The myth of Antaeus focuses on the power of connection with the mother earth. But the myth also says, in passing, that Antaeus’ father is Poseidon, or Neptune, the god of the sea. There is no mention of any power in the connection with the father. No power to restore or stabilize. And no vulnerability that comes from absence or disconnection from the father.

Dana Johnson’s story “Markers” ends with the narrator Avery feeling lost and imagining the drive home to her mother’s doorway. It is a powerful ending, recalling the myth of Antaeus and the elemental power of the mother. But there is a father in the story too. Sort of.

I hadn’t remembered the father in the story. But the reason Avery is feeling lost is that she makes a pass at her boyfriend’s friend after a dinner party. The friend brushes her off: “I’m old enough to be your father,” he says. And when her boyfriend finds out what she did, he tells his friend with disgust, “You were like a father to me.”

The father in “Markers” is present only by analogy— but his distant presence shakes Avery until she says, “I might be dying.”

The sea is tumult, constantly changing, implicitly threatening. If earth is the stabilizing mother, water is slippery, the dangerous element. Water is the father.