After the Fact
Three minutes into her tenth birthday. Three whole minutes. Leaning out the window, she could feel both the air pressure and temperature changing. White pajamas under an oversized hoodie. Blond hair and different colored eyes. Her body language said expecting someone.
From the record player, at a hauntingly low volume, came a song off her father’s favorite album. Incidentally, it was her favorite too. She sang along, her cadence almost ghostly. The room. Her room. White walls draped in old posters. The only window faced the neighbor’s house; more precisely, one of the neighbor’s windows. The window into the room of a boy named Daniel, but who everyone called Clark Kent because he wore the same Superman costume every Halloween. Like the walls, the furniture was also white and seemed oddly mature for such a young girl.
Six minutes. This was ten. This was how it felt to be ten, to be double digits. The big one-oh. She’d carried that number inside her head for the last year. Thousands: the number of times she’d fallen asleep thinking of what the transformation from single to double digits would be like. Plus all the times in class, being snapped out of thousand yard stares. But the reality was: being ten felt a lot like being nine, and that was a heartbreaking scenario she hadn’t quite accounted for. However, most, if not all her scenarios were purely fantasy; for example, one of the most reoccurring scenes involved this fairy-godmother-sprite thingy who would materialize in the girl’s room at midnight exactly. She’d float on over to the girl’s bedside. And the girl, who imaged herself to be asleep, would wake to see the thing glowing over her, exuding this awesome sense of peace and love. It’d deposit several nuggets of sagely sprite wisdom before bippity boppity booing the girl. Cue transformation, which, when envisioning all this, was a process whose sensations/details always eluded the girl, as if the sensations/details were somehow beyond imagining. What stayed consistent though, be it this fantasy or the one involving cheery woodland creatures, or any of the other ones, was the definite difference in the texture of existence. There was a change every single time, except the time it happened.
Now thirteen. She hugged herself in that big ole hoodie of hers. The softest, comfiest thing she’d ever worn. Plus it smelled good too, sweet and like earthy. The window into Clark Kent’s room: closed and lightless. The girl, who had already begun to suspect he wasn’t gonna show, was allowing herself to believe it. She turned, looking passed her neighbor’s house and over the heads of other houses, hoping to see a star or the moon or even an airplane: anything to wish on. But the sky was heavy and opaque. A mass gathering. The architecture of which loomed like next week’s test. Abstract but also not. She checked back on the window.
Using a self-taught technique meant to minimized noise, she closed it. The window. The technique was a variation of the one she used to open it. She was attuned to the window, attuned like she was the stairs, knowing which steps creaked and which didn’t. She drew the blinds and put the disc back in the stack and the record player back under the bed. They’d been her father’s and she made sure to take extra-special care of them.
From the dresser’s bottom drawer, she withdrew a pile clothes and set it next to her. She took off her hoodie, folded and stuffed it into the very back of the drawer. She placed the pile of clothes on top of it and shut the drawer, then clambered up into bed. The comforter and pillows were cool and inviting, and when she pulled the covers up and nestled in, the usual wave of safety washed over her. The red digits from the clock on her nightstand read: 12:21.
Lying there, staring up at the motionless ceiling fan, thinking, the wave’s effect beginning to wane, the girl began to feel at first disappointed and then stupid, stupid for having been expecting anything at all.
The man in the jogging uniform firmly believed in the power of clothes, in the power clothes gave a man. A belief never voiced, but one a credit card statement could support. Besides a jogger, he was a businessman, father and husband. As a businessman he preferred white button-downs, simple-pattern ties and neutral colored jackets. In domestic life, he donned mid-high end polos and khakis, short or long, depending on the season. But for now he was jogging, a jogger negotiating his way down a grey and empty boulevard.
Sterile smells and surgical light. Although she’d never held her before, the weight was still somehow familiar. Seven pounds and eleven ounces. In the cradle of her arms, red faced and crying, her beautiful baby girl. Her mother’s nose and father’s lips. And both their eyes.
It was nearly sunset on a late winter day. Shadows stretched out real long and the sky was cold and nuclear. The man focused on breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Measured and meditative. His form: exemplary. Raised chest, shoulders restrained and elbows bent acutely. A short, quick stride that simultaneously began and ended in the alignment of stepping foot and knee. Seamless. He’d averaged a seven minute mile his last 5k.
And then her index finger was purple. The tiny fist choking it. Now she was a mother. A mom. Did she know what that meant? Seven pounds and eleven ounces of life. Of life. Did she get that? Or was she too lost in her eyes, in her reflection in those eyes?
He liked to look at things while he ran. His favorite two things to look at were trees and the cracks in the sidewalk. And the further he ran, the more cracked the sidewalk got, and then the cracks turned to roots and all of a sudden he was in the park.
The crying stopped for feeding. First lesson of life: you can’t eat while you cry. The daughter sucked ravenously, and afterward the mother felt spent and tender. Her angel.
Down the boulevard, through the park and then back up the boulevard. Day in, day out. That was his route. Normally he wore earbuds but, for this run, didn’t have them. He was also phoneless; nothing but the clothes on his back and the Mickey Mouse watch around his wrist. The trees: tall, bare and plentiful. A perfect example of how seasons can change a thing. Bright and cheery in the summer; somber and gloomy in the winter. Their shadows even had a strange way of falling.
More crying. She rocked and coddled the bundle of wails. Feed, burp, cuddle. Does it ever stop? That finger was purple again. What more could she do? And yet. And yet there she was, doing everything in her power to do more, to remedy her daughter’s cries.
It looked somewhere between a shadow and a hologram flickering like a weak radio connection. No definite shape or mass, but the way it moved suggested quadruped. Sleek and predatory in design. It could interact with the none-flickering world no problem. Negotiated brooks, hid in trees and crept through bushes. And did it all totally silent and unseen. This was how it hunted.
Whispering daisies. Just like her mother. She was her mother. No. She was a mother. A mother.
If he’d been able to keep pace his mile time would’ve been well under seven minutes.
The decanter’s crackling brought the woman from the window. She was wearing a once-white t-shirt, pajama bottoms and stylish black glasses. Her feet were bare and there was a small tattoo of Tinkerbell near the knob of her ankle. She took a mug from the cabinet and poured from the decanter. A vein of lightning. Minnie’s face aglow. From a decorative container, she shoveled four, thought about it, five spoons of sugar. The ten o’clock news had grossly underestimated this one. She worried about the lake. This time last year it constituted half the backyard.
His steps were slow and heavy, and something in how the stairs moaned expressed the way he felt exactly. Bumbling into the kitchen wearing nothing but boxers. A thick nest of damp chest hair. Saggy tits. Gut, as furry and moist as chest, poured over waistband. Tired rings around washed-out eyes. This body had once belonged to an athlete. Now it made a squishy sound on the tile.
Clenched fists and twisted sheets.
“Want a cup,” wiping the milk from the counter.
No thanks. He never did. Just a glass of water please.
Father of the Year.
“Water in a mug, aye?”
Stirring, “You’re getting the cake tomorrow, right?”
“Right. And is she still doing–”
“The slumber party? Yes. Kiki, Stella and Jordan will be over around six.”
On average, a bolt of lightning carries about ten billion watts of electricity.
“It’s really coming down.”
“I know. I’m worried about the lake.”
“Can you see it from the window?”
“I wouldn’t worry about it.”
“Do you remember how high it came up last year?”
The chandelier flickered for a couple seconds. They were quiet and still while it did…. He took a sip and she resumed stirring until thunder made her jump.
“Let’s move somewhere it never storms like this.”
“Alright. Where’d you like to go?”
“How about Chile? No-wait. New Zealand!”
“You wanna be a Kiwi?”
“That’s what they call New Zealanders. Kiwis.”
“Like a kiwi kiwi?”
“Like the bird.”
“Yep. Small, fluffy. Has a long beak. You’ve seen one before.”
“Hmm. Let me look it up,” getting up.
“Are we doing take-out tomorrow?”
Small toes curled.
“Dominos. Or Pizza Hut. Someplace. I haven’t decided yet. Why?”
“Just curious…. What makes you think there’s no thunderstorms in New Zealand?”
Sound moves at around 767 miles per hour and thunder is really just a sonic wave.
“So when are we moving,” sitting back down.
“I’ll buy the plane tickets first thing in the morning.”
“What am I looking up?”
When your house is hit by lightning, the first thing you wanna do is check to make sure no fires have started. But they didn’t do that. They just sat there in the dark, blinking, wanting to believe nothing had happened. And they probably would’ve convinced themselves too, would’ve kept right on sitting there like that until someone keeled over and died.
The bed was empty because she was hiding under it. She liked it down there. The carpet was cool and new-looking. Plus there was like no chance of getting struck by lightning. But lying there got boring, and being by the silent record player made her want to sing and she did. A song off her favorite album, but, by the end of the second verse, she was screaming.
Her mother’s voice had never sounded so sweet. She crawled towards it. Her father joined her mother. He was holding a flashlight. She glanced at the drawer with the hoodie in it and kept crawling. There’s no warmth quite like the warmth of another person. Her mother’s voice got even sweeter when it was in her ear. She wanted to stay like that for the rest of the storm at least. But, in her condition, it was a fantasy. Her mother had noticed. Right away her mother had noticed. She’d told her father to leave the flashlight and go.
“They’re still sleeping over though, right? Right, Mom?”
Blood trickled down her leg.
Nicholas Kelton is a sophomore at Florida State University, where he studies computer science. Nick has been interested in reading, writing, and film making since high school, thanks to the encouragement of close friends and English teachers. When not busy, he enjoys watching TV, climbing trees and staring at the sun.