ALFONSO, ALFONSO...

By Arturo Mantecón


Sometimes it was hard to fall asleep.  I would lie in bed, smothering on the inchoate fears that would weigh upon my chest with the descending dark.  I would keep my eyes shut out of dread of seeing the brutish imps that perched upon and clung to the headboard, waiting for me to lose consciousness.  Sharp-taloned, long-armed, fiendish creatures hid and lurked obscure in my room that had become vast and unfamiliar with the night.

Sometimes it was hard to fall asleep.
It did not help matters that, just the year before, the Bikini atoll had been obliterated by a hydrogen bomb, a test blast that swept away a mothball fleet of battleships assembled around that Pacific reef, swept them away like so many fragile toy boats, the film of the incomprehensible explosion shown over and over on television, so that the vision of horror would remain precise and retinal even with both eyes shut.

It did not help matters that the nuns of St. Theresa's parochial school informed us second graders that Detroit would be among the very first American cities bombed in an atomic war.

The nuns of St. Theresa's parochial school assured us second graders that we could protect ourselves, if it so happened that the godless Russians dropped an H-bomb on our city, by crouching and cowering under our wood and cast-iron desks and covering our heads with arms and hands.

Sometimes it was hard to fall asleep.
I would lay there in the dark, and the deep droning crescendo of the propellers of every passing passenger plane would convince me that it was the implacable minions of Nikita flying overhead to loosen death from the unseen skies.

Sometimes it was hard to fall asleep, and when my anxiety became too oppressive, I would call out to my father.
He never failed to come.  The door would open and admit the light and admit my father into my room... the most confident, haphazard man the world has ever seen, dressed always in white shirt and tie, flourishing a whistling rendition of the Atcheson, Topeka, and the Santa Fe or Flat Foot Floogie or some other Slim Gaillard tune...looking a dark composite of Jack Webb and Walter Matthau...

"And what can I do for you?"
"It's hard for me to fall asleep.  Tell me a story, dad."
"A story?  One story coming right up!"
And he would sit on my bed and lean his head back against the headboard, smelling of Old Spice and cigars and would tell me a story, always the same story, invariable in every detail.

"I'll tell you a story about my days in the Army, m'hijo...I was in the Army and we made camp for the night, and we gathered 'round the fire, and my captain said to me, 'Alfonso, Alfonso, please tell us a story'...

"So I told my captain this story: I was in the Army and we made camp for the night, and we gathered 'round the fire, and my captain said to me, 'Alfonso, Alfonso, please tell us a story'...

"So I told my captain this story: I was in the Army and we made camp for the night, and we gathered 'round the fire, and my captain said to me, 'Alfonso, Alfonso, please tell us a story'...

So I told my captain this story: I was in the Army and we made camp for the night, and we gathered 'round the fire, and my captain said to me, 'Alfonso, Alfonso, please tell us a story'..."

And on and on my father would continue with his story of a weird train of Alfonsos telling their stories, stories verbatim of every preceding one, until I could keep my eyes open no longer and until my mind lost its hold on the skein of the yarn, and I lapsed into sleep like one overwhelmed by too many sheep.

Over the next several years, this was a common occurrence...this bedtime story telling of my father's...the story never changing, the results always the same...and with every telling of the story, by this everyday man who was my father, the mystery and power of it was magnified until it seemed as though it could subordinate and engulf the entirety of the world and all in it.

"Alfonso, Alfonso, please tell us a story," and I would find myself present at the fire with the fatigue-clad soldiers, their faces lit by the flames and waiting for Alfonso to tell them a tale.  My father's voice would issue from Alfonso's mouth, and I would step toward the fire into the presence of another fire at another camp with the same soldiers listening to their captain plead for a story and another father-voiced Alfonso would begin to speak, and I would go to the fire again to enter another self-same camp with identical soldiers and a captain and Alfonso and, "Alfonso, Alfonso, please tell us a story."

And I was pulled by my father's voice and drawn to campfire after campfire, traveling headlong into my father's story of a story of a story until it seemed that I was opening boxes within boxes within boxes, or that I was discovering nested dolls within dolls, like those Russian lacquered dolls called "matrioshka", each babushka-headed doll apparently identical to another doll contained within it, just as each story was identical in scope and space and time to the story contained within it.

"Alfonso, Alfonso, please tell us a story."
And I would open and enter each box of a story, and I seemed unchanged in self-perceived size, but of logical necessity I became smaller, as I stepped into each sequentially smaller box of place, time, words, and deeds, the total singularity of the story itself getting larger and larger, bigger and bigger, as I entered deeper and deeper within it, the historical margins of the story farther and farther off, farther and farther away in an immensity of smallness, in a dynamic immensity of permanent dimension.

"Alfonso, Alfonso, please tell us a story."
And the story was like opposing mirrors reflecting each other in a blind symmetry and affording a view of a receding infinity inviting an intrepid Alice to enter and enter and enter a teleidoscopic universe of microcosmic enormity, which, once entered, is inescapable, which, once entered, leads to galaxies of forgetfulness and the realization of the atomic repetition of all that has ever been or will be, a story that is the monad and aleph of the Logos.

And I cannot help but imagine that, somewhere on the outer edge of connectedness, where the sinews of immeasurable story are stretched until the smooth impervious membranes of time become networked and permissive of alternate events, that there could be other, different stories told by Alfonso or perhaps even told by Mohammed or Nadia or Jennie, stories told by each of the soldiers at the campfire, stories of consequence, stories of little import, stories nonsensical, nothing mattering but the stories, stories intersecting and reflecting and ignorant of each other in a spherical geometry of ecstatic words in a universe of infinite axes that the irresistible, all-devouring stories make small, finite, profane, and inscrutable.

"Alfonso, Alfonso, please tell us a story."
I, unlike some small children, never believed that my father held the keys to any sort of wisdom.  Some children see their fathers as heroic and omniscient beings; I did not.

As a matter of fact, I didn't think my father knew anything at all, not anything, that is, that mattered.  All my father knew was the world of praxis.  I saw mystery all about me.  For my father, the world held no mysteries.    How could my father lift the veil of illusion and struggle with the chaotic magic behind it if he did not, could not, see the veil at all?

It didn't even occur to me...it would never have occurred to me...that he could explain even those mysteries which he himself created.

So I never thought to ask him why he told me the same story every single time, every single night.  There was but the night, my fear, the story, and I would not ask him why.

So I never thought to ask him why he referred to the Alfonso of the story in the first person singular.  My father's name was not even Alfonso.  There was but the night, my fear, the story, and I would not ask him why.

Each night of the story I would call for him, and I would hear his heavy wing-tipped footfall in the hallway.  The amber light would reclaim my room for me, and there he would be:  the white shirt, dark tie, the clothes he would wear on the job at Epps' Sporting Goods.  There was his incomparable whistling joy.  He would recline on the bed, his weight and mass creating a strong gravitational pull that would attract my smaller body, like a large celestial body bending space itself.  There was the story each night, each time.  His story.  I asked for nothing more, expected nothing more.  There was but the night, my fear, the story, and I would not ask him why.

I never told my father of all the thoughts birthed in my head by his idiotic, redundant story.
I never told him how much its staggering, complexity confounded me and amazed me.
The story may not have been my father's.  The story may have been told to him when a boy.  The story may have been a family heirloom.  The story may have been a confused conundrum put in his mouth by a frustrated god. 

I never asked my father what his intentions were.  I never asked him whether the story was meant to be didactic.  I never asked him whether it was meant to amuse.  I never asked him whether it was meant to annoy.  I never asked him whether it's only purpose was to put me to sleep and make me dream.  I never asked him why he never asked me why I never asked him any of these things.

I never asked my father a thousand things.  What he never told me was all I ever needed.



© Arturo Mantecón