All There, Waiting

In the bedroom, inside the mural, there's a boy, park, red truck, and large blue fish that fly in and out between the branches and about the boy's dark head. Also on the wall, the father can see faces where there are no faces: The boy his baby son would have become, the future man that will never be. Everywhere he looks--inside the wall, window, his palms, and black leather toecaps--he sees his dead baby, just as he looked inside the tiny, but still too big, coffin.

Every now and then his wife passes by the open door and looks in at him like he's a fool. He is a fool. She is a fool. We are all fools. God is a fool. He is craving cheese. String cheese. Something he can peel and peel. He does not want to eat the cheese. He wants to smear the cheese on the mural, over the boy, park, fish, and truck.

When he was a boy, according to his mother, he couldn't say truck. He said fuck. He says fuck now, over and over. He calls to his wife, asks her if they have string cheese. She shouts back, tells him to stop swearing, to get out of that bedroom. He asks for chips, salt and vinegar flavored. Something he can smash and crunch between his teeth. Bitter chips he can spit at the mural. Spit and smear. Bananas too. He wants bananas to mash and smear. Blacken. Rot.

Fuck, he screams. Truck, he screams. His wife charges up the stairs, into the room. Get up, she demands. Get up, and get out. We can't do this anymore. We have to get on with our lives. It's what he would have wanted.

He is half-blind with temper. How do they know what he would have wanted? They didn't have him for nearly long enough. She takes off her wedding rings and fires them at his chest. Is this what you want, she asks. Do you want to kill everything? There, he thinks, it's said. He killed their baby. A screw goes through his right temple, into his brain, turns and turns.

There's rippling movement on the wall--the circles that flow out from a penny dropped in a wishing well. Only there's no water anywhere in this room. He has tried and tried, but he cannot cry. It is the boy in the mural, he realizes, cart-wheeling across the wall. He hears the boy spin through the air, hears his feet land in the grass, hears his ragged breath. His son would have grown to be fast and strong and brave. Happy. He would've been imperfect. Great. He would never have stood still.

He scrambles to his feet, and mirrors the boy, cartwheels again and again. Fly, he tells his son, fly.

About the author:

Ethel Rohan's latest work has or will be published in Potomac Review, Pear Noir!, FRiGG, and Night Train.