Friday, November 1, 2019

Dark Vader Isn't Real by James Rogers

Andrew is the only one left to care for his mischievous vanishing son; by James Rogers.

"Dark Vader isn't real," Colin told his father as they stepped into the elevator.

"That's right," Andrew replied, raising his eyebrows to the woman in scrubs who was already aboard. She smiled.

"What's this guy about?" Colin asked, throwing his tiny little five-year-old thumb at the woman.

"Colin, have manners," Andrew said. "I'm sorry, he hasn't quite figured out 'he' and 'she' yet."

"Oh that's ok. He's so cute." Colin turned to face her. "Oh dear, he has a little bruise." She frowned at the purple-yellow smudge on the boy's cheek, just below his right eye.

"Yeah it's... You know the way these things happen," Andrew said.

"And his spaceship isn't real. And his light saver isn't real."

"That's right, Colin. You've said that several times today."

"My friend thinks he's real. She thinks he's out in space but he's not. Dark Vader is fiction."

"Fiction," the woman said. "That's a fine word for a little boy." The elevator pinged and the doors opened. "My floor. Bye now. Have a good day."

Colin coughed. "Cover your mouth," Andrew reminded him.

"Little guy," the woman said as she stepped off the elevator, "you have a cold?"

"No. Daddy was smoking in the car."

"Colin!"

The woman's eyes widened, her mouth dropped open.

"I wasn't," Andrew pleaded. "I don't even have a car." The woman's expression morphed in time with the closing doors, settling on disgust as she was erased from sight.

"Why did you say that, Colin? That woman thinks I'm a monster. We don't even have a car. And I don't smoke! How do you even know what smoking is?"

"Lily's Daddy smokes."

"Right."

"In the car."

"Not in the car."

"It was in the car. When we went to Old McDonald's."

"You just told that woman I smoke in a car we don't even have. How can I believe anything you tell me?"

"Lily thinks Dark Vader is real."

"Ah Christ!"

"What's that?"

"What's what?"

"Christ."

"Never mind. I shouldn't have said it."

"Why?"

"Because some people get upset if you say his name."

"Who's name?"

"Christ."

"What's he call about?"

"It's a long story."

"Is he fiction?"

"Yeah. Well, sort of."

The doors opened again. Andrew took Colin's hand as they crossed the lobby and walked out into the heat and humidity of New York in July. "Wow, that's rough. Come on, let's hurry."

"Where are we going?" asked Colin.

"You see that yellow and blue sign? The one with the glasses? There."

"Why?"

"To get my glasses fixed."

"They broke?"

"Yeah. Leg fell off."

"Glasses don't have legs. They don't walk."

"I know but that's what they call the bit that goes over your ear."

"That's silly."

They skipped across the street while the crossing signal counted down to zero. Into the store and the glorious AC. The attendants in black pants and white shirts and designer frames were all busy. Andrew wandered about, casually examining the displays. "Don't touch anything."

"I need to pee."

"No you don't."

"I do."

"It's all in your head."

"Pee's not in my head," Colin laughed. "It's in my dangle."

Andrew couldn't but laugh too. "Don't be so loud."

"Daddy, I need to."

"Alright, alright." Andrew caught the eye of a young woman. Her name tag said Khadijah. She smiled. They always smile at the man with the child. "Can he use your restroom?" Andrew asked.

"Sure."

A few minutes later Colin was all set and the store wasn't as busy. Andrew got Khadijah again. "I'm hoping you can fix these," he said as he rummaged about in his backpack. "So much stuff in here."

"What's your name?" Khadijah said, bending over the counter.

"Colin."

"That's a nice name."

"Dark Vader was a good guy at the start and a bad guy in the middle and then a good guy at the end."

"Wow. Star Wars fan."

Andrew rolled his eyes. "Darth Vader mad. And he hasn't even seen the films."

"There's Lego Star Wars," said Colin. "That's for children. Boys like Star Wars. Girls like princesses."

"Do you like princesses?" Khadijah asked.

"No, they're fluffy and pink and they wear pink dresses and they fart through their pink dresses into the king's face."

"Colin!"

Khadijah laughed. "I can see why you don't like them."

"My friend likes them. But she thinks Dark Vader is real."

Andrew lay his hands on the counter. "I can't find the glasses."

"Oh, that's a shame," Khadijah said.

"I must have left them at home. Makes it a bit tricky for you to fix them, doesn't it." He raged inside. What an idiot! "Are you open Sundays?"

"Yes. Until five."

"Ok. I'll come back. Come on, Colin."

"Bye, Colin," Khadijah waved.

"Bye."

On the pavement Andrew took a deep breath. He looked straight into Colin's eyes. "Of all the stupid things to do!"

"Oh my God!" A female voice. Andrew turned around to see the woman in the blue scrubs again. "How can you speak to your child like that? He's only a baby."

"I wasn't referring to him. I was talking about myself."

"That's not what I saw. You smoke with him. You call him stupid."

"For Christ's sake, mind your own business!"

"Rude too. Terrible example to the -" She stopped, spun about. "Where is he?"

Andrew threw out his hands. "You see? You frightened him away."

"What do you mean? Where is he? Aren't you worried?"

"Get lost." Andrew walked away. He glanced over his shoulder. She was staring at him, mouth open, just like when she'd got off the elevator. She wasn't a particularly pretty woman anyway, but that startled fish look really didn't suit her.

Andrew kept going, smiling to himself. As he reached the corner, he threw another look over his shoulder and was pleased for a moment by the absence of bluefish. But then he spotted her, talking to a cop, pointing in his direction. The cop turned to look.

Andrew ran. Around the corner and down the stairs to the sweltering subway. A train pulled in almost immediately, pleasing him greatly. The doors opened, he jumped aboard and was away.



A week passed before Andrew got a chance to journey into the opticians once more. Colin was with him, of course. And this time he brought the glasses.

"I can sort of get by without them anyway," he said to Khadijah. "I do sometimes think I shouldn't bother with them at all."

"Oh no, that's not advisable," she warned. "That would put a strain on your eyes."

"I have glasses," said Colin.

"You do?" Khadijah smiled.

"Yeah. They're purple but they make everything look pink." He spread him arms. "But I can't find them."

Andrew gripped the counter. "Ssh now, Colin."

"I had them on the bus. But Daddy won't go on the bus."

"Ah will you stop."

"Daddy doesn't like busses."

"Come on, Colin. Let's go. Come on."

"But aren't you going to wait?" Khadijah asked with a frown, holding the glasses in one hand and the detached leg in the other.

"I'll come back for them," Andrew stammered, looking away as he rubbed his eyes.

"Is everything ok?"

"Yeah. It's alright. I'll come back for them." Andrew dragged Colin out the door and walked straight into the same blue scrubs. "Oh Jesus. You again."

"Hello," bluefish said, smiling down at Colin, who quickly retreated behind his father's legs.

"What's with you?" Andrew spat. "You stalking me?" He took Colin's hand and turned for the subway, his chest tightened by the unexpected reminder of the purple glasses. He wished Colin would never mention them. But how do you ask a five-year-old not to talk about purple glasses? And how would you stop him from asking why he can't talk about purple glasses?

"I work across the street," the woman said. Andrew couldn't believe she was walking with them, one step behind. "You know I do."

"Leave us alone. What the hell's the matter with you?"

"What does he want, Daddy?"

"I see the bruise hasn't improved at all. Did you take him to the doctor?"

Andrew stopped. She nearly walked into him as he turned. "Piss off!"

Andrew didn't enjoy speaking like that to anyone, but he had to admit her shocked reaction was somewhat satisfying. Served her right. And yet she didn't retreat. She squared her shoulders. "You're so aggressive. Is that how he got the -" Her query was quenched with a gasp. She looked about wildly. "Where is he? Where did he go?"

Andrew turned and ran. He skipped steps to the turnstile, then skipped again to the platform.

It was early afternoon and there weren't many people about. No one seemed to notice the little boy sitting on the wooden bench at the far end of the platform, legs swinging. Andrew sat down beside him.

"What's up with that guy?"

"Herself? Bluefish?" Andrew pulled at his t-shirt. It was already sticking to him in the heat and humidity. Colin sat comfortably in his sweater and jeans. Andrew found himself briefly envying his son's immunity.

"Is that his name?"

"It's what I call her."

"Why?"

"She looks like a bluefish."

"What's a bluefish?"

"A fish."

"He doesn't look like a fish. He doesn't have fins. I can hear a train. Are we getting the N?"

"No. The 7."

"Oh. What's this one?"

"How would I know? Haven't seen it yet."

Colin raised his eyebrows, looking to the ceiling. "It's the 7."

"You sure?"

"Yeah."

The 7 rattled into the station, pushing a welcome tunnel of air before it. They stood together, hand in hand, waiting for the doors to open.

"Ah thank God for that," said Andrew as they sat down in the AC.

"Daddy why is there a ghost there?"

Andrew spun about. "Where?"

"There." Colin stood on the seat to point at the no smoking sign, specifically the two wavy lines representing smoke from a lighted cigarette.

Andrew relaxed, smiled. He had to admit it looked something like a ghost. And the long black rectangle? A coffin? "It's not a ghost. It's meant to be smoke. From a cigarette."

"What's that call about?"

"A cigarette? I thought you knew all about them. Didn't you say the other day I was smoking in the car."

"We don't have a car."

"I know we don't."

"Are you going to work?"

"Yeah. Later."

"Why?"

"To make money. So I can buy things."

"Oh. Can I go with you?"

"No. You know you can't."

"When I'm older, I'll go to work with you."

"Yeah." Andrew looked away.



Andrew was surprised and somewhat irritated to be woken by his wife at seven in the morning. He wasn't long in bed after closing the bar. "Are you awake?" Anita asked.

"I am now."

"A woman came by to see me yesterday evening."

"You woke me to tell me that?"

Anita sat on the bed. He was in his boxers and she was in a long t-shirt. It was the closest they'd got to being naked together for many a long day. "She said she met you in the city and that she'd come to see me as a concerned citizen. One mother to another, she put it."

"Oh my God. Did she look like a fish?"

"What? Be serious. She said you had a little boy with you."

"Ah the daft old bat."

"A boy with a bruise on his cheek. His right cheek."

"Yeah, there was a mother there with her son and he had a bruise and he reminded me... you know. And I was a bit upset and that silly cow got her wires crossed. Nosy bitch, I hope you told her to get lost."

"Are you telling the truth?"

"Yes! Of course I am. Would you go off to work now and let me get some sleep."

"She was convinced the boy was your son."

"Idiot. So, what d'you tell her?"

"I told her my son is in heaven."

"That must have sent her reeling."

"She was embarrassed."

Andrew let go of a short bark of a laugh. "Stuff for her. Right, go on now. I can't believe you woke me for that nonsense."

"Andrew. A little boy with a bruise. Are you -?"

"For God's sake, Anita. How many times do I have to tell you?"

"He's with God. Isn't he? You would tell me if he wasn't."

"Of course I would."

Anita left the room. Andrew lay still, staring at the ceiling. She would never understand. She relied too much on religion. The mass in the apartment - that was the day he finally realised he'd lost her.



"A mass!" Andrew couldn't believe it. "You must be joking."

"Joking? Why would I be joking? What's wrong with you?"

"Can't we just accept it for what it is? A miracle."

"Andrew!" Anita cried. "Stop."

"Stop what?"

"Just stop it. We have to have a mass." Anita sat at the dining room table, near the window and the clanking radiator. She dropped her head into her hands. "I was wrong. I thought it wouldn't matter."

"What wouldn't matter?"

"You. And that you don't believe. If you were a good Catholic, you'd understand."

"Ah bollocks! You think you understand? You have it all worked out? He can't find the road to heaven and you're going to help him."

"Maybe he's here to punish us." She stared at Andrew when she said that. It was clear she meant 'you,' not 'us.'

"Ah shut up!"

"Daddy?"

Andrew spun around. Colin was standing at his bedroom door, the bruise stark against his pale face. "Sorry, Colin. It's ok. Me and Mommy were just having a bit of an argument. No big deal."

Colin ran across the room with a playful smile, ready to jump onto his mother's lap. Anita almost knocked over the chair trying to get away. Colin stopped and stared at her, confusion and shame shuffling for space upon his innocent face.

"Come on, Colin," Andrew said. "Come with me." He threw Anita a disgusted look as he took the boy by the hand and led him to his room.

"Listen, there's a priest coming to the apartment."

"Why?" Colin asked.

"Mommy wants him. Now you stay in here. Alright. For the whole time."

"Ok."

"Make sure you do, Colin. Don't come out."

"I'll play with my Lego. I'm going to make a dragon."

"Good boy." Andrew turned for the living room. "Lord save us, I hope it's not Rooney."



Father Rooney stood behind the table. They'd pulled it out from the wall and covered it with a sheet while he'd donned the rigout. Andrew and Anita sat before him. Anita had her hands clasped and her eyes closed, her lips moving in prayer. Colin came out to see what was going on.

Old Rooney nearly collapsed. His legs wobbled as he grabbed the table for support. With a stuttering start, he began to yell. Movement towards the light was the theme. Colin's lip trembled as the white-haired lunatic roared at him. Anita went to her knees. Andrew stood up. Colin looked to him, frightened. He took a step towards his father but was stopped by the raging madman in the dress. The priest's fervour increased with the child's confusion. Colin stepped over to the lamp in the corner. His refusal to disappear, to cease to exist, drove Rooney into talk of devils and fiends.

"Ah here!" shouted Andrew. "No need for that crap. You'll scare the child." He leaped across the room and dragged Colin back into his bedroom, shutting the door behind them with a backwards kick. "Didn't I tell you to stay in here! Don't be showing yourself to that feckin' eejit."

Outside, the exorcist stuttered a moment before relaunching his tirade.

"Bloody hell, he's coming," Andrew exclaimed. "Quick. Under the bed."

The door crashed open. In came Rooney, the wafer aloft. Anita came as far as the threshold. "He's gone," Andrew told them. "You scared the life out of him."

Rooney spun around, searching. He looked up at the ceiling, as if he thought the boy might be glued there like a vampire, then turned to the bed and stooped to look underneath.

"You needn't bother," Andrew said. "I told you, he's gone." Again. Into the void. Andrew felt his chest tighten. Thunder rumbled in the distance.



Andrew woke with Colin lying on his back beside him on the bed, playing aeroplane. With his tiny fingers together and his pudgy thumb sticking out the side, the boy moved his hand slowly across in front of his eyes. A low rumble, interrupted only by the need to inhale, was the cause, Andrew realised, of his waking.

"Well young fella. You're missing a wing. How on earth can that plane fly with only one wing?" Andrew squeezed Colin's thumb lightly. Colin laughed.

"Can I have cereal?"

Andrew glanced at the bedside clock. Almost noon. "I don't need an alarm clock with you about." He sat up. "What kind of cereal do you want?"

"Honey nut cheerios."

"I only have cornflakes."

"Then why did you tell me what kind?" Colin complained as he slid from the bed to the floor.

"Good question. Sorry, cornflakes will have to do."

They sat together at the table, crunching and slurping. "Why do you give people beer?" Colin asked.

"At work? 'Cause they ask for it."

"But why?"

"They like it."

"No way! It's disgusting."

"How would you know?"

"You gave me some."

"I did?" Andrew almost said don't tell your mother, but managed to stop himself in time. They never talked about Anita and, ever since the mass, Colin stayed away from her. It was as if he'd learned that day to avoid people who knew him. They couldn't be trusted to behave like rational human beings. The terrified animal inside took over. His own mother couldn't love him for what he was. It was like he lived in opposite world and, apart from his father, could only talk to strangers.

"When I'm older will I like beer?"

"Will you quit going on about beer, for God's sake."

"Can you play with Lego in the bath?"

"Yeah. Except the really small bits."

"Why?"

"They might go down the drain and get stuck."

"And then you have to call the plumber."

"That's right."

"Can I have a bath?"

"You want to play with your boat, don't you? The Lego one."

"Yeah. But Daddy, it's not a boat. It's a ship."

"Is it now? Alright, come on, finish your cereal first."

"Can I have enough?"

"Ok."

It was a unique situation to be in, as a parent. If Colin didn't want to finish his food, so what? He didn't eat vegetables. He drank soda, ate at McDonald's, stuffed himself with candy, and none of it mattered because he didn't need any of it. The child was never hungry. He simply had cravings. And he never went to the toilet, even though sometimes he seemed to think he needed to.

Andrew filled the bath, stripped the boy and popped him and boat into the water. "Give me a shout if you need me," he said as he returned to the living room and sat down to continue reading Childhood's End. He'd always been a big fan of Arthur C. Clarke.

After a couple of chapters Andrew decided it was time to remove the little man from the tub. "Come on now, that's enough splashing for one day."

"I'm not finished."

"Yes you are." He lifted Colin out of the water and wrapped a towel about him. "You can still play with the boat."

"It's a ship." The little feet danced on the tiles. "Daddy it's cold." Andrew lifted him onto the toilet seat. "The floor is very cold when you're wearing your bare feet," Colin explained.

Andrew laughed. "You crack me up." He wrapped his arms about the boy, kissed his cheek, his forehead.

"What's that call about?"

"I mean you make me laugh. Listen, would you like to go on a real boat?"

"Yeah! Can we?"

"We can go on the ferry. I'm off today."

"What's a ferry?"

"A special kind of boat."

They gathered up the Lego and Andrew hid the box in the back of the closet. Wouldn't do if Anita found it.

They crossed to Staten Island and back, Colin chattering the whole way. As they emerged from the subway and headed for home, all of a sudden Andrew was alone. He was so used to it he didn't even slow his step.



The years slipped by. Colin didn't notice his father getting older. He never knew his mother got sick.

She wasted away, the disease wearing her down and making her old before her time. She finished her last few days in Mount Sinai Hospital. There was no fight in her. Andrew couldn't blame her; it was an unwinnable war, and it was as if she wanted to go anyway.

He arrived to work as normal, fifteen minutes before his shift began, despite the fact he'd just buried his wife. No one at the bar was surprised as they didn't even know he was married. If you could call it married. For going on twenty-five years Anita and he had been little more than two people sharing an apartment.

One last time she'd whispered Colin's name, as she faded away on an inclined bed in a semi-private room in a noisy hospital ward. Machines clicked and beeped through her final hours. "Will he know me?" Andrew could just about make out the words.

"Of course he'll know you." Would he recognise her, this shrunken old woman? Colin was with Andrew every day, so the greying hair and the lines on the face meant nothing to him; the changes were gradual. But Colin hadn't seen Anita in decades. Andrew wondered if he remembered what she looked like at all.

Anita said something about wandering.

"He's not wandering," Andrew reassured her. "He's not."

"I'll guide him."

"Guide him?" Could it happen? Might she come for him? Andrew didn't like the idea. He dismissed it.

For weeks, with Anita in hospital, Colin was able to spend more time in the apartment. Andrew enjoyed their extended time together, watching movies, reading stories, tidying up the Lego, putting the boy to bed on the nights he wasn't working. They'd gone toy shopping together, everyone assuming he was the grandfather and smiling nervously when Colin confused them by calling him Daddy. As Andrew had sat there next to Anita, searching for grief, he'd felt guilty as he pictured the happy scene stretching on into the distance. The two of them alone together, father and son.

Andrew delivered two pints of Stella to the far table and was on his way back to the bar when Peggy arrived. "Sorry I'm late," she said as she rolled up her coat and stuffed it into a shelf above the boxes of straws.

"No problem. It's not busy."

"How come you're never late?"

"I leave on time."

"I suppose that's the trick. But it's easy when you've no child to mind."

"I do have a child to mind."

Peggy gave him a look. "Really? How old?"

"Five."

"No way!"

Andrew smiled. "I know. A man my age..."

Peggy smirked. "You got some hot young wife you're not telling us about?"

"Ha! How many kids do you have?"

"Just one. Lily. She's five as well."

Andrew hadn't thought of that name in years. The original Lily, Colin's friend, would be older than Peggy now. The years marched on, Anita was in a coffin and he would be some day too. He'd tried not to think about that, while Anita slowly passed on. He'd focused on the extra time he'd have with Colin. But those days wouldn't go on forever.

"Do you think Lily might like to play with my boy?" Andrew asked. "He doesn't have many friends."



The first playdate with Lily didn't go very well. Lily was a friendly, bubbly little girl, but Colin wasn't used to other kids and her energy seemed to frighten him. A week or so later, Andrew and Peggy decided to try again.

"I want you to make friends with Lily," Andrew said to Colin as they walked to Peggy's apartment.

"It's not Lily."

"It's a different Lily. Now listen, I'm going to leave you there this time. Just for a little while." The first time, Andrew and Peggy had tried to get the kids to play together in Lily's room while they drank coffee in the kitchen. Though Lily was very welcoming, Colin wouldn't stay with her. He kept returning to the kitchen to climb onto his father's knee.

"Why are you leaving me?"

"Because you need to make friends."

"Lily's my best friend."

"I know. But now this is another Lily."

"Ok."

"So you promise me now, you'll stay?"

"Ok."

They arrived and Peggy opened the door. Lily stood beside her. "Are you still shy?" she shouted at Colin. Colin popped in behind Andrew, like a frightened rabbit.

"Come on now, Colin," Andrew coaxed.

"Lily got a new Lego set," Peggy said. "You like Lego, don't you?"

Colin slowly let go of Andrew's jeans and timidly followed the girl to her room.

"Go on," Peggy urged Andrew. "Get going."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. Before he notices."

"Ok. Call me if there's a problem."

"Stop worrying."

A short time later Andrew stood in line, waiting on a coffee and a muffin. As the milk was hissed to a frenzy, he looked about to see if he could grab a seat. Halfway down on the left, a little boy sat at a table, legs swinging. "Ah for Christ's sake," Andrew whispered.

He walked over. Colin looked up and smiled. "Can I have a cookie?"

"What are you doing here? I told you to stay."

"It's not Lily."

"It's a different Lily." His phone rang. It was Peggy. He grimaced as he answered. "He's with me."

"I can't find him," Peggy cried. "Andrew, I'm looking everywhere. I can't think where he could be."

"He's with me, Peggy. Listen to me. He's here with me."

"What?"

"He's here with me in a coffee shop."

"How?"

"He must have got out somehow."

"He couldn't have. What, did he climb out the window and down the wall?"

"I don't know, but look, it's alright, he's safe."

"Why didn't you call me? I nearly had a heart attack."

"I was about to. I just found him when you called. We can come back. I can explain. I hate talking on the phone."

"No, leave it, Andrew. I need to ... I'll see you at work."

"Ok. I'm sorry, Peggy. It's just, he's very shy." Peggy hung up. Andrew turned to Colin. "Why couldn't you have stayed? You promised you would."

"It's not Lily."

"I know! But there's more than one Lily in the world."

"No there isn't."

"Oh for God's sake." Andrew let it go. What was the point in being annoyed? "Alright, a cookie. Do you want a Coke as well?"



Peggy arrived to work late again, but there was no apology this time. She packed her coat away and put on the black apron without a word. She didn't even look at Andrew. He wondered if she knew.

"I've been switched," he said, "to the day shift."

She turned to him. "Really?" He had to admit she looked surprised.

"Yeah. You didn't know?"

"No. Why would I know?"

She took the tray of used candles from a shelf and placed it on the bar. Andrew landed a pot of hot water beside it. "How's Lily?" he probed.

"She's fine." Peggy poured the water into the little glass containers, filling them almost to the brim. The wax melted.

"You're not going to ask me how Colin's doing?"

"How is he -?"

"Don't bother."

Peggy put down the pot and looked straight at Andrew. "How'd he do it? Tell me."

"You wouldn't believe me." Andrew headed for the other end of the bar. He stood looking at the television, not the slightest bit interested in the discussion on ESPN. It might be alright, the day shift. They were putting on a burger and beer special and improving the happy hour, so maybe the reduction in tips wouldn't be too bad. And it would be nice putting Colin to bed every night, after reading a story. He wondered if Colin would need time to adjust. Probably not. The boy simply went with the flow. He always disappeared somewhere between the subway and the bar when Andrew was going to work, only to appear again in about the same place on the way home. Andrew sometimes received funny looks, walking the street with a small child at five in the morning, especially if the weather was bad and Colin wore nothing but a sweater. At least there'd be no more of that. No, he didn't think it would take Colin any time at all to adjust.



Andrew shuffled into the diner, his walking stick clicking against the linoleum. He was relieved to be inside at last, out of the cold. The trek seemed longer every day. Colin, unaware of the old man's fatigue, shot past him. "Easy, Colin. Easy."

What would they do when their favourite little restaurant closed? Shutters down for good, one day soon. That was the rumour. Just like the old bar, which was long gone now. It hadn't lasted much longer than Andrew himself, though he didn't imagine his retirement had anything to do with it closing. Changed times, the owner had said. True indeed, though it didn't seem like people were drinking any less.

"This one?" Colin called, standing beside their usual table.

"Yeah, yeah."

Bridget arrived with the coffee pot. "Hey guys."

Andrew, finally reaching the venue, dropped onto the seat, joints snapping in concert with the chair. "Well, Bridget," he said as he rested the stick against the wall. "How do you like that weather? It's not what you'd be used to." The girl from Zimbabwe with the Irish name. It made him smile. And he could do with a smile these dark days of aches and leaks and prescriptions and ping-pong-playing insurance companies.

"Hailstones!" Bridget said as she poured the coffee. "For goodness sake."

"You got caught in that, did you?"

"I did. No one warned me about hailstones. They hurt!"

Andrew caught her eyeing Colin's face again, no doubt wondering about the bruise that never healed. Maybe she wondered if it was a birthmark.

"I'll have a toached egg and fries and ketchup," Colin announced.

"I think Bridget knows that by now."

"Chicken salad for you?"

"And I'm just as predictable, it seems," Andrew replied. "Give me a bowl of mushroom barley as well."

"Will do." Bridget went behind the counter and called out the order to the cook. Two additional orders arrived, no break in between. Andrew was full of admiration for the cooks. Despite all those years he'd spent behind the bar, he couldn't fathom how these guys remembered the long, drawn-out, detailed orders. And the jargon too. Whiskey down was his favourite.

"Daddy, do giants live in anpartment buildings?"

"I suppose they do. But they have to take the roof off to get in."

"No. That's not for real, Daddy. You're just fibbing."

Bridget arrived with the soup. "He always calls you Daddy."

"He does, yeah," Andrew mumbled, bending his head to the bowl. Bridget lingered a moment, like she hoped he'd elaborate, then shot off behind the counter again.

"Where's my food?"

"It's coming, child. Give them a chance."

"But you got yours."

"Just the soup. Soup always comes before the main course." Or the entrée, as the Americans called it. It had confused Andrew no-end when he first came to New York, this entrée business. Whenever he went out to eat, he'd sit there searching the menu for the main courses and wonder why the appetisers were so expensive. Anita had finally explained it to him, though the explanation made no sense.

Anita. Months would go by without thinking of her. Then all of a sudden there she'd be. A flyer in the mail, advertising plots, and he'd remember the grave and the fact that he never went near it. He used Colin as an excuse; he didn't want to have to explain where Mommy was.

He used to get flyers for cruises to the Bahamas, or up past Maine. Then it was the plots. They'd brag about the views, which made him laugh. What sort of a view did you get six feet under? But eventually those flyers stopped too. Probably assumed he was dead by now.

He wasn't afraid of death. He was tired. But he was afraid for Colin. He'd tried once or twice to learn from Colin. Where did he go when he wasn't around? If Andrew could find out, get some sort of hint, maybe he could go there too, when the time came. But Colin didn't understand. He thought Daddy was fibbing again.

Andrew didn't look up when the eggs and fries arrived, though Bridget tried to be light-hearted. "Eat the eggs as well as the fries, young man. Eggs are good for you."

"And fries too," Colin replied, fork in hand as he got up on his knees to better attack the plate. "Fries are good for you too."

Andrew cut up the eggs, squeezed the ketchup and helped himself to a few fries, though he knew he'd wish he hadn't. He was always left craving more. And he couldn't have more, not with his cholesterol.

When they both had their fill and Andrew finished his second cup of coffee, he counted out the cash, adding an extra few dollars to the customary tip, then tucked the bundle beneath Colin's plate. With the swirled ketchup and the half-eaten egg it was like something from Dali. Dali claimed he could remember the womb, and that that's where the egg fascination came from.

Andrew creaked himself upright as Colin bounced to the door. Could a five-year-old remember the womb? Decades upon this Earth and Colin was still five, in every sense. He would always be five. He would never understand. The days slipped by, one the same as the other. Forever, Colin was certain. He could conceive of nothing else. But the day would come when he would be alone. Andrew had tried in the past to attach him to someone else, someone younger. There was a time when he might have confided in Bridget, but not anymore. It was hopeless. Colin didn't want anyone else. All Andrew's efforts were as fruitless as that time with Peggy and her little girl.



"Colin! Get back here!"

"The bus."

"If we miss it there'll be another."

The bus shot past them to the stop, Andrew cringing as the giant wheels came within inches of his son. A few passengers got off. A young woman stood with one foot in and one foot out, waiting, smiling encouragingly at Andrew.

"Thank you," Andrew said when he finally reached her. Colin got up on a seat near the front and looked out the window while Andrew fumbled with his metrocard. Eventually, with a sigh Andrew settled into the seat beside Colin, his walking stick between his legs. There was a time he never took the bus, but now the subway was too far away, even though distance hadn't changed. Time and energy had.

"You shouldn't run ahead of me like that."

"Why?"

"You could... ah never mind. I just can't keep up, that's all."

"Why does it say the weird door?"

"What?"

"The bus says the weird door."

Andrew laughed. "No. It says please exit through the rear door. The back door."

"Oh."

"Where the hell is he going? Ah damn, we're on the wrong bus." Andrew put the reluctant limbs in reverse. His stomach twisted as the bus rounded a corner, but it wasn't motion sickness he was suffering. There was a service road down the right, inside the road the bus travelled along. Red brick buildings were beyond that. It resembled the spot. It wasn't the spot, but it looked like it. A lot. It fooled Colin.

"Hey Daddy," he shouted.

"Come on, Colin. Come on."

"Daddy, this is where the taxi hit me."

Andrew staggered towards the door. Someone called out.

"Daddy," Colin continued, not moving from the window.



The bus stopped and the doors opened. Andrew and Colin went down the steps together, Andrew fixing his backpack. "Excuse me," someone called. Andrew looked back. A woman was leaning out of the bus, a pair of purple glasses in her hand. Little toy glasses, for kids.

"Oh my God, thanks," Andrew said with a smile. "If I lost them, he'd kill me." He turned around again. Colin was sauntering into the service road, happy, oblivious. The taxi was going too fast. Andrew didn't even have time to yell. The car hit Colin with a dull thump and a screech of tyres. The little boy arced and twisted through the air. He bounced off the asphalt, his gorgeous, precious head smacking off the kerb.



Andrew collapsed. The driver jumped. The bus stopped short.

"Jesus!"

"Help him up."

"No don't move him. Call an ambulance."

"Please exit through the rear door."

"Daddy?"

"Get back. Give him space."

"There's a cop."

"Officer! Officer, we need an ambulance. Old man fainted."

"He's dead."

"No, he's not."

"Everyone off. Out the back door."

"Where's the child?"

"What child?"

"His son."

"Please exit through the rear door."

"Couldn't be his son. His grandson."

"He called him Daddy."

"Look at the man. He couldn't be the father."

"Never mind that. Where is he?"

"Must have gone out the back door. Look for him."

"You say there was a child?"

"Yes, officer. Definitely! Oh the poor thing, he must be terrified."



Colin lay on the bed, patiently waiting for his father to wake up. He wanted to ask him what the thing going into his arm was for. And the thing in his nose.

There was something beeping too, like the sound the fridge made when it was left open too long. "Will you close that fridge, Colin," Daddy would say. "Wasting electricity." But Colin liked to hear the beep.

It was getting faster now, the beep. A lot faster. And suddenly the room was full of people. And they were shouting. Colin slid to the floor and shot under the bed as someone made a grab for him. He couldn't understand why they were so angry. What had he done?

And then they were at Daddy. Beating him up. Colin climbed back onto the bed from the other side, crying. He tried to get his arms around his father's neck but there were so many hands in the way. And then someone got him about the waist and pulled him away.

"Daddy!" he screamed.



He waited by the subway. He didn't like to, because of the people. They came up the stairs, a crowd. He felt their eyes upon him. And still he didn't come. How many more trains?

Previously he'd gone to the diner. There was no one there. Before that, the apartment. It was empty. Quiet, but for the clock. He'd taken out the Lego, played for a while. Waiting. On the couch he'd watched the sky darken, the lights come on.

He tried the bus stop, the bar. The bar wasn't the same. He was confused. And tired. He went back to the apartment, lay on the bed. But he couldn't sleep. It was bright. A bird outside the window kept signing. The same short tune, over and over.

He sits on the bench, staring blindly at the tracks, his eyes sore from crying. A movement to one side. He lifts his head. Purple bruise in a pale face. A woman approaches. "What's wrong, darling? Why are you so upset?"

He slides to the floor, takes a tentative step. "Mommy?"

5 comments:

  1. Engrossing tale. Spooky. I also like the simple style with the dialogue carrying the story along. At least with Colin, Andrew was never alone.

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  2. Interesting theme. I thought it was too long however, and I just wanted to get to the ending sooner.

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  3. A sad and mysterious tale. Very unique how Colin is so easily visible to everyone, not just to Andrew. I love the ending and the hope it implies.

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  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. This story was intriguing enough to keep me reading to the end (no small feat!). The slow reveal of Colin as supernatural works well. The trope of life after death is a bit tired, though. Also, there might be a word ("an") missing here: "It was like he lived in opposite world and, apart from his father, could only talk to strangers."

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