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"Staycation"; an excerpt

Wednesday 7/31/19


When you’re through it, it will be worth it.


He stuck one of Carl’s Q-tips in his ear. Carl’s Q-tips. It sounded like a proprietary brand with an especial cotton blend, honed over decades of nuanced lab-labored weaving, trial and error coupled with advances in cotton thread-count science, the best-packed little balls of soft scut you ever did see, taste, or touch, should you be the kind who popped a swab in the mouth, which meant you were a child, or maybe you were dead, in the lab; a different lab.


He could feel moisture under the ball, his preferred circular cleaning motions twirling clockwise. Sweat or ear film. The smatter that was still on the wall looked like suet crossed with raspberry jam. In the woods with Coe where they often went on weekends he’d bring a brick of suet for the birds, hanging it on a tree branch as their hike commenced, lone ornament for a mini-vernal Christmas. Santa with a green coat and sprigs in the hair. No. Fat didn’t work as well for spring. Persephone. Greek goddess. Could wear a light dress. Goddess of April, the May Queen, Empress of early June. The birds would be there when they got back, having surmised and confirmed that a new treat had become available, the car nearby, the top of his chest sweaty, his mind assured, probably erroneously, that he could feel the difference between perspiration and blister blood in his socks. Parts of the smatter on the wall looked like red currant seeds. Birds would like it. Finches and black-capped chickadees. The ones they saw in the woods.


“I could totally eat suet,” he’d say.


“How do you become more gross all the time?”


“It doesn’t look good to you? Like a healthy, tasty bar? Filling but sweet?”


“You are so weird, dad.”


“Weirder than the average dad?”


“Um, tied, maybe? But entirely capable of taking the lead. Without much effort.”


“I would also posit that suet looks like a nice thick muffin in rectangle form. I’m just going to go for it next time, I think. Look at that cardinal. He’s going to town. He gets it.”


“And we have a new winner.”


When you’re through it, it will be worth it.


He thought that is what he would say to the boy, Walt. The name struck him as antediluvian. Leftover from the 1950s. Or maybe that was just because he thought of Disney films. The door to the room was cracked open, left that way, not cracked by him, as in the mornings, when he felt like he was breaking an egg and inside the egg was his daughter in a bed, buried under covers, harder shell giving way to softer shell, visible but also not visible, but there, decidedly there. The daughter and her friend listened to records and she shaved the back of his neck, often, even when it did not need shaving, sitting cross-legged on the floor.


“Your friend Walt,” he’d say, trying to be casual, driving with the car top down, which helped facilitate his affected manner, “he doesn’t say much, does he?”


“He doesn’t talk to anyone else.”


“He talks to you, though?”


“Obviously.”


“And no one else at school?”


“He says what he needs to say.”


“To get by?”


“To get by.”


We do a lot of touching of heads in this family, he would think, when he came home from work, grateful that he had done so again without incident, and apprised his wife and daughter at their kitchen table, Brea watching Coe as she studied or read, feigning interest in her phone and stealing looks at their daughter like a kid in love in seventh grade math class who just cannot help it.


“You choose to love somebody,” she had said to him, long ago, before they were married. “You make a decision. You decide that you are going to open up everything you are to someone you think is worth that. It’s not like slipping on a banana peel. You make up your mind. You decide. To give as you fall. And I would give anything to you. That’s how I know.”


That was probably the 1000th time she had told him she loved him. He was just trying to be funny, asking how she knew. Jocosity meant to spur flirtation, not revelation. But when it comes, it comes.


He’d walk over to the table, unsure how long they had been there, if it was part of a rendezvous ritual, or if they’d been in their positions for hours—probably not—and touch the top of his daughter’s head, kiss the back of his wife’s neck.


Ever since she was young, when the child was sick, scared of bogeys rumored to lurk in the closet, or, worse, when she was heartbroken with those prefatory pangs that adults realize are mere exordium notes for the full-throated fanfare of deep-boned, de-souling hurt, pain which tasks the soul with regeneration, he’d lean in close, their breath commingling such that neither was sure exactly whose air it was that warmed their respective cheeks, forehead to forehead, the giving and the falling, while interlocking. Perhaps only the steeled eye of the ship’s oldest salty dog could descry the ever-so-slight rocking of heads; up, down, up again, like the pitch of a pinnace hewn of collagen and calcium, cranial, its yawing reduced, in stilling waters.


Goddess of April, Queen of May, Empress of June.


Egg, soccer ball, teardrop.