Ours was the turnaround driveway, the one in which mistaken cars corrected themselves, and zoomed back up the street.

My mother said, somebody’s here every time, her voice interested but laced with dread, the dish towel in her hands she shimmied nose-first and peered through the drapes.

Just somebody turning around, my father answered automatically, without looking.

I’d hope for the shrill of the doorbell which wasn’t sing-song like I’d heard at other houses, but a snarl. Something was broken in the works my father said, gotta see about that, but he never did, and all these years later my visits are preceded by the snarl, it’s fainter now, my mother’s teeth on edge, my father tucked ever further into resignation, I push the door open and wonder what they are going to call me this time.

Kiddo Bud Sport like I’m their dog which I sometime thought would have been a better deal.

I was named Dennis after a dead Uncle. Dennis Kent just like him. I suppose the tribute if you want to call it that, was an attempt at improving a bleak situation, perhaps they hoped to infuse a spark of something, you know, like what a doorbell’s supposed to do, but they never called me Dennis – nobody did – it was as if their mouths couldn’t conform, like how some people can’t do the live long and prosper Spock thing and some people can. Like rolling your r’s or being double jointed or having the propensity to alter and/or fix.

The closest anybody ever got to Dennis was Denmark which eventually morphed to Mark and when Mr. Smith the new teacher in grade 5 asked how to spell it, I mean it seemed obvious to me I didn’t know there was an option, he suggested, with a c? and confused, I said, yeah, and when I handed in my test at the end of that first day I put my name on top after the colon like so: Cark.

He howled and showed everybody, and I became Cark, which only lasted overnight, and in the morning, I was Carcass, Carcass, which was pretty quickly shortened back to Cark, and what with my last name and everything, it became Clark because Clark Kent, and that’s the one that stuck.

But it always felt like a joke.

I always felt like a joke.

Today’s my 24th birthday. It’s late. My girlfriend Lois, just kidding, cooked me dinner and I’m here for cake. Like always, there was a moment, quick and hot as I pulled into the driveway, I wanted to turn around and zoom back up the street.

My father sounds like the doorbell, just a bleat left, he indicates the kitchen with a newspaper gesture and my mother turns when I enter. Happy Birthday, she says, but she puts her back to me because she’s hiding the cake – I see the box from Hunt’s Bakery off to the side – so I say, I’m gonna go talk to dad.

I’ll be right out, she says.

But she’s not right out of course, my dad puts the paper down like a wing and we talk in bursts, me about work which is kind of a joke, and I don’t really have much to say about it, and he says about the furnace on the blink, damn thing, and articulates with two shakes of the newspaper, and then she comes in thank goodness, and turns out the lights.

She sings like a bird, high and soft, he bleats along, and I pretend to enjoy the time it takes for the cake to land on the coffee table between me and my father. I pause as if I am making a wish, and then I blow the candles out, she turns the lights back on, and I look at the cake for a long time, I don’t know what, but it’s like I came to the wrong house, up the wrong driveway, and am lost.

In white cursive icing the words Happy Birthday Dennis.

My father clears his throat but it’s my mother’s bird voice that emerges. He died when he was 23, your uncle. We were afraid. We didn’t want to call you his name until you made it past that, you know, in case you died, too.

This part’s going to sound crazy, but after that everybody started calling me Dennis, right away, like it was automatic, and when I started the new job, that’s just who I was, and when they said, welcome, Dennis, we’re very much looking forward to implementing your ideas, I stood up and smiled this new smile I had discovered and said, I’m looking forward to it, too, and of course I meant the new job, it really is a great opportunity, but I also meant everything else.