2012 he was a translator in residence at Omi Translation Lab. His translations of Latin American fiction have appeared in numerous journals, including A Public Space, McSweeney’s, and Words Without Borders. Streicker’s translation of a story by the Argentine writer Mariana Enríquez is forthcoming in Freeman’s. His essays and book reviews have been appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward, Moment, and Shofar, among other publications.