Fiction by Skye Weldele

Art by Leigh Cunningham

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“Swimmer” (oil on canvas)

When Lockwood Pushes

by Skye Weldele


“Drums are more important than math! A dad would understand!” Lockwood screamed at his mom, pounding the kitchen table with both fists so that it hopped off the strips of cardboard that keep it from wobbling on the best of days.

She bit her tongue, resisted the urge to tell the acne-faced, skinny little thing in front of her that his dad would believe math was more important than drums. Life was so much easier before puberty, back when Lockwood hid the anger of being raised without a father inside his childhood shell.

“I just wanna play drums,” he said, fighting back a sob, trying to stay tough, trying to be a man.

She pulled her perfectly ironed blouse even straighter and then folded her hands in front of the pencil skirt. “I work really hard to afford your math tutoring.” The long hours she worked as a secretary earned barely enough money to cover the necessities. Paying for the additional help required visits to the food bank. Without the high grocery bill, she had funds for his education. Knowing this would have embarrassed him.

Lockwood dried his eyes with the back of his hand. “If I had a dad, he’d let me play.”

She shrugged, weary of where the argument was headed.

“I just wanna meet him.”

She startled herself — and certainly Lockwood — with what came next.


Exasperated by an argument she would never win, she said she would try to reunite them. Young Lockwood was perfectly content with his mother being the only parent, but as a teenage boy he wanted a father, no matter how lousy. This became a contentious argument between them. Why can’t I meet him? Where does he live? What happened? Why did he leave? Where did he go? He just pushed and pushed and pushed.

From her office, poorly insulated from Autumn’s early brisk chill, she searched online for the father Lockwood hoped to meet.


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“Visage” (oil on canvas)

It was a spring day with enough pollen in the morning air to dust the still-sleeping town, so Lockwood was surprised when his mother left the house “to run a quick errand.”

She seldom left the house on days like this for fear of contaminating her bright white, starched blouse and perfectly wrapped bun.

When she returned, he heard the ticks of her heels on the floor, then another soft tread scuffling. He jumped up from his homework and ran to the entryway. They never had guests.

She stood before Lockwood, even more rigid than usual. 

“Lockwood, I’d like you to meet your father, Benedict.”

From behind her, a figure stepped out. He was a plain middle-aged man with jet black hair that was turning silver, his gray suit matching his mother’s skirt.

Perhaps to an onlooker, they looked like a generic couple. To him, they stood out, because these were his parents! Plural!

As a young child, Lockwood imagined what the introduction would be like. His favorite was running into his father’s open arms and being lifted off his feet. But he was not a small boy, and his father was not young, so Lockwood waited for a social cue that didn’t come. Waited still to wrap his father in an embrace.

As Lockwood approached, Benedict offered only a limp handshake, his gaze finding a spot on the floor between them.

Benedict was firm about one thing. “I’m ashamed it took me this long to meet you, but you can never ask about my past.”

The questions, everything that had filled him over the years, gurgled into Lockwood’s mouth seeking an escape, but he gained control of himself, worrying that if he upset his father in this short exchange, he would disappear forever. Again. 

The rickety dinner table never included a guest and didn’t fit a third person, as if his mother believed the spot would never be needed. Excited, and not knowing where to start, Lockwood just started talking.

His father listened to his tales.Stories all about him. His father offered smiles and chuckles and the occasional laconic reply, “Is that so?”

Three hours and two pots of coffee later, without ever offering a hug or handshake, Benedict stepped outside with his mother. Lockwood ran to the room overlooking the front porch where he could watch,and hopefully listen. Instead of the awkwardness he expected between the two, his parents looked relaxed and were smiling. It must have gone better than Lockwood felt it did.

His mother came back inside. “Look, there’s something you should know. He has another family.  In fact, he has two, so he can only visit once every three months. I know it’s lousy, but it’s what he agreed to.”

“Summer” (oil on canvas)

Their first visit without Lockwood’s mother was at a coffee shop in the neighborhood. Lockwood passed over his usual band t-shirt for a solid color, and cargo shorts without distress, holes, or threads. Benedict wore the same cheap suit every time. 

“Yeah, I’ll take a large strawberry banana smoothie, half the banana and twice the strawberry, with extra whipped cream.” Lockwood’s mother abhorred whipped cream, but she wasn’t here to tell Lockwood what he could or could not order. “Oh, and sprinkles. And the multicolored ones, not just pink.”

“I’ll have a hot coffee and two slices of toast, white and dry.” His dad returned the small menu card back into the sugar caddy’s display slot. “No butter or jam even on the plate. Please.”

“Okay, anything else?” the waitress asked. 

“No, I believe I was clear.”

The slight smile she had while writing the order slowly straightened out. “All right then.” She drew three strong underlines and retreated.

“You have a sweet tooth? What’s your favorite?”

“It’s a three-layer chocolate cake from the Austrian bakery downtown-ever try it?”“No, but I like cake.”

“Do you have a favorite cake?”

“I like them all.” His mouth smiled, but the delicate skin underneath his remained unmoved, denying the smile was genuine.

Lockwood kept the topics safe and inoffensive, but Benedict’s generalized answers were a letdown. They were supposed to be learning about each other, to bond with one another. Lockwood worried that if he expressed his disappointment, Benedict would simply leave.

After that visit, Lockwood asked his mom about the split…and what she saw in him. Never in his life had she said anything about his father or their relationship and how it ended. Nothing. Ever.

“Well, um, I thought we were getting married, and I was pregnant with you, but before I could tell him, he dumped me.” She dabbed a tissue in the corner of her eyes, drying the tears before they formed. “The entire time he had been dating another woman. Actually, five, but he picked one to marry, and it wasn’t me.

“He disappeared completely. I visited his apartment just hours later, but it was empty, I showed up at his office, but no one knew him. It was as if he erased himself,” she flopped her arms down, giving up, “so… I moved here. I didn’t know what else to do.”

“But you were able to find him now?” Either his mom learned how to be a private investigator, or she didn’t try that hard to find him fifteen years ago.

“No, 2 years ago I recognized him on a train. He saw me and ran. But I got a good look at the logo on his jacket so I knew where he worked.”

Soon after he met his father, his mom started working additional hours on weekends. . Why, Lockwood asked. Prices are rising, his mother responded. Must be all the food a teenage boy eats.

As planned, Lockwood saw his father four times a year, including his birthday. Benedict spent the remaining holidays with his other families.  

Lockwood invited him to his high school graduation, but Benedict was noncommittal and said he’d have to discuss it with his mother. His mother must have agreed because when Lockwood looked in the audience, his parents were sitting side-by-side, backs straight, she taller than him. Lockwood waved. His mother waved back, the crow’s feet encroaching on her eyes, while his father gave a perfunctory nod.

“Women Waiting” (oil on canvas)

His freshman year at the university proved to be too busy to schedule visits with his dad.

After months of the maximum credit load, two part-time jobs, and an attempt at a social life, Lockwood finally reached a three-day weekend.

In need of a break, Lockwood and his friends took the train to a small beachside town far south of the city. Even though they were all sleep-deprived from months of late-night studying, they still managed to wake for sunrise surfing. Hours later, sunburned and thirsty, they flopped down on cushioned benches that released air, deflating under their weight, in an air-conditioned restaurant, finally slowing down to match the pace of those around them.

One sip into the beer, lips cold from the frozen mug, Lockwood glanced from the walkers on the sidewalk to the diners in a restaurant across the street. Right there, a  man and his picture-perfect family were laughing joyously. 

The man was his father. 

Lockwood went silent, his face ashen, and emotions punched his stomach.

No bland suit and poorly-tied tie. No scuffed shoes. Benedict wore corral pink shorts, white boat shoes and sunglasses on the rim of his baseball cap.

His friends asked if he was okay. He had not heard them the first four times they asked. Fine, he said, wishing he were. 

He wasn’t exactly jealous. He knew Benedict had other families, but seeing one made the hypothetical real, and real could be painful. Nevertheless, he pushed it down. After all, it was his fault he wasn’t visiting his father this weekend. But if he had visited Benedict, the postcard family would have been fatherless.

Lockwood knew he should call his father and schedule their next visit, but no. He avoided Benedict.


A few months later, on another trip with his friends, but to a northern city, he saw his father again, this time with his other other family, and his other other wardrobe. 

For his 19th birthday, his mother reserved a table at a fancy restaurant near his dorm. He and his mother were seated at a table with four chairs. 

His mother glanced back at the entrance more than once, and when Lockwood opened his mouth to ask why, Benedict shuffled up to the table.

His mother placed her hand on Lockwood’s forearm. 

“I hope it’s alright I invited him.”

Lockwood gave no verbal response, just stared at Benedict. Her thumb moved in the motions of a windshield wiper. “Is everything okay?”

“Fine, just fine. Totally and completely fine. What could possibly be wrong?”  he cocked his head sideways.

Benedict seated himself and unfolded his napkin onto his lap. Trying to move on, both parents tried to make awkward conversation about the expected rain. 

“I saw you with both of your other families.” He just couldn’t keep the secret any longer.

The clinking of silverware on plates and the general chatter of the diners quieted.

“I see,” Benedict said, wiping his still-clean mouth with the burgundy cloth napkin, then folding it according to its original creases. “I was honest with your mother that I have families; families that don’t know about you.” He told all of this to the napkin.

“Let’s get real. How would one of your other sons feel if he showed up to this restaurant tonight and saw you dining with us, posing like a real family?” He was crossing a line he’d been told not to cross. This expression was entirely impromptu, a huge deviation of his carefully planned conversations with his father.

“I imagine it would stink.” He rested his elbows on the table. “Clearly, you’re upset, and I understand if you don’t want to see me again.”

“Seriously? You’re giving up that easily? Fine, leave. I guess I’d rather not have a father than have a spineless one.” 

His mother watched silently, not asking Lockwood to lower his voice.

“If I leave then I can’t come back.”

“You’ve turned out to be Father of the Year.”

Benedict stood and left. The diners watched him go like it was their last time, too. When Lockwood’s breathing lightened, his mother patted his hand from across the table. “I’m really sorry. I thought maybe he had changed.”


As much as Lockwood wanted the loss to not affect him, it did. In his naïveté, he thought that losing someone lame and disappointing would feel like relief, and only someone important leaving would hurt. He struggled with what hurt more. 


He told his friends about the scene he made at the restaurant. 

What he needed was closure, they all agreed.

“What I feel like doing is pushing the guy from a bridge.”

“Is that really what you want?” Higgins asked. 

Higgins was the friend others forgot was standing there because he never talked, but was always around. “Because I could make that happen if you just confirm that’s what you want.”

You could hear a pin drop.

“My cousin works for a company of actors. You can ‘rent’ an actor to play a specific part for you. Don’t look at me like that. It’s not that uncommon.”

Higgins raised his hands. 

“Anyway, you can hire someone who looks like and talks like your dad, and it gives you a chance to say to him everything you ever wanted to say. It can be very cathartic for people like you. They play all sorts of family members. My cousin ends up playing a granddaughter to some lonely grandmother a lot.”


Two months later, he decided to call the company Higgins suggested. The woman who answered the phone asked some personal questions, but Lockwood kept his answers general. “I just want closure and end the relationship the way I want to. The way I never can.”

“Would you like to hear about the ‘closure ceremonies’ we perform?”

He intended to hear them all, but when she listed “pushing individuals off a bridge” he practically yelled, That’s it!

It would cost him a deposit on an apartment he’d wanted, but the apartment is just a temporary living space and easily replaced.


Lockwood and his friends walked onto the designated bridge. It was about 100 meters across, and in the center, surrounded by a crew on a platform stood a man. Lockwood saw the bungee cord the woman had explained would be there.

Remarkable. From this distance, the man strongly resembled his father. It must be easy to imitate generic middle-aged men. The closer Lockwood got, the more suspicious he grew that his father was the man hired to act as his father. Needing confirmation immediately, he broke into a sprint. His friends followed without knowing why they had to run.

“What are you doing here?” Lockwood spat out.

Benedict–or whatever his name was–didn’t seem surprised to see him. 

“Look, your mom rented me to play your father. She said that she would rent me indefinitely, but I told her it would have to end at some point. If you had not ended it that night at dinner, we had already planned a death.”

Lockwood stood, fists clenched. His friends looked to Higgins. 

“I don’t understand.” Had everyone lied to him? If this was costing Lockwood what would have been a deposit on an apartment, what had his mother spent on this rent-a-dad? 

“But those other families were real, right?”


“That’s sick. How could you mess with people’s emotions like that? Taking their money? It’s all so fake!” His fists wobbled and shook by his sides.

“But what you felt was not fake. What you’re feeling right now is not fake. True, it was a monetary transaction, but even the most caring ones are often paid.”

Lockwood pushed the man’s chest with all his force. He stood over the bridge platform watching Benedict, the only father he had ever known, plummet toward the river below. He left the extended platform and walked to the train station.

Skye Weldele currently lives in Montana. She holds an MBA and works in a college business office and as an adjunct instructor. She enjoys spending time with her family, knitting socks, and binge-watching science fiction TV shows-sometimes all at once!

Leigh Cunningham is an artist based in New York. Through painting, drawing and printmaking, her work explores ideas behind distortion, memory and temporality. She earned a BFA from Parsons School of Design in 2013, with honors. She was awarded a 4 month residency in Victoria, Australia, culminating in a solo exhibition. Her work has been included in numerous group shows both nationally and internationally.

In her own words, “My work deals with ideas behind ways of seeing and what constitutes  an image. I am interested in exploring the language of detail and evaluating what can be gleaned from vestiges, reflections and shadows. My  paintings consist of hazy colors bleeding into each other, suggesting that there is no separation from ourselves and our surroundings or other  people. These distortions serve to show how our understanding of ourselves dissolves at the edges, an obscurity ultimately revealing something at once beautiful and disturbing.

Obscurity can be intentional,  a way to mask our true intentions, or it can be accidental, something lost  in translation. We can never really see the full truth of a situation or a  person. Mystery remains at the heart of reality.”