I didn't want to write about my father's death, so I went door-to-door, saying, "Tell me what to write. Give me an assignment."
The police took me in for questioning. At the station, they said, "Your behavior is strange." "Not so," I said, "no, it's methodical. I said, "Give me a crime--almost any crime will do. I'll write a confession--very detailed."
The police became impatient with me and let me go with a warning--no more solicitation of topics--got it?
On the bus, I asked my fellow travelers what I should write. One man slugged me. "Write that up," he said. I tossed off a poem about getting slugged--and about buses being transitory villages. "It doesn't rhyme," the man said, having examined the poem. I slugged him back, but not hard. "Rhyme that, Buster," I said. I'm not proud of my reaction, nor of the poem.
Expelled from the transitory village and wishing not to see my friends the police, I hoped to bump into my father's ghost, but I did not do so. My father didn't believe in ghosts, and he hated to be contradicted, so even if his ghost appeared, it would have made sure I didn't see it, just to prove a point.
I pretended my father was alive and told me not to write about his death but to write something for one of Reader's Digest's regular departments, such as "Humor In Uniform," or to write something for Full Cry: The Magazine of the American Coon Hound Association.
Later I went on listening to this city, which my father never visited, in which he never lived. I refused to write about his death.
I went home and read a paperback mystery with a red cover. My father read thousands of such pulp-novels, munching them with his stone-mason's hands, taking them as they were, something to do while snow piled up and the wood stove moaned and the hounds slept and my mother read The Sacramento Bee--the one from the day before: because that day "the Bee man" had spun his truck off the slick black highway near a place called Slate Castle.
Rex Stout, Ellery Queen, Max Brand, Ernest Haycox, Louis L'Amour--these were among the authors whose books my father read. These boys knew exactly what to write, and, like my father, they wore hats. Never caps. Hats.
I have completed my assignment for tonight. What was it? The sun is coming up on the next page.