(Sara Brody’s work has appeared in the Monarch Review, the Adroit Journal, and Narrative Magazine. This story was originally published on the Cheap Pop Lit website, and is reprinted with the permission of the author.)
When you lose a child, it’s always your fault. It’s impossible not to feel it that way, no matter how it happens, but this was really my fault. Gabriel, four years old, and I’ll spare you the details. There are places now I don’t go. My ex-wife was in the paper after it happened and said she’d dreamt him back alive, just as he was, and he said Mom I love you, I forgive you. I dream him too, but never like that. For starters he doesn’t call me Dad. Thought another man was his father so he calls me Old Man. He says, Hey, Old Man, what are you staring off at? Forty this year, and he wears Hawaiian shirts. Going bald on top. I tease him about it, say, One day your head will look like a golf ball too, all right? Don’t think it won’t happen. He says, Yeah, but you’ll be dead then. We talked last night. I was in a mood again and I said, Gabe, I think the world is going to pieces and how did I ever believe I could change it? He said, Old Man, we’re on vacation. Can’t you see we’re on vacation right now? I looked around and we were on vacation. Poolside, somewhere in the tropics—you could tell by the weight of the air, how the sky just hung there. A sweet, tangy taste in my mouth because I was drinking a piña colada, sitting in white lawn chairs and Gabe with his bare feet up on this rusty old vat, curling his toes. Lit a cigarette and I said, Since when do you smoke? He made a face at me and said, Not you too. I get enough of it from Jenny. Gabe, not around the kids, not around them! And I say, Jenny, baby, they’re asleep and I’m outside. She says, Well, close the damn door for once. She’s a card, my Jenny. Anyway, this is vacation and I’ll smoke however much I please. He took a long drag, sucked in his cheeks and exhaled through his nose. Chomped down on his bottom lip, thinking on something. I’ll be honest with you, he said. I feel it on my runs now. Can’t get up hills the way I used to. But if you can’t learn to love your mistakes, how will you get around to doing anything? Death’s ugly however it comes. But listen to me talk. Look what you’ve done. Old Man, this is vacation.
I smelled the rain before it came, felt the cool clean pierce the heat. Soaked in an instant but his cigarette stayed lit; nothing to say, but the rain making noise. I said Gabe look at me. I have to tell you something and I want you to listen. You’ll wake one day in an old man’s body and wonder how you got here. You’ll wake one day, or you won’t.