His emptiness is cumbrous. He feels as though he’s missing something. As if the tension in his shoulders, and the smallness of my body aren’t enough. He drinks coffee with one hand, and cradles me in the other.
Perhaps he misses mother?
I am sure we will be fine.
My stomach is gurgling.
I wonder when he will notice?
He is dressed in nice clothing. He dresses me in nice clothing, but I am restless. The fabric scratches my body as he picks me up. Not even the comfort of my blanket will ease this discontent, though he wraps me in it anyway.
It smells like my mother.
We arrive in a church, and it is colorful.
Light streams through stained glass as people talk in the distance. I hear words. Some I recognize, some I don’t. My father will say them to me sometimes: love, boy, beautiful, son, life. The sun feels good on my face. I smile at my father, but he is somewhere else. Somewhere I don’t want to follow him.
Soon we are back to his brother’s home. He takes me out of my clothes, and puts me on my blanket which is spread out on the floor. It feels good on my bare skin. I roll around, content. I wonder if my father has a blanket. Perhaps he left it at home? I roll off my own blanket for him, but he picks me up and puts me back.
I smile at him, but he is hollowed. I feel the depth of his blankness as he picks me up to dress me. I realize I can do nothing. I am powerless.
He drinks coffee with one hand, and cradles me with the other. I can tell he still hurts. The vibration of his ribs won’t let me get comfortable. I try not to wiggle, but shifting his focus quiets the ache in my father’s body.
I fall asleep.
Mother meets us at the door. Mother! Maybe he will stop being sad now? Maybe he will play with me?
My mother is happy to see me, but not him. She picks me up. She feels different. My face is cold until he shuts the door behind him and we climb the stairs.
His suitcase clinks on each step.
She carries me in my seat, and puts me down as soon as we get home to help him with his things. They don’t say much to each other. Soon after, he is in bed and mother has turned on the TV.
No more sour formula.
Being home is nice.
Mother puts me in pajamas and we go to bed.
I can still hear them.
I stay at home with my mother.
She cleans my ears, gives me baths, and I don’t have to drink sour formula.
Sometimes before nap, she will lay on the blanket next to me and I get to look right into her eyes.
Sometimes she will rub my back until I fall asleep.
Sometimes I want to live inside her forever.
I watch her pick up her phone and dial numbers before hanging up.
She stares at it before throwing it onto the couch. It bounces and hits the floor.
Shit. (She says this often.)
She grabs the phone and puts it on the table, then lays next to me on the blanket.
I like playing with the plastic rings. She picks one up that has baubles on it. She likes to play with the rings too, and I know that ring is her favorite. She likes to turn the baubles and it makes a silly noise.
I drop my ring, and watch her play with hers instead. It makes me laugh.
There is a buzz on the table and she lets me make the silly noise with her ring.
Stop calling me. She says.
You had your phone in your hands just now. The voice on the other end is unfamiliar. It makes my mother upset.
For fuck’s sake, no I didn’t. I put the ring down, hoping the clang of its accouterments will get her attention. Instead of making her laugh like normal, she puts her finger in her other ear, tuning me out.
Did you tell him? She stands, trying not to stomp around. I can see her arms grow stiff as she crosses one over the other.
That’s none of your business ~Kevin. The way she says his name is mean. She doesn’t say a lot of names like she says his name. Sometimes she says father’s name like that, but only when she’s unhappy. She seems unhappy with Kevin. I wonder why they are fighting?
My ring has lost its lustre.
I am tired.
I wonder when she will hang up the phone so I can take a nap?
I know she is here, but she feels like she isn’t. Like she is an apparition. Incapable of forgiveness. The more she hurts, the tighter she holds me. As though she looks to me for absolution, though buried deep within her she knows I am unable to do these things.
I can feel her begging for clemency with each circular motion her hand makes on my back. Sometimes I cry because I can’t help it. I don’t mean to. I can’t tell her why exactly I’m sad, but it’s not her fault.
Sometimes I’m just sad because she’ll never know these things.
She comes in to get me, but I can’t stop crying. I can feel her simmering skin, as if every angry word they’ve hurled at each other oozes out of her body from the inside.
He is tired. He goes to sleep on the couch. I can hear him unfolding blankets and turning lights off. The fish are still swimming, singing—she puts me in new pajamas leg by leg and we sit in the rocking chair.
I am in my mother’s arms as her weight sinks into the chair. She holds me with stiff hands, tight chest; but she does not miss. She fears missing.
Instead, instead, instead. I do not like making choices.
I do not understand when I wake up in the morning how the blankets aren’t on the couch anymore. There is no dent, and it is as if no one has slept there at all.
My mother is sitting at the nook, with coffee in her hands. She pours a cup for my father as well.
I can tell they are ruminating.
Perhaps it’s over what I should eat for breakfast?
“When will you leave?” She asks.
“I told them I can start next week. I’m going into County today as a formality, my flight is this afternoon.”
It is not over what I should eat for breakfast.
I am a baby. I should not miss.
I eat only mashed things now, things I have seen my parents eat.
Sometimes my mother feeds me.
Sometimes I am at daycare.
I wish I could drink sour formula.
I wish my father would give it to me.
We are in a car. It seems as though we are in it forever. The sun goes down, and comes up. My elephant keeps me company. Sometimes the road is curvy, sometimes it’s bumpy, sometimes we stop to get things to eat. My mother listens to loud music. She sings with it. I try and sing with it too.
“You like Siouxsie, Joe?” My mother laughs. I don’t know who Susie is but she has a funny voice. I laugh too.
Her phone rings.
“Hi.” She she pauses. “Say hi to daddy, Joe!”
She is on the phone with my father! Maybe that’s who we’re going to see? Maybe that’s what we’re going to do? Go see him!
“Yeah, we’re about two hours away.”
I have decided that now is the time for sleeping.
So I sleep.
My elephant keeps me company most nights, which brings me comfort. Sometimes my mother puts me to bed, sometimes my father puts me to bed. Sometimes I get woken up by my mother, sometimes I get woken up by my father. Sometimes my mother feeds me mashed food, sometimes my father feeds me mashed food. Sometimes I am at daycare. I like that I can see everyone.
I am alone with my father, he tells my mother he will be fine to feed me dinner and put me to sleep while she is at work. Before she leaves, she hands me the ring that makes the silly noise and I am pleased.
My dad plays with me and the ring for a moment, but I can tell he is tired. I can’t tell what’s wrong: is he not happy we are here? With him? Together?
Perhaps if I keep making the silly noise, he will be happy?
This plan backfires. He picks me up and puts me in my crib with my elephant. The fish remain idle. There is no more silliness.
I hear my mother when she walks through the door. It creaks as it opens, waking me. I am drowsy, but I hear them speak.
“We need to go back.” He says.
“When?” She replies, putting her things down.
I have gone many places, though sometimes I would just like to stay home with my elephant. I am lucky. As I have this thought, my mother hands him to me, and everything suddenly feels much better.
The trip is long.
My mother lets me stretch my legs by standing in her seat. My father watches me bounce up and down, but most of the time, his eyes fixate on the clouds outside the window: he is lost in them. I offer him the ring that makes the silly noise, but he ignores me.
He is asleep, my mother is asleep, I am not asleep. I can see the stars outside the window now, and they are pretty. Moonlight keeps my face warm, I am swaddled in it. It is nice to be here, I think; on this plane, with my family.
Soon we are not flying. I wake up, and everyone is dressed. Mother puts on my jacket.
“Are you ready?” She asks. He nods.
We are outside and it is cold. I feel the crunch of leaves under my mother’s feet.
We are in a garden of stones. Each step he takes heavier than the last. I’m not sure why we are here, or what we are doing. My mother stops, and he continues forward without us.
I wonder if we are here with him, or if he is somewhere else without us. I can feel him dissolve into the soil as he kneels.
“Oprosti mi Jasna, moja ljubav.” His chest tightens. My mother walks up behind him, placing her hand on his back. It is as though this is what he has been searching for. We can see his body lighten. As if the weight of his wounds has become bearable.
Finally we are together.