And in the End

I open her email. Her password hasn’t changed, it’s one of the frozen things. Time is somatic, it eats and digests, but her email sits collecting. I check her email, over and over, all day. I check it and close it, and check it again. I watch my name move further down the inbox, now 1287 as other emails pile on top. I see library notices, playgroup updates, museum calendars. An amassing of things they did together. I might come along, but she was the one on the mailing lists. She was the first contact.

I am not the only UNREAD. Many friends have sent condolences and check-ins, languid in her inbox. I get these emails too, subject lines like: “Thinking of you…” or “hey,” sometimes blank. It must be hard, coming up with a subject line. I don’t fault the attempts. Emails are humane, everything else, an affront. A text implies conversation, someone waiting for reply. Cards are vile, evil shit. I have plenty of these unopened. Right in the trash they go. I hate them. I told everyone, don’t get me a fucking card. Just don’t do it. I could have been nicer about this. I’m not the only one suffering, I’ve been gently reminded. And people have to do something, they go mad doing nothing.

Emails, I can keep checking. 1294 UNREAD. I wait for that moment when she reads it. I want to know exactly when she is clicking on the email, opening my message and reading my words. If I am sitting at my computer when it happens, watching the status change from NEW to READ, it’s almost like talking. She’s the only one I want to talk to.

She quit talking. Not immediately. Immediately she stood in the streets and screamed his name. She clutched every human she passed with a cell phone picture shoved into their line of vision. “This is my son, he’s five, he’s missing. He’s wearing a green shirt and blue shorts and orange sneakers. He has brown hair and brown eyes and a birthmark on his forearm, like this, like a heart, like an anatomical heart.” She did all the good, important work, the responsible, arduous work of talking to media and investigators. And when they found him, when they found HIM and arrested HIM and took HIM to trial, she kept talking, to authorities, to the community, to make sure we saw it all the way from beginning to end.

And it was generously fast.

When it was over, she sunk.

The usefulness of details, the evidence, the timelines, all exhausted, and a terrible certainty arose. All those people at the school, the ones who let him out of their sight. All the eviscerated specifics of trial. She wanted to talk about all of it, but mostly she wanted to die. She wanted us both dead. We sent him to kindergarten and now he’s alone. We could still find him. She asked me to do it. I said I couldn’t, and when she said “He must have been so scared,” I wouldn’t let her say it again. I couldn’t hear it, the thought circling my mind, waiting to infest. I was loud. I said shut up, just shut up.

So she did. She stopped talking. She left all her stuff, flew home to her mother, rewound to a time where she could be held and helpless, and done.

Her mother still calls me, maybe too much. It’s been a long time, nearly a year. I could tell you to the second, the last second I saw him, but I won’t. Because when I start counting, I never stop. People have to do something. I don’t want to count.

She has begun moving. Begun doing things again, like eat and sleep. Her mother tells me. I’ve been doing these things all along, even work. I go, I work, and I check her email. 1306. I wait for her to want to talk to me. Because in the end, there are two of us in this whole world. Only two, who know how this is. Two of us, witness to our son. Without her, I am none.


Spark

When you come to our place it looks like Las Vegas, all lights and screens going, electronics full-fire, ablaze. I convince my brother Frank to turn down the volume, this isn’t Best Buy, you know. No need to have that sound clanging around. The visual commotion already gives it the feel of an arcade, so that’s what I call it—the arcade. This is Frank’s gig, stealing and selling TVs and IPads, laptops and gaming systems. Everyone in the neighborhood is outfitted by Frank because he sells damn cheap. His prices are so low, some buy to resale, which is kinda unfair, as Frank does the thievery on top of the hawking, but really it’s ok. “Gotta move it, move it,” he sings to the new merchandise. He wants it in and out.

Whatever cash in hand is food on the table, Frank takes this job serious. He remembers living at Gram’s where no one gave a damn about food. Oh, people would be eating, but they wouldn’t think to go shopping, or to pick up something for the runts. He’d have to rifle through abandoned McDonald’s bags, or pluck dollars from pants pockets crumpled on the floor. I don’t remember this, but I was small. Frank says he took care I got fed, and that’s the truth.

At the arcade, I do the cooking. Frank says, whatever you need, and hands me two twenties for the groceries. I know not to get junk food, and I talk regularly to Mrs. Karis, the health teacher at my middle school, about what’s good food for growing babies. Frank just secured custody of Baby Dave and moved him into the arcade. Frank was nineteen when Mom went into Marysville, so he won custody of me sometime back, but Baby Dave was born inside, and spent his first eighteen months with Mom. When we knew he was ours, I set him up in the front room, but had to move his pack-and-play to the bedroom because of all the comings and goings. Still, he’s always painted neon by the glow of illuminated screens, lined up on every inch of wallspace, powered up and ready to MOVE!

Baby Dave’s the Space Baby, I call him. I bought him some sunglasses, it’s so bright in the arcade. Even with the blinds drawn, all day, every day. We live on the first floor of the complex and Frank won’t take the chance that a stranger might walk by and think “what the fuck is going on here…” He only sells to friends and friends of friends who come in with a chaperone, like some red velvet clubhouse. But, he’s got a lot of friends, enough to keep us afloat without seeking new business. Baby Dave sometimes teeters around in the front room with his glasses in his baby walker. Sunglasses and a diaper in his own private spaceship.

Never thought I’d live in an electronics store, and true, Frank sometimes lets us stay with Gram. That’s where Ohio social services think we sleep, our whole lot. It’s not the best arrangement over there though. Grandma entertains, while Frank just does business, won’t let the riff-raff sit around and play with the merchandise. Too many opportunities to fall into the wrong crowd, or get hurt, Frank says. Gram’s not a legal guardian, but when it’s time for services to show up, we clean her up nice, vacuum her floors and sweep out the scum. That’s Frank’s job and he’s good at it.

He takes good care of us, we have what we need. He buys clothes and minds Baby Dave while I’m in school. These are the important things we do to stay together, pretty much the opposite of Gram. Frank says, if she tells you something about life, about how to behave, you just do the opposite. So that’s our motto. Still, sometimes I wonder how we’re doing.

Like sometimes I dream Baby Dave sticks a finger in an electrical socket and skitters on the floor like a windup rabbit, primed to jump. Freakish, real slow at first, thlump, thlump, then thupthupthupthupthup. Frank has to kick him off the wall with a broom. This is just a dream, but I still get him sneakers. In real life, Baby Dave’s wearing some rubber soles.