A Surrounded Island

Mom called when Dad wouldn't open his eyes.

I kissed my loudly snoring wife, checked in on my quietly sleeping boy and then left.

Mom let me in and then went back to watching TV. The phone book was next to her. She pointed upstairs.

I found him in the guest room sitting in a chair. A bowl of half-eaten applesauce rested next to his right foot. His sunglasses looked ridiculous since he only had on the bottom half of his pajamas. The sunglasses were the fancy kind you couldn't see through if you were the other person. I'd never owned such a pair.

"I knew you'd come."

"Thought you wouldn't open them."

"Could tell by the footsteps they weren't hers."

"But how'd you know it was me?"

He picked his nose. "You're a dull boy."

"Oh," I said, plopping on the bed. "My voice gave it away."

He nudged the applesauce my way. "Take that downstairs."

"Why won't you open your eyes?"

"What's to see?" He moved his head from left to right.

"Are you bleeding?" On the left side of his head was a nasty gash that hadn't been cleaned up.

"Your mother left the can of applesauce in front of me."

"Why did --"

"Dull boy, she said I'd trip over it if I didn't open them. I kept them closed, even when I tripped and conked my head."

I counted backwards from four. The last few weeks, he'd been getting on me more and more about my IQ. Maybe he saw my anger through his sunglasses or just sensed it. In any event, we sat in silence for ten minutes.

"I'm going."

"Well, I've seen the light," he said. "Make sure to grab that applesauce, that is if you can figure out what I'm talking about."

"What are you saying?"

"What are you saying? God damn, son, you are dumb as bricks."

I went up to him. He was on the verge of being cared for: maybe by an old-age home; or a nut house, as my wife's folks called such places. Mom and I had been talking it over more and more.

He smiled. It was a taunting smile, one I hadn't seen from him until a few months ago.

"Stop calling me stupid."

He picked his nose again and wiped it on my shirt. "OK, Dumbo."

I flicked his left ear. I thought I'd done it so hard that I cut him. Then I realized some of the blood from his head wound had trickled down to his ear.

"When you were seven, you came hollering out to me in the tool shed: 'Daddy, an island is completely surrounded by water!' Remember that?"

This was at least the fifth time he'd brought this up the past few weeks. "You slapped my shoulder and said I was a good boy for studying."

"Yeah, but you know what I was thinking?"

"That you really wanted to know what a peninsula was?" I laughed at my joke.

"That you were a fucking retard."

I was so mad that even my teeth felt hot. He brought his forearm to his nose and sniffed it.

I yanked off his glasses and threw them on the floor. "Open them."

He laughed. "An island is completely surrounded by water."

What do you call the soft squishy covers protecting closed eyes? Whatever they're called, I dug into the right one first and pulled as hard as I could until it opened. Dad kicked me in the leg but I ignored the ache and opened the left eye.

He started crying. His left eye was bleeding a bit; I guess I'd pulled even harder on that one.

"You want to go to the nut house?"

His eyes, even the bleeding one, were closed again. "I want to live on an island," he said. "One surrounded by water."

"OK, Pop," I said, "I think I see."

I hugged him. I didn't wipe away the blood that got on my shirt.

I picked up his applesauce and trudged downstairs. I washed it in the sink while I thought about things.

Then I sat next to Mom on the couch. She was watching some infomercial about carrot juice. I glanced at the phone book and waited until she nodded. Then I started calling around.

"How do you put someone away?"

About the author:

David Erlewine is shopping a novel titled "Furiously Ordinary" and has had eighteen short stories published or accepted for publishing in print and online literary journals. He lives in Austin, Texas and can be reached via www.daviderlewine.com.