Saturday, July 9, 2011


The father leads the way. He walks up the street of the neighborhood. Followed by his three children, he widens his eyes looking up at the setting sun. “Get there and back before dark,” he thinks to himself. His daughter is sandwiched between the older and younger brother. She moves ahead only to be overtaken by the older, only to be overtaken by the youngest. “Hey!” she cries. “Let me be first,” she demands. “I want — ” the youngest begins to exclaim as he is interrupted by the oldest who announces, “I'm the oldest. We should walk in age order: oldest to youngest.” The daughter considers her plight in silence as her shoulders lower and slump.

The father examines in a trance-like perusal a large two-story home that fills the block in the manner of a castle. He moves his gaze as if peering through binoculars from window to window of the edifice. His mind is filled with thoughts of profession and how the determined associations of the words march along on a mechanical conveyor belt. Back to him and his smallness. It is getting darker and they are not even half way there yet. He notices that all three kids have shot ahead in an effort to free themselves of the ephemeral order. It is not long before the littlest is left behind and sitting down on the sidewalk. He remains there until the father reaches him and joins him in his smallness.

Don't get up too soon. Stay for as long as possible. To stay small. Disappear.

There is shouting. The two older children remind the father of their mission. Their quest to get to the “hilly place.”

“Carry you?” the father offers with his hands tentatively orbiting the little one's compressed form. A sound is thought to be heard from inside or outside the tiny clothing. Hands and arms surround the hollow word. Up and on towards the next street where pavement dissolves into dirt road.

The father wearies of holding the small burden as it expands and sprawls eager to move again. The little one's feet make contact with the dirt and accelerate to catch up with brother and sister. As he observes his youngest son's energy, the father becomes aware of the heaviness of his breath. He has never felt emptiness take up so much space within him.

The dirt leads to another stretch of pavement that fades into the half-finished fence around the abandoned field named by the children. No more neighborhood. Its incompleteness feels welcoming for no reason. No reason. Moving to the very back of the field where the corner of the end of the fence opens to the top of an escarpment covered in rebar, nails, and a lone shredded tire. The father lights a cigar and puffs the first few exhalations of smoke that are taken by an increasing breeze. He turns his face back to where his children have been running up and down the various mounds of unused earth.

He begins to look back over the escarpment as his children's competing voices beckon, “Daddy! Watch me! Watch me!” “No! Watch me!” “No!” The father utters words put together to be compliments. Compliments echoing over fading sunlight.

His head gradually rotates back to over the escarpment and squints at rabbits sitting on the dead grass below. They sit as if frozen. They have been noticed by his dark form. He watches their frozenness with the growing realization of their possible activities that have been interrupted for the moment. The father is distracted by the activities of his children who are very much in motion and descriptive banter. Above the banter rises the daughter's voice speaking to her brothers, “I'm leaving my souvenirs here in my hiding place.” The father is this moment intrigued by those words, the words “hiding place.” She catches his brief glance as she holds up a curled piece of metal and proclaims, “Little Bo Peep.” He quickly looks back for the rabbits that have disappeared over the moments that have continued to sink away as he feels his breath in the missing light.

More of the moments drain with the light into the shadowy mounds with little silhouettes created by far off artificial beams. They are ever more muted silhouettes of grounded kites trying not to slip further into the summits of their soft mountains. The father tries to form out of his escaping breath a call to return home. A call muffled by thickening darkness.

- Max Stoltenberg

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