by David Henson
Too much comfort casts shadows on the soul according to Julian, my future son-in-law, whom I met a few hours ago. He refuses the spare bedroom while he and Gloria are visiting.
‘This might do, Mr. Swanson,’ he says when I show him and my daughter the dark and dank cellar.
When I point out the live-traps, Gloria shudders and asks to check out the attic.
The loft is dry and cozy. Julian taps a box of old books with his foot and muses about whether a blind person with no hands could learn to read Braille with their toes. Then he puts his arm around my daughter and says, ‘I think it’s a little too comfortable, don’t you?’
‘Well, it’s cramped and kind of stuffy,’ Gloria says. ‘I think it’ll do.’
‘Really? OK…I have to admit it’s closer to the sun, which makes for healthful sleeping. The attic it is.’
That settled, we go back downstairs and I make lunch—burgers and fries. ‘It’s all vegan,’ I announce proudly.
Julian stops chewing.
‘I think it’s good,’ Gloria says.
Julian resumes eating. ‘Vegan products are very sunlight-oriented,’ he says. I’m tempted to tell him not to talk with his mouth full, but let it slide.
After we finish lunch, Julian excuses himself and leaves Gloria and me alone at the table. ‘Dad, don’t say a word,’ Gloria whispers. ‘I know Julian’s a little quirky, but I like that. I love that. I love Julian.’
Before I can reply, Julian returns. ‘Ready?’ he says, and holds out his hand. He and Gloria go outside and climb onto the roof. Julian says being closer to the sun helps digestion. Earlier today, not long after they got here, they each ate a banana then sat on the roof for about an hour. God knows how long they’ll be up there this time. According to Julian, being closer to the sun helps not only sleep and digestion but just about everything. I guess there could be a nugget of truth in that. I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt till he informed me he and Gloria plan to get jobs washing windows in downtown Chicago. He says that will do wonders for their overall well-being. Gloria loves Julian Gloria loves Julian I chant like a mantra.
Gloria and Julian eventually come down from the roof, and we play sun trivia, squandering my precious time with Gloria. When it’s time to turn in, I watch as the ceiling swallows them. ‘You know,’ I shout, ‘at nighttime the bedroom is closer than the attic to the sun.’
I hear shuffling overhead, and Julian’s head, a frown scrunching his face, juts upside down through the opening. Then he smiles. Or maybe he smiles then frowns. Reading an upside down face can be confusing. ‘That depends, Mr. Swanson,’ he says and disappears from view.
The next morning I’m making coffee when Julian comes into the kitchen and asks if I have any sacks. I nod toward the cabinet under the sink. He pulls out three or four grocery bags and a small lunch sack, which he holds up toward me. ‘I don’t know why they bother,’ he says, then blows up the little bag and pops it.
‘You got me,’ Gloria chuckles, putting her hand to her heart as she walks in. ‘Go finish packing,’ she says to Julian. ‘I’ll bring coffee.’
As Julian heads back to the attic, I pour two cups. ‘Let’s chat before you go, Sweetie.’ The two of us sit at the table. ‘I don’t think Julian’s right for you, Gloria.’
‘Are you sorry Mom left?’
Now there’s a scab picked. More than you can imagine, I think to myself. ‘Sometimes,’ I say to my daughter.
‘Then don’t try to control me.’ Gloria’s face hardens, then softens almost immediately. She slides her hand across the table and takes mine. ‘I’m sure about Julian,’ she says. ‘I’m sure about everything. Can you imagine the view from the highest windows of the Sears Tower? And being able to spend so much time closer to the sun? Julian agreed right away when I suggested it.’
‘What? That? You?’ My words burst like balloons before I can string together a coherent sentence. I finally manage to rasp, ‘I believe it’s called the Willis Tower now.’
Gloria pats my hand. ‘We haven’t acknowledged that yet,’ she says.
Pop pop pop.
Julian returns with the packed grocery bags, a shirt sleeve dangling from the top of one of them, and starts singing. ‘Start spreadin’ the news, Chicago, Chicago.’
Gloria begins snapping her fingers. ‘I want to be a part of it, Chicago, Chicago,’ she croons.
God help her.
After they leave, I call my ex-wife and tell her she needs to talk to Gloria. Dorene says I’ll never learn and hangs up.
I spend the rest of the day wandering the house like a ragged ghost resisting the urge to phone my daughter. When darkness sinks in, I go outside. A new moon and clear night have unveiled a dazzling sky. I climb onto the roof, sit under countless suns and hope for the best.
David Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong over the years and now reside in Peoria, Illinois. His work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions and Best of the Net and has appeared in numerous print and online journals including Fictive Dream, Pithead Chapel, Lost Balloon and Riggwelter.
His website is http://writings217.wordpress.com. His Twitter is @annalou8.