The Marmoset on Johnny’s Head by Dave Sanfacon

My dad was a quiet man. So quiet, in fact, that as a young boy I don’t remember having a single conversation with him. That’s not to say we didn’t. I mean, we must have. I just don’t remember one. I remember other things about him. Quiet things. Things he could disappear into: an old brown chair, an Isaac Asimov paperback, a Kent cigarette, and the slightly out of tune Baldwin upright piano tucked into the corner of the downstairs den. I took comfort in these things, in his solitary enjoyment of them. And perhaps some unspoken envy in what these things required of him: his touch, his contemplation, the grip of his hand.

* * *

I grew up in Northern Vermont on twenty-five acres of rolling hills, swirling creeks, and a baseball field that we mowed into the horse pasture adjacent to our 700-foot long driveway. In the summertime my friends from the other side of the woods crossed the trail beneath the pines to our home where we’d meet behind the old barn and play baseball all day, every day, until late into the evening. Until we could no longer see the ball or each other, and the foghorn croak of the bullfrogs signaled it was time for everyone to head back home across the wooded trail.

Then, suddenly and deliberately, the winter. The baseball gear got packed away in the barn beside the rusted Folgers can we’d used for games of kick the can; all except for a single white baseball, which I held throughout the winter in a four-seam fastball grip. It was during the wintertime that I got to spend time with Dad, a man whose quiet and restrained demeanor served to amplify the cold silence of Vermont’s dark season.

Dad and I spent a lot of time in the den, he in his chair, his face partially obscured by a paperback, and me beside him on the floor pretending to watch TV. But really, I was watching him. Watching and waiting for a warmth that never really arrived. That’s not to say that dad was cold or unpleasant; he was neither. He was just quiet; a man who seemed to me, at times, a ghost, a hibernation, like the bullfrogs of winter, entombed beneath the ice, without breath or heartbeat.

Still, there was a kind of closeness there, if only one of proximity, with dad so near to me I could have reached out and touched him, or he me. And so too a kind of comfort, borne not from a physical presence but from something else, some thing that lived through and within the objects of dad’s desire: the scratchy flick of a paperback page; the blue-orange blaze of a just struck match; a solitary smoke ring floating across the room. Evocations that seemed so rich and charged with meaning it seemed impossible dad and I hadn’t said a word to each other.

Something was there, right?

Some thing?

Something like magic?

Some thing!

Inside that space, between us, something…


Maybe nothing.

No thing.


Maybe nothing more than sleight-of-hand misdirection, where the thing you think is happening turns out to be something completely other.

* * *

My dad was a quiet man. He loved quiet things. He especially loved a quiet song.

His favorite was Moonlight Sonata, which he played on the piano every night after dinner. Sometimes he played it after I went to bed — like a lullaby — the melody lingering in my head through sleep and dreams and deep into the black sheet of midnight. I’d wake to the sound of laughter and the smell of smoke and sneak out into the hallway and watch him watching TV. I remember his shoulders bobbing up and down in spasms of laughter as a marmoset pissed on the head of a silver-haired man named Johnny. I wanted to be Johnny, in that moment, doing so easily what I’d struggle to do for the rest of Dad’s life. I would watch dad stub out his cigarette, turn off the TV, and walk upstairs to bed. Then I’d bump my way through the blackness to sit in his old brown chair, the cushions still warm from his body. In my left hand, a baseball, round and warm against my warm rounded skin. In my right hand, a stubbed out cigarette, the filter still moist from dad’s lips. I placed the cigarette between my lips, drew in the hideous taste, and sank into the crooked geometry of his shape.

Dave Sanfacon is a writer based in Cambridge, Massachusets and holds an MFA degree in Creative Writing from Lesley University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southeast Fiction, Under The Sun Literary Journal, and The Good Men Project.