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  • He asked if I’d come over, I told him I was busy. He said: “You’re always busy, come over anyway.”

    So I got in the car even though I didn’t want to, and surfed through the city on a slow wave of traffic. Washed ashore on the muddy road through the forest, I opened the window to inhale the smell of wet sand and pine needles; it was the scent of my childhood. I recalled his footprints in the mud, big feet, his dark hair dancing in the wind, and her voice from God knows where, probably the radio.

    The tiny, old house looked like a worn toy someone had cast aside. The crooked apple trees in the garden resembled stranded ships on islets of rotting apples. The carport stooped heavily, bound to fall down sooner or later and crush the pale blue, rusty VW. An abandoned lawn mower was lying in the uncut grass next to what was once a flowerbed, and the sign above the entrance door was loose, dangling in the wind. Years ago, he helped me to carve the letters in the wood; I remember his laughter when I suggested we named the house ‘the Castle’. “Why ‘the castle’?” he enquired. “Because it has a thousand rooms,” I said, with childish zeal. “Oh my,” he said, laughing; “a thousand rooms, how about that!” That was long ago, before she moved out and he started drinking, it must be a thousand years ago.

    He opened the door before I made it up the stairs; he had been waiting. He reeked of alcohol, and I pulled away. “Don’t be so cold, girl,” he said, patting my shoulder, his voice was husky. He claims that I’ve always been unapproachable; he can’t see why. We entered the livingroom, and he dropped down on the couch. I opened one of the windows and gathered up some clothes that were scattered on the floor. “Don’t do that,” he said, impatiently. I asked him how he could live with such a mess; he sighed. “I have more important things to do,” he said.

    I went into the kitchen to make us something to eat, asking him if he’d like scrambled eggs on toast. “Sure, if you’ll make’em with butter,” he said. I indulged him; he seemed thinner than the last time I visited. I set the table and waited for him to ask me something, comment on the weather, or the situation in the Middle East, anything, but he didn’t even look in my direction. I finally asked him what he was working on at the moment. He leaned forward, lighted a cigarette and sighed again. “I only paint death these days,” he said, “only death.” I looked at him. “Then show me death,” I said. He shrugged.

    *

    We avoided looking at eachother while we ate in silence. Afterwards, leaning back on our chairs, our gazes intersected briefly, and we both quickly looked away, embarrassed. Before I could come up with something to talk about, he got up, taking our plates back to the kitchen. He put the kettle on and asked me what I was up to these days. “This and that,” I said, evasively. “It’s difficult to get hold of you,” he said. I said I was busy. He nodded, slowly, sarcastically raising his eyebrows, and then he walked over to the window, looking out on the garden.

    I looked at his back, the blue and red flannel shirt, the gray beard covering his jaw and part of his neck. Squinting, I tried to picture him the way I sometimes think I can remember him; tall and stately, strong, with bulging muscles and a roaring laughter, white teeth in a sunburnt face, big hands and a deep voice that would echo in my head.

    “Can you remember the happy summer?” I inquired. “What summer was that?” he asked. “The first summer after we bought the house,” I said. He turned to look at me, questioningly. “Do you recall that summer as a happy time?” he asked, he seemed surprised. I nodded. “I see,” he said, facing the window again. The water boiled, I got up to pour the tea and handed him his mug.

    I waited silently, remembering warm July, daylight around the clock, and I could hear her voice, as clearly as if we were both standing right outside in the garden. “Save your breath,” she said, “blow carefully, and you’ll get bigger bubbles”, and I blew as gently as I could, creating huge, glistening soap bubbles. Quivering, they floated off toward the sky, and I knew they would burst, I knew that the weight of the entire sky was too heavy a burden, but I still hoped that they would endure, that these particular bubbles would make it all the way to the edge of the universe and reach the stars, that I’d see them twinkle way up there when evening would finally fall sometime in September. We were both barefoot, standing in the grass, hand in hand, waiting while he attached the swing to the solid oak branch. Then he lifted me up and placed me on the swing, pushing me higher, higher, and I laughed out loud, catching leaves between my toes, while she smiled and waved at me and his hands pushed me again and again; how could he not remember?

    “That was the summer she left us,” he said, still looking out the window.
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