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Bloody Knuckles

PUBLISHED: September 8, 2020


The waiting room was small, not much more than a large cubicle with a coffee machine, a couple of televisions, and maybe twenty other parents, all of us equally nervous and trying not to show it. A better artist than me might’ve been able to capture it with his brush, the anxiety like a physical object that each one of us carried. I had been there nearly an hour when Karen called. I walked toward one of the room’s corners, as much privacy as I could find, and whispered hello.

“Do you have Nathan yet?” Her voice was quiet and tight. 

“Not yet,” I said. I cast a look back at the information counter where I’d been handed my family sticker and told to wait. The attendants were on their computers. “The plane is on the ground, though. They’re probably just debriefing.”

“They said that? Debriefing?”

“No,” I said, annoyed at how easily I had speculated. I didn’t want to be the one to break protocol. “They just said that the plane was here. I just guessed.”

“Can’t they tell you anything else?”

“You know I can’t ask.” One of the men working the information counter raised his eyes and met mine. I nodded to him and turned toward the wall. There were things we could say and things we could not say. Those were the rules. Over the past week I had tried to internalize these rules deeply enough that they would become instinctive, so I wouldn’t fumble or pause at prohibited language. I wanted to speak with Nate like it was any other conversation we would’ve had before he’d joined the Envoy. But there were now entire subjects he wasn’t allowed to discuss; wherever he had been, whatever he had been doing, I guessed that he had been trying to learn these rules just like I was. The pamphlets said to think of it like he was coming back from camp. But it wasn’t camp. It was something I would never fully grasp, even when his service was done, even when we were both old and broken down.

I listened to Karen breathe on the telephone line, imagined her at home, on the couch, maybe watching television to keep herself distracted. There was a reason I had been the one to come to the airport: She did not internalize well. She got stressed about making mistakes, and that stress led to more mistakes, which led to more stress. At home if she said something wrong it wasn’t as dangerous—Nathan could simply wave the topic off. But here, with so much security, it wasn’t a chance worth taking. All of the literature we had read said that the first visit was always the hardest on everyone. It was too easy to make mistakes; no one was used to the new rules yet.

“How are you feeling?” I asked.

“Fine,” she said, and then, guessing my real meaning, added, “relaxed. Excited for you two to get here.”

I started to make a joke, describing the room around me and telling her I wished I had one of her pills on me, but I lost my own thread and stopped when I heard the clack of shoes on the tile floor behind me and instead told her I loved her but I had to go because they were here. When I hung up and turned around, a sentinel like the other parents, frozen, watching our children materialize before them—they were really here, all of them, real flesh and blood—I saw Nathan striding toward me, his back straight, his shoulders broad, walking like a soldier. No, not a soldier. That was the old language. I took him into my arms and felt the power of his muscles and the bones below them. My boy. Always, my child. 

He looked at me and laughed, and I did too, because it was silly, this small spectacle of a reunion.

“Hungry?” I asked.


We separated from the pack and headed for the car.

The Peace Envoy had replaced the Army when there was no more use for an Army. Peacekeeping excursions replaced war when there was no more room for war. The old words weren’t necessary anymore. They reflected an old world, a different kind of world, one that was brutal, filled with exploitation and upheaval. War was ugly, an outdated blight of social evolution that could be left behind. Peace was triumph, a cooperative effort, and the Peace Envoy existed, built communally among nations, to ensure that such cooperation and common good was maintained across the globe, especially in those more unstable places, where occasionally a muscle needed to be gently flexed to ensure that good will could thrive. So the new words replaced the old; the concepts too. This was not long ago—my grandfather had been alive during the last great war; my father, poor and looking for a way to fund his education, had been a member of the first international Peace Envoy—and yet the act of recontextualizing the world around this new language had been nearly seamless. War fell off our television screens and was replaced by scientific breakthrough, crime control, and charity—all the splendors of human advancement that were rightly worth celebrating. The Envoy worked around the globe, offering a chance for those with fewer options to propel themselves—economically, socially, in all kinds of ways. “Give to the World, and the World Will Give Back,” the motto read. It wasn’t a lie. My father spent two years in the Envoy and then attended college and became a marketing executive; he made enough that I never even gave a thought to joining. I grew up with the rarest of freedoms: options.

Yet with prosperity and global good will came rules. There were subjects you could not discuss with Envoy members, even if they were family. Details of their deployment were off limits; anything mission-related could be misunderstood or misinterpreted, which could then be spun into rumor and blown out of proportion. Knowledge without context was a recipe for confusion—that was the official line, anyway. But there were times when I missed my son or had too much space to think, and I couldn’t help but wonder—especially lately. I found myself doubting. That was natural—it was why Karen and I had gone to trainings on how to deal with weekend visits. In the car, driving home, I watched Nathan and worried over what he had seen, what he had done that he could never tell me. 

“I’m enjoying it,” Nathan said after dinner, and then, with a small laugh, added, “I can say that much.” We were in the living room, having drinks—beer for us, wine for Karen. 

“And do you have…” Karen started, looking to the baseball game on TV, like it might tell her how to phrase it. “I mean, you have friends?”

“Yeah,” Nathan said. “I’ve got a couple of good friends, but everyone is really great.” I was relieved, but my relief was almost immediately overwhelmed by a feeling that the line was canned, something every recruit was instructed to tell their families. I took another drink. 

“So you and them, in your spare time, have things—”

“Karen,” I said, killing the sentence. She was approaching the line.


“It’s fine,” Nathan said. He took a swig from his bottle, wiped froth off the patch of hair dotting his chin. “It’s tricky for me too, talking like this. But we’ll figure it out.”

“It’s not that long, anyway,” I said. “A year and a half left, and then mostly back to normal.”

I thought I saw something change in his eyes then, just a flash, as if he were processing the time, maybe even taken aback by it, but just as quickly as it had appeared it left, and he was ours again.

We talked a bit longer, until close to eleven, and then Nathan asked if he could borrow the car. He wanted to visit a few friends while he was in town. Karen and I had been yawning for the better part of the last hour, and though we went through the standard routine about not drinking any more if he was going to drive, and that he could cut loose with friends here if he wanted, and how happy we were just to have him home, by the time we saw the headlights back out of the drive and vanish down the street, I think both of us were a little relieved to have made it through the first night. It was strange, picking your words so carefully. Treading so lightly around your child, understanding that he now had immense importance in the world, far more than you would ever have; realizing that he now dictated your behavior.

“He looked happy,” Karen said, under the covers on her side of the bed, her eye mask on. I was brushing my teeth across the hall, but I could hear her. “Healthy too. Put on some muscle.”

“He did,” I said. I came back to the bedroom and began stepping into my pajamas, always quick out of one set of pants and into the other.

“You doing okay?” I asked. She nodded. She took off the mask and stared at me, just for a second, like there was something else, and then looked away. “Good,” I said, and leaned into her, feeling her hair on my face.

I woke quickly from a bad dream I could barely recall. The roof of my mouth felt like paper and my hands were trembling. I reached out, found Karen sleeping. She rolled away from me.

I climbed out of bed and went downstairs to have a glass of water. Karen’s anxiety came during the day; my fears came on at night, out of deep trenches, leaving me parched and panting. It would be a while before I was able to sleep again. I’d been a poor sleeper for years. The routine was always the same—wake up, get water, take a sleeping pill, then retreat to the garage to paint until the pill kicked in. In the garage I could paint without worrying about making too much noise. I usually only fit in some half-conscious brushstrokes before I went to sleep again, but sometimes, when my brush was moving on its own, it felt like I was onto something. This time I unloaded on a yellowing canvas that I’d bought years ago, one of many that had fallen into a stack of work never started that now dominated my little studio. I took a rough, old brush, one that I’d altered with a serrated knife so that it left uneven prints. I wasn’t sure what I was making yet, but the brushstrokes felt more electric, more alive, than other nights. I felt it pushing against the sleeping pill, the excitement and exhaustion twisting together. Time got lost in the mix of color. In front of me were hints of mountains and buildings, but they were all bleeding together. For whatever reason, everything I had produced in the wake of what might’ve been considered my successful period had become increasingly abstract, no longer just landscapes but collisions, in a way, between the natural and the man-made, like landscapes without enough space to breathe. I stared until my eyelids were heavy. Whatever it was that I was making, it would have to wait.

Heading back to bed, I found Nathan in the living room, the TV screen flashing him in and out of illumination. He rolled his gaze toward me. I smelled beer and gin and tightened up. 

“I didn’t hear you come in,” I said.

“Was trying to be quiet,” he said. He wasn’t slurring but dragged his words, like he was scraping them out. 

“Watching anything good?”

“Superhero shit.” He blushed, perhaps realizing how rarely he cursed in front of me. Did he think he was keeping it together, that I couldn’t tell, sneaking home drunk and trying to play it off? I knew so little of him, really. He was a part of me, but alien now. Maybe we all lose our children long before we realize they’re gone.

“What’re you doing up?” he asked.

“Couldn’t sleep,” I said.

“They’ve got pills for that.”

“I know,” I said. I could feel the drug working through my body. “I’m heading back up.”

Nathan nodded toward the garage. “You still painting?”

I looked down and saw a splotch of gray acrylic on my shirt. “Yeah,” I said. He was looking at me like I was the child, as if he were fascinated by my habits, the toys I played with in the garage at night. “Only sometimes,” I added.

“It’s good to have a hobby,” he said.

That last word landed heavy between us, and I thought I saw his eyes go hard and I wanted to vomit, because it solidified something that I had only held vague notions of before seeing him here. I could see the little anxieties I whispered to Karen at night taking shape, becoming full and real in the implication of that word coming from someone whose tenderness I needed. Hobby. Nathan chewed on the inside of his lip and redirected his attention to the television. I wondered if he would even remember this in the morning. Suddenly I wanted him gone again, and hated myself for it. 

“Well. Goodnight.” I trudged up the stairs before I could hear if he’d said the same.

Nathan had already cooked breakfast by the time I woke up. I found him and Karen sitting with a plateful of eggs and bacon, watching the last half of a soccer match happening somewhere on the other side of the world. He’d become fascinated with the sport just before joining the Envoy, and I had done my best to pick up what teams he was following, what leagues they played in, thinking that might have given me a clue about where he was deploying to, but it turned out he didn’t have a particular team or league, he just liked the game. “A good morning sport,” he’d told me, sipping coffee while he tried to explain the different styles of play, Italian defense and Spanish short passing. “It’s exciting but a little slow, wakes you up without getting you too amped.”

I made myself a plate and sat with them, still wondering at the intent of his words last night. I asked the usual questions about who was playing but our entire conversation felt broken somehow. It was like we were talking over a phone or through a computer, our words shaped by an invisible distance. It’s good to have a hobby. He had to have meant it as an insult, even if it was the alcohol talking. More than that, he had to know how I would take it. And of course he knew that neither of us would bring it up again; it would be added to the ever-growing list of things we could not talk about. The First Weekends manuals instructed us to avoid what they referred to as “dead time”—time spent rehashing old family grudges. The visit should be focused on celebrating the family being back together instead of re-litigating the past. So for now we had to let it sit, and when we were done eating, Karen and I would thank Nathan for cooking for us, and he would say that they’d taught him a thing or two about being responsible over there, but really, he would say, he just wanted to cook his folks a meal after all the cooking we’d done for him. That was probably a canned line too, but it wouldn’t matter. We would go on playing family for the rest of the day.

“Do you think he resents me?” I asked. Nathan had run out to meet an old friend for brunch—he’d grown accustomed to a second breakfast, he told us—and I was at the sink scrubbing charred egg off the bottom of the cast iron. Wherever they’d sent him, they hadn’t taught him which pans to use.

“Resents?” Karen said. She was on the couch, a book open on her lap. 

“Blames, maybe,” I said. “For him being over there.”

“Brad. Don’t do this now,” she said. Pinched between her fingers was the corner of a page she was ready to flip, but she waited. “You always put it on you. I worked too. Why isn’t it on me?”

“Because you at least helped people.” A dish slipped out of my soaped fingers and clattered but didn’t break as it landed. “Teaching is a service.”

“Wait until the weekend is over,” Karen said. “All week when I was worried, that’s what you said, right?” She turned her attention back to the novel.

“He said something last night.”

“You talked when he got home?”

“I couldn’t sleep,” I said. My hands had that puffy feeling they got after washing the dishes. Too much hot water. “I came down and painted for a while and when I went to go back to bed he was on the couch watching TV so we talked a bit, and when painting came up he said he was ‘glad I had a hobby.’”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way.”

“He was drunk. He probably meant it more than he normally would have.”

Karen dog-eared her page and shut the book. I leaned back against the counter while she walked over, let her slide her arms around me and lean in, our heads bending in to rest against each other, my nose against the top of her head, smelling her hair, the shampoo she used too much of, always she filled her entire palm with it, a habit she’d never dropped even though she was annoyed by how quickly she went through a bottle, and it all seemed impossible for a moment. That we both existed, that we could know everything about one another and still be foreign, still lie, be ashamed and hide ourselves. That in an instant we had mixed and created this other thing that also existed, that had grown and was now out in the world, separate but still tethered to us, our every move reflecting his being, our every thought tied to him, even though he would never be aware of it, at least not until he had his own children, and maybe then, when he was as old as we were now, we would be free. I hated thinking of it that way. But every parent is a hostage of their children, in a way.

“Why is it harder now that he’s here?” she whispered.

“Because he has to leave again, maybe,” I said. “Because we have to pretend it’s normal and then go through him being gone all over even though we don’t have a clue where he is or what he’s doing and we have to pretend that’s okay.”

Karen opened her mouth, I could feel her parted lips pushing against the fabric of my shirt, as if whatever she was about to say could not be uttered, like she was expecting it to fall out of her mouth on its own, and suddenly I hated her because she resented me too. She must have. Her salary had been decent but not enough on its own, but coupled with something else, something stable, it might have been enough to buy Nathan a decent education. She had seen the signs: slow sales, stagnant output, the evolution into a less commercial phase, something stubborn. She may have looked at me and seen someone too selfish to see what I already knew was there. Perhaps they both pitied me, or at least resented me for the doors my choices had shut for them. For a moment I wished they were gone, or that I was somewhere else, free to live alone with failure. Surely she’d had the thought. She must have wondered what the point was of hanging on—why not just let go?

But of course I didn’t want that. And then it didn’t matter anyway, because the door opened and Nathan entered. He made a mocking “aww” sound at seeing us holding each other, and we came apart, smiling.

After dinner I suggested a movie. It felt like a natural end to our last evening together for a while. When Nathan was younger, a weekend trip to the movies had been a sort of ritual.

“I’ve got plans with a few friends from the Envoy, actually,” Nathan said. 

“Won’t you see them when you get back?” Karen asked. We had spent the day eating lunch at Nathan’s favorite restaurant, playing a round of golf at the virtual range—he had beaten me on the last hole, better at reading the little breaks on the simulated greens than I was—and then come home for family pizza. I had felt Karen becoming more tense as the day progressed. I, somehow, had calmed down a little, as if playing father had pulled me away from what I was really feeling. Perhaps I was simply reassured by the hard reality of his presence when he was playing along with us. It was his absence, or the suggestion of it, that made him an abstraction, something unknowable that forced me to question every word, each gesture, to see if there was something hidden inside it. Even his drunkenness last night had blurred that line. But having lunch, swinging golf clubs against the matted screen and trying to top each other, the reality of the Envoy buried beneath the immediacy of our activity, that was easy to process. It made it easy to forget. 

But now he was cutting off the tail of his last night, and the specter of him becoming an idea again loomed, tall and snarling, over Karen and me. There would be the morning, sure—a quick breakfast, maybe, and the ride to the airport—but that wasn’t the same. This was supposed to be our time.

“I promised I’d catch them tonight for a beer,” Nathan said. He caught me looking and added, “I’ll take a taxi.”

“Nate, it would mean a lot to your—”

“It’s fine,” Karen said, stopping me. She addressed Nathan. “If you can’t spend time with your friends when you’re back over—”

“Mom, that’s not something we can talk about.”

“I just meant—” she started.

“Just stay a few hours longer,” I said, but the conversation I was trying to have was trapped beneath theirs. 

“We can do breakfast tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll get up early.”

“I’m saying it’s fine. No one is stopping you or telling you you need to make it up to us,” Karen said.

“But you’re making me feel like I shouldn’t be leaving.”

“I said it’s fine, it’s fucking fine,” Karen said. “Go.” That froze all of us, everything still while Karen scrolled through options on the television set, her silence daring us to speak. Nathan offered a quick look in my direction, maybe a plea for intervention, but I didn’t know what to do, so he grabbed his phone and walked out the front door.

“Let me talk to him,” I said. 

“About what.” I watched her picking at the rubber numbers on the remote control, fingernail worrying the 4 like she was trying to peel it off. “We can’t say anything. Anything we try to say about how we feel isn’t allowed so what’s the fucking point? Just let him go.”

 I hurried out and found Nathan on the curb.

He looked at me like he wasn’t sure what to do. I wasn’t either, so I sat down next to him.

“Car on the way?”

“Few minutes away, yeah,” he said. I watched his fingers work effortlessly over his phone, typing out messages to someone I didn’t know. His hands used to be clumsy; he’d never been interested in art. He had wanted to own his own grocery store; a small dream, and there was something nice about that, having a tiny place that served people. Now he was doing whatever he was doing, and I would never be at peace with what that was. 

“Your mother is just worried about you,” I said. “She doesn’t know anything. I mean, neither do I, but it’s hard. We can’t even picture where you are to give ourselves an idea of what’s happening. You have to understand that.”

“You think I don’t want to tell you things?” he said. “There are things I want to say that I can’t. It’s killing me that I can’t talk to you about some of this. And then having to sit there and pretend that things are fine because I’m not allowed to, I mean, fuck. Sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m not supposed to say that. Forget it.”

“Are things not fine?”

“I can’t, Dad. I just can’t,” he said, and something inside that seemed open suddenly closed up. He regained a sort of steeliness. “It came out wrong. That wasn’t what I meant. Just forget I said it.”

“Can I tell you something?” I said.

“That’s conditional.”

“What if you don’t answer?”

“If it crosses the line I can report it as an indiscretion. But they usually aren’t a problem from first-time parents. It’s expected.” Tires crunched farther down the road and a set of headlights came into view. “But if you want to say it, say it now, because that’s my car.”

“I just want you to know that if I could, I’d do it different.” It was work just to keep my voice calm. “I wouldn’t have tried so long with my painting. I would have done something else until we had enough money for you. That’s my fault. Not yours or your mother’s. It’s my fault. I was too selfish.”

“An emotional outburst or expression of regret is common,” Nathan said, reciting the brochure, half-smiling. He got up as the car arrived. “I won’t have to report that. See you tomorrow.”

Karen had left me a note on the kitchen table on her way to bed. I ate the last slice and went back into the garage to look at my painting. The canvas sat there, half-finished, or maybe just barely begun. I had every intention of working on it but instead just stared at it: some sort of melted mood of a world, all the lines curving and bending in the wrong places, trees going sideways, sky coming down into the grass, nothing where it was supposed to be. And yet, everything felt right. All things settled in their displacement. I was projecting, but that didn’t change anything. These always struck me as work that reflected more than it actually offered. What you brought to it was far more important than what it gave to you.

There hadn’t been a casualty in the Envoy in almost a decade—and even then, it had been a suicide, not an attack. They were called the Peace Envoy, for Christ’s sake. Maybe they did do some of the old work of war, but this was a different world. They would not put my boy into those dirtier places of history, the killing fields, the interrogation rooms. I had been suspicious too long of ulterior motives. Or maybe this was just the last line of defense that I was tearing down. I would convince myself that all was well, worry about location and abstract danger, but I would shed my deeper fears. I would follow the news and believe it when they talked about liberation work. I would look at the flag and be proud that my boy wore it on his sleeve.

When I woke this time it was not from a nightmare. Instead it was a sound that had infiltrated my dream. A clicking noise. When I sat up in bed, I could still hear it. I blinked hard to make sure I was awake. The sound was coming from downstairs. A soft snap, like someone stepping on a tree branch weak enough to break but strong enough to startle when it did. Probably just an animal that had gotten in—mice were a problem during the summer months—and was making some kind of mess.

On the stairs I thought I heard something else. There had not been a snap in some time, but now, close to where the staircase opened up and I could see through the railing, I heard heavy breath. Quick pulls of deep air, like someone who had just finished a workout. Nathan. Drunk again? But then more; between each breath, the unmistakable sound of weeping.

I looked through the railing into the living room, half expecting to find Nate drunk in the same spot he’d lectured me from last night, but the couch was empty. It was when I turned to look into the kitchen that I saw my son, sitting at the kitchen table, his back to me. I pulled back up the stairs. I was pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be watching this, but more than that, there was a primal fear that if he saw me, he would shut himself off. And if he needed to weep, he should be allowed to weep. I did not want to deprive him of that. 

There was a tumbler on the table next to him with clear liquor in it, mostly empty. And beyond the tumbler, something else, long and thin and fat at one end. Silver. A tool of some kind. When he reached for it I saw that it was a wrench, the adjustable from my tool kit. He breathed slowly, a concentrated, meditative rhythm, and raised his other hand to reveal two purple and blue fingers, broken but bloodless. His index and middle finger. And now I watched him work the wrench around his thumb, taking time to locate the correct spot before he tightened the grip. And I understood what he was doing.

There was a moment when the wrench was fitted onto his thumb that I had two paths. The first, the obvious, was to call out to him and tell him to stop. To come downstairs and physically rip it away from him and call whoever needed to be called. That was the understandable instinct to protect him. But something else was working in my head, and it told me to keep still, because this was his way out. He was doing this with precision, with absolute control. Where had he learned this brutal precision, where he could break a finger almost silently, where had he learned to use a tool this way, where had he learned to endure this kind of pain with nothing but a few hard breaths and a glass of booze, how many other people had fallen under his tools? Nathan jerked the wrench sideways and I saw it bend against his thumb but the thumb did not bend, only released a sharp snapping sound, the same noise I had heard upstairs, only louder now and somehow more invasive, if only because I knew what it signified. He let out a small, sharp breath, then refilled his glass and drained it. I watched him do this. Then he rose to his feet, his thumb already beginning to swell like the other fingers, and he took the glass to the dishwasher. He got it in using his good hand and returned to the table to slide the wrench into the back pocket of his pants. When I realized he was about to cross the path of the stairs and would see me, I took a step back to stay out of sight. One of the boards creaked below me, just a bit, and for a moment all the sound stopped and I thought he must have realized where I was, must have realized he had been caught, but of course that was probably only my imagination, because just as quickly as I had thought of it, he passed the stairs and went out the front door. I heard a car door outside open and close—someone had been waiting for him—and then a car speeding away. Then everything was quiet again.

I went to bed but did not sleep. A few hours later I heard the car outside, and listened while Nathan returned to his bedroom. When I had gone back to our room I thought of waking Karen. But what would I tell her? Whatever he was planning, I would see the final stages of it soon enough. 

Karen and Nathan were already downstairs by the time I woke up. I could hear them talking in hushed tones, something serious. There was barely any light outside. After a quick shower, I found them huddled at the kitchen table. Nathan’s hand was partially casted, three fingers stiffened in plaster. Karen was surveying his damaged limb. I asked what happened and his eyes met mine with a stare I couldn’t understand. Did he know I had been on the stairs? Or did he simply know that I would expect whatever he said to be a lie, that I would suspect things were not well and he had done this to himself? He had been, after all, indiscreet in confessing his unhappiness. Maybe we simply suspected one another of everything now.

“Got my hand jammed in a door at a buddy’s house party,” Nathan said. “Two guys started fighting and I tried to get by them and grabbed the door and one of them went into it. Broke the thumb and two others. Goddamn stupid,” he said. “Sorry, Mom. Didn’t meant to curse.”

“I’m just happy it wasn’t worse,” she said. “Clean breaks, I mean, that’s a miracle in and of itself.”

“I know,” he said. “Dumb luck. Probably beer luck. What I can tell you is it means my job is about to get a lot more boring. But that’s specifically all I can tell you.”

Karen tried to stifle a laugh of relief at that. I joined them at the table and asked if it hurt, what the doctor had told him about healing, how exactly it had happened, all questions Karen had already asked, and he gave me the same answers, joking when he had an opportunity, and then telling us the one thing he really wanted was breakfast. So we cooked for him, and ate together, and drove him to the airport.

Before we parted, he hugged us—Karen first, then me, his cast thumping my back like a club. I held him and felt him in my grip. “Stay safe, whatever they have you do. I assume I’m allowed to say that.”

“You are,” he said, and with his mouth near my ear, added, “now you don’t have to worry about me anymore.”

When he pulled back I looked at him and his face was hard and focused, and suddenly I felt a horrifying thought come on. Or maybe more than a thought—an understanding. He must have known I was on the stairs last night. He was trained—he knew I was there the entire time, had maybe even made enough noise to rouse me. Was he that forward-thinking? I looked at him and understood nothing at all about this person in front of me, this person who had seen and done things I could not imagine, who was able to snap his own bones to make a point. Surely I wasn’t misreading this. He wanted me to know. This was real—wasn’t it? This was the future I had given him and he was making me feel it. He had played it to perfection.

I was numb on the walk back to the car. I forgot to buckle my seatbelt until we were on the highway. We watched the planes flying over us. 

“You think he’ll be okay?” Karen asked. The same question as ever.

“Sure,” I said. 


“To think that he wouldn’t be is to assume that the government is lying, the news is lying, and everyone who goes is lying,” I said. It was a logic game. It calmed both of us. “Do you really think all of that could be happening? Without anyone having a clue it was going on?”

That gave her a smile, and she reached over and took my hand, squeezed it.

“You’re right,” she said. But I wasn’t. We knew nothing. 


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MJ Bramson's picture
MJ Bramson · 3 years ago

Chilling, heartbreaking and sadly timely.  Wonderfully written, David Braga. Great Illustration Keith Negley

Angela Wilson's picture
Angela Wilson · 3 years ago

Masterfully written! The dynamics between the MC and his parents feel convincingly real.


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