When He Was One

Issue 44 by Kathleen Siddell

When He Was One

Shortly after the funeral, (whether it was days or weeks, she couldn't say), Helen found a small jar containing six dead yellow jackets at the foot of Harry’s unmade bed. When she asked, Harry told her, “Bees can see faces. They can see if we are smiling or crying or really mad. They can be shy or sad, just like people. And if they do the jobs of older bees, it keeps them young. Like, their brains stay like a kid’s if they do the parents’ work. And for some people, their sting can actually be good.”

“Where did you learn all this?” Helen tried to sound nonchalant. Could she have missed months from Harry’s life? How old was Harry? Since the accident, he had either seemed years younger or years older than he was. Did he think the same about her?

“I looked it up.” Harry paused to take a breath, filling the moment between them like a bubble. He pushed his overgrown hair out of his eyes. “Some people even keep them as pets. Can I?”

“No.”

“But they aren’t dangerous.” Harry continued as if he hadn’t heard his mother’s response. “Not to me. I could get stung and it would hurt, I guess, but if I had a dog, I could get bit.”

“Well, you can’t have a dog either.” Helen walked out of his room. She turned the corner into the hallway and stopped to clutch the cool beige wall. Six months ago, the world was struck off its axis. Finding balance was impossible. She took a deep breath and went to her room to lie down.

Harry came in an hour later. “I’m sorry, Mom. I shouldn’t have asked. Bees are stupid.”

The tide of guilt washed over her. She said no but now it was Harry who was apologizing. She was sorry for retreating to her bed; sorry for not cleaning Harry’s room; sorry not getting him a haircut. Waves of sorry behavior pounded Helen’s shores. “Let’s talk about it some more another time.”

For one hundred and eighty-three nights, Helen folded herself into the dark hoping that maybe she wouldn't unfold. She marked the days since the accident on her calendar because people told her time would help. But every morning, despite buying thicker shades and longer curtains, the light outside became a betrayal waiting to be discovered.

Everyone had different reasons, but they all agreed that hiring a lawyer was a good idea. That’s how her friend Bonnie phrased it — a good idea — but it seemed like such an odd thing to say. A good idea was something that could help: an umbrella on a rainy day, a first-aid kit in the car, a glove on a baseball field. There was nothing that could help her now. “Maybe it will bring us some resolution or peace,” her husband Rich said. Helen was sure nothing would. Her mother was the only one who suggested she let it go. “You’ve become so American, Hels. A lawyer? Really? You don’t need a lawyer. You need a change of scenery. You need a fresh start. You need to come home. Bring your family home.”

Nowhere would ever really feel like home again. But maybe moving across the vast expanse of ocean would help. Maybe, from the top floor of a London flat, she could see the curve of the earth and it would appear whole again. Maybe in London, she could love Harry the way a mother should. It wouldn’t be the first time moving helped save her. Helen stared at the phone and the lawyer's business card lying beside it.

#

When the doctor first handed Helen baby Jack, it was as if the slippery, screaming body jolted her into a new reality. Even though she spent nine months reading, fussing, and nesting, nothing prepared her for the moment his velvety fingers clung to hers. The world was brighter, softer and full of surprises. There was part of her now lying in her arms, mirroring her own exhaustion. She laughed at her attempt to have even tried to imagine the moment.

Helen puttered around the house in those first few weeks with Jack nestled at her chest. She loved the way long days bled into long nights allowing her to spend every moment with her baby. She told Rich it was as if they needed just a bit more time to become two separate people.

“Sounds a little weird when you say it like that. But OK.” Rich kissed both Jack and Helen on the head. “But I’m here to help.”

She hoped she wasn’t pushing Rich away because he hadn’t acknowledged what Helen had felt: amid all this joy, there was the scar of a womb that had carried both life and death before Jack. She knew this was unfair, of course. She had only mentioned it once, years ago. “I was so young and scared,” she whispered. Rich pulled her closer knowing it best to let some secrets escape quietly into the night. How could she expect him to bring it up now?

Helen promised to love Jack with the fierceness of a mother who has known loss. It’s why she let Jack sleep on her chest even though she knew it was better if he slept in his crib. She wished to always know the heaviness of pure love rising and falling on her heart. She loved smelling the top of his head and studying the curve of his pouty lips. She’d hear the whispers — it goes by so fast — breathe a cold chill into the air and hold her boy tighter and longer. With her he wouldn’t die of SIDS, choke on vomit, or suffocate in the bedding. As long as she was with him, she could keep Jack safe. And Jack, without hesitation or judgement, coiled his fingers around her.

As he grew, it was a little easier to bring Rich into their world. Jack had a soft ball he chased and threw and batted around with everything from a magic wand to a plush snake to his own arms. It was one of his first words — ball. He and Rich would spend hours playing ball.

Or maybe time had blurred the edges of reality. How much time had Rich spent with Jack? How much time had she spent with Jack? With Rich? How much time had she wasted worrying about the germs on the rug, the sharp edges of the coffee table, her marriage? All that time, vanished like a magic trick gone awry.

“Can I ask you something?” Helen knew this question annoyed Rich but it was her way of asking for his full attention. Rich sat on the threadbare couch with Jack sitting at his feet in a Jeter jersey. Several balls were scattered around. Without looking away from the Yankee game, Rich said, “After this inning. We only need one more out.” Jack echoed, “out” without turning away from the TV.

A commercial for nutritional supplements flashed on the screen. Rich looked at Helen. “What’s up?”

“Do you think,” she bit her lip, “I mean, with the way he sits there so transfixed, do you think there could be something wrong?” Jack toddled back and forth across the floor kicking his ball.

“Uh, what?” Rich had a half smile.

“I know you say I worry too much but he is obsessed with baseball. He’ll play with that ball for hours. How many two-year-old children do you know who will sit and watch baseball for even one inning?” Helen tried to make her case quickly before the end of the commercials. “I don’t know if this is normal. And if he’s autistic or something, we should start looking for the signs now. One of them is a singular fixation on one thing.”

“Autistic?” Rich gave her a dismissive grin. “Babe, I love you but you waste too much time worrying.” Rich moved on to the floor with Jack to face him. “Hey buddy, you want to play cars?” Rich pointed to the bin that held dozens of Matchbox cars. “Cars!” Jack repeated.

Looking at Helen, Rich said, “See, perfectly normal. He’s not ‘singularly fixated.’ He’s a boy who loves America’s greatest game. As a foreigner, I can see why you don’t understand, but trust me. He’s fine.” He stood and gave Helen a long hug. As he pulled away, he took her face in his hands and smiled, “Please, please, stay off the internet.”

Rich sat back down on the couch. “Who’s up, Jacky?”

When he was three, Jack’s favorite toy was a T-Ball Set. The oversized blue bat was already fading from the summer sun and the tee always required adjusting. Helen was fiddling with it when Rich pulled in. Jack was wearing the new T-shirt they’d just bought. “I think Daddy will be surprised when he sees your shirt,” Helen had said to Jack pulling it over his long, blond hair. “I hope he’s a happy surprised.”

On the front lawn, Jack shielded his eyes from the late afternoon sun. “How was your day, buddy?” He was asking Jack but looking at Helen whose shaky hands couldn’t adjust the tee. “Need a hand?” Rich asked.

“If I had fingernails, this would be so much easier.” Helen stood up and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “Let’s go cool off inside.”

They were halfway up the stairs before Rich noticed the fat, red letters on Jack’s T-shirt: BIG BROTHER. He stopped and gave Helen a confused look, then rushed to the top of the stairs.

“Show me that shirt!” Jack, sensing the energy in the air, puffed out his three-year-old chest.

“Really?” Rich turned to Helen and repeated, “really?” Helen nodded. Rich scooped up Jack with one arm and wrapped the other around Helen and kissed them both.

Rich was beaming. Helen exhaled all the worry that had been storming inside her since she saw those two pink lines: Could they afford it? Was it too soon? Is this really what Rich wanted? What she wanted? Could she love another baby as much as Jack? “A family of four,” she said trying not to look for the worries she’d just unleashed in the air. She kept getting more than she deserved.

#

The long days had been cool and rainy but by late September, summer returned. “I’ll never get used to this New England weather,” Bonnie said as she dabbed her forehead with a paper towel. “At least in Seattle, you know to expect shades of grey. That's the reason I have such a sunny disposition.”

Helen had been grateful for the gloomy summer as it meant she was slightly more comfortable in her last trimester. “It's a girl, Hels. She's blessing you with an easy pregnancy.”

“A girl would be fun but I'm well equipped for another boy.” She watched Jack play with Bonnie's kids from the back deck. “But I don't really care either way, as long as it's healthy.”

Bonnie rolled her eyes. “Oh please, you know you don't need to be polite in front of me.”

“I mean it.” Helen stood up next to the deck railing and watched Jack swing a small stick like a bat. “Be careful, Jack,” she called. She felt Bonnie eyeing her, with a leave-him-be look so she turned back to face Bonnie. “You’re right though, girl dresses are so pretty.”

Bonnie was loud, friendly and not afraid to share her opinions. “Obnoxious” was the adjective Rich had first used to describe her but even Rich had to admit, there was something endearing about Bonnie that eventually won people over. Helen's quiet people-pleasing tendencies complemented Bonnie's brash charm.

Bonnie had gone inside to shift from coffee to Diet Cokes. Helen thought about girl names. She and Rich hadn't decided on any. “What do you think about Margot?” Helen raised her voice in the direction of the screen door.

“Sounds like a name you’d love. Why not something less pretentious, like Maggie?”

Helen waited for Bonnie to return to the deck. She looked Bonnie straight in the eye, “My mom’s name is Margot.”

Bonnie was silent (and Bonnie was rarely silent). She tried reading Helen’s face. “Well, maybe not pretentious…”

“Ha! Gotcha! Her name is Caroline. I thought you knew that.”

But Bonnie was now looking beyond Helen. “Drew? What's the matter?” Bonnie moved to put her Diet Coke down but missed the table. Helen felt cool, sticky drops on her ankles. Bonnie was halfway down the steps before Helen turned around to look for Jack. She saw the back of his head, and Drew facing him, pale and frightened. The yellow bat lay in the grass between them.

“Drew?!” Bonnie’s voiced matched the boy's expression. “Did someone get hit with the bat?”

“Jack?” Helen called to her son as Bonnie bounded across the thick grass. Jack turned to his mother. His face was bright red and he started to cry. He started wheezing when Bonnie reached him.

“Does he have allergies?” Bonnie called into the air, knowing Helen was right behind her. Helen opened her mouth but could not speak. Her arms were heavy; her feet wouldn’t move.

“What? No. I mean, not that I know of. Maybe.”

By the time they reached the hospital, Jack was swollen and gasping. The doctor took him in immediately. Jack had an allergic reaction to a bee sting. Any subsequent stings would likely be worse. The doctor patiently answered all Helen’s questions and sent her home with EpiPens and literature to share with Rich.

That night, however, instead of going over all the instructions from the ER doctor, she listened to her own doctor say, “One more push.”

Harrington John Millany was born on the night of his brother’s first bee sting.

With her new baby in her arms, Helen dreamt of Jack, alone, in a room full of bees. As they swarmed him, he turned to stone. A faceless infant, trying to break free from a swaddle, lay behind him. She woke up to the sounds of screaming. It was Harry, hungry again. The nurse suggested she move him to the bassinet, but Helen couldn’t let go of the helpless creature she was made to protect. She needed to keep him tucked close to her, her body a soft cushion.

The smell of hospital brought her back, a lifetime ago, to the waiting room of Planned Parenthood. A mother sat across from her with a baby in her arms. She had no idea how old the baby might have been but thought the cruelty of seeing a real, breathing, fussy baby in front of her, was poetic justice. She thought about each of the decisions that had led her to the cold, plastic chair: the drink she ordered that caused Missy’s cute friend to talk to her, that led to a kiss, that led to lazy breakfasts, that led to lazy use of condoms. Unwanted conception requires the perfect confluence of events, a delicate dance of science and fate. A series of insignificant choices had become significant.

Helen looked at the baby now in her arms and thought about the bee, flying from flower to flower, motivated by a singular goal. Whatever comes in the way of reaching pollen, the bee adjusts and adapts. A bee controls only how it reacts to its surroundings.

The constant worry of motherhood buzzed around her. She was stung with the realization that there is too much danger in the world for any mother to control. She vowed to spend more energy thinking about how to react to what is instead of trying to control what could be. She kissed Harry, moved him to the bassinet and slept.

#

Harry rode his bike in lonely circles in the driveway. Helen watched him from Jack’s bedroom window trying to will herself to get up. She had failed her first born and now failing her second. A dull ache settled into her joints and pulsed through her limbs, a reminder she was not dreaming. She was lost somewhere between asleep and awake.

Her mother texted her. How are you doing? Thinking of you. Call me.

How long had Harry been biking? Six minutes? Sixty minutes? Time had become a nebulous measure. Minutes seeped through her days like water through cupped fingers. Harry had grown that winter and his bike was too small for him. She told him he could try Jack’s but Harry did not. Was it because he didn't want to, or because her suggestion didn't sound authentic? He shrugged in the same non-committal way he had the few times she offered to play catch with him. Had he picked up his glove at all since the accident? Had he somehow sensed the darkness inside she couldn’t bear to admit, even to herself — a black tar of grief oozed over her insides, clogging her ability to love her sons equally.

Helen held the phone not knowing how to respond to her mother. She’d been so disappointed when Helen moved to New York after graduation. She’d been begging her to return for years, hoping that every milestone would bring Helen home: when she got engaged; after she got married; after Jack was born; after Harry was born.

Was the death of a child a milestone?

Helen liked the idea of not being reminded with every step, where Jack had once stepped. She thought being physically removed from all the memories might help soften the pain. Harry could be free from having to choose to ride his dead brother’s bike or the one he’d outgrown. No one in London cared about baseball. They could become Chelsea supporters.

Then again, maybe the world wouldn’t feel gentler in London. Maybe being removed from all her memories would be worse. Maybe it would make the pain more acute. Was it distance or time that helped her finally forgive herself for failing her one unborn child?

She knew she would carry Jack forever, no matter where she was, New York, London, in this world or the next. She also knew Rich wanted to stay. He tried to be supportive, suggesting he’d consider moving if Helen really felt strongly, but for one hundred and eighty-four days he woke up before dawn and watched the sun rise from the cemetery. Helen joined him a few times. Sometimes she left angry. Sometimes she left sad. Sometimes she left hollowed out.

Only female bees sting, Harry had taught her. When they feel threatened, it is the females who sting to protect all they hold dear. This fact felt both heavy and light.

#

“Helen, wake up.” Rich stood above her. “You need to come help with dinner. Harry’s worried.”

“I thought I set the alarm on my phone. I was only going to sleep for twenty minutes.” Two hours had passed since she picked Harry up from the bus stop.

“I’ll get dinner started but he needs you.” Helen wanted to say she was sorry, but she knew the frequency with which she said it rendered it meaningless. Instead, she sighed. Before turning to walk away, Rich looked her in the eye. “You’re still his mother.” She wanted to shout, “I don’t deserve to be. He’s better off without me.” Instead, she apologized again. For someone who felt empty, Helen was amazed at how heavy she felt every time she tried to get out of bed.

She felt like she was living in the third person. As soon as she stepped into room 405 at Mercy Hospital, she became trapped in someone else’s story. Doctors, nurses and machines narrating a terrible story, beep, gone, beep, sorry, beep, tried, beep. She tried closing her eyes to get out. Then silence. The world stood still but the story kept going.

Out in the kitchen, among the living, the Yankee’s were playing the Mets. Harry was at the table with an open textbook and empty notebook. “Are you doing homework or watching the game?” She kissed the top of Harry’s head. He turned to look at her before responding. Seeing her smile he said both. “Let me know if you want some help. I’m pretty good at science,” she said.

She moved to the stove where Rich stirred a pot of pasta. “Thank you,” she said with her hand on his shoulder. “I can take it from here.” Rich turned to her, searching her expression, “You sure? I don’t mind.” Helen held out her hand and motioned for the spoon.

In moments like this, Helen felt almost normal again. If she could peek inside the houses all around her, she would find a similar scene: TV, homework, soft lighting, the smell of pasta sauce, banter about the day, smiles. In moments like this, she thought maybe they would be OK. Maybe the black tar would thin and flush through her, leaving a warm space Harry could fill. Maybe she could finish the book.

People told her a lawyer would hold someone accountable. If she could hold someone accountable, she could work through her anger and sorrow and grief. With someone to blame, they said, she could make sense of the story. It would have a tidy beginning, middle and end. A victim and a villain.

But she did hold someone accountable. She’d been holding her breath for fourteen years, waiting for the universe to right the wrong she committed. You can’t extinguish a life and expect to be blessed with two more.

Harry had told her that only honeybees die after stinging someone. Had Jack died from a bee sting, the bee would become the villain and a victim. The end. But this story didn’t have an end. Jack's life had ended but his family lives, the sun still rises, bees keep flying, baseball players play on.

Helen is the victim and villain.

#

When Jack was fourteen, he played baseball for the St. John wildcats. He was a shortstop and was one of two freshman who got to suit up for varsity games.

The Wildcats had had a good season. It was early June and with a mouthful of cereal Jack told his mother he would not need a ride home after practice. One of the juniors on the team would drive him home. Helen did not like when other kids drove, but Jack had convinced her that if it's just from school to home, it would be OK.

“You will come straight home. No stopping anywhere, you understand?” “Yes.”

Helen raised her eyebrows looking for confirmation. “Ma, jeez. I said yes. Billy has to have the car home by 4:30 or something anyway.”

Harry, who was spilling his cereal all over the table, smiled. “We can have a catch then, when you get home?”

“Sure.”

Harry smiled wider.

OK then,” Helen said.

OK then.” Were these really the last words she had said to her older son? Her therapist suggested she write down the events of the day exactly as she remembered. Helen said that would be easy; she had been replaying the day over and over in her head for one hundred and eighty-four days. But now, staring at the blank page, she was no longer sure.

When she gave Jack a hug at the door, did he pull away? Didn’t she say, “I love you?” Or did she just wave? Did he have his backpack on when they hugged? She remembers standing at the door, watching him walk away. But did she?

Every detail was starting to blur. Her mind was no longer sharp. Jack’s last day was a magnet and all her life’s decisions and choices were pulled to this center. Minutes, weeks and years piled together by magnetic force. It was the day she wanted to remember exactly but also a day she wished she could forget.

After she may or may not have said “I love you” to Jack, she loaded the dishwasher with the morning cereal bowls. Harry had moved to the couch in front of the TV. She shut the TV off and told him to brush his teeth. She knows this is accurate because this was the sequence of events every morning. She pulled Harry’s lunch out of the refrigerator and packed his backpack. She called to Harry to stop playing and put his shoes on.

She and Harry walked to the bus stop. Bonnie was already there. They talked about dinner on Saturday night. They were supposed to go weeks ago but Bonnie’s sitter had cancelled.

Back at home, Helen cleaned the bathrooms before sitting down at her computer to work. Jack left his dirty clothes on the bathroom floor. She threw them on top of his bed, opened his window and vowed he would not be able to leave the house again until he cleaned his room.

She had a proposal to write but found it difficult to concentrate. She tried a cup of tea. She called to confirm the bowling alley for Harry’s upcoming birthday party. She rescheduled a dental cleaning. She ignored the three calls from Bonnie but still had only managed a couple of paragraphs.

By the time the clock ticked to 3 p.m., she gave up and headed to the bus stop.

“Where have you been all day?” Bonnie took offense to dodged calls.

“Sorry. I was working.” She could tell Bonnie didn’t believe the flimsy excuse.

“Bollocks,” as you Brits say. “You always pick up when you’re ‘working.’”

“Sorry. I just didn’t feel like talking.” It was always best to be honest with Bonnie. She had a way of getting to the truth.

“Just to me or anyone?” Before Helen could respond Bonnie continued, “Are you OK?”

“Yeah, I think. I don’t know. I’ve just felt kind of off all day.”

“Mercury’s in retrograde. Wanna come over and not talk?”

Helen knew better than to ask Bonnie what Mercury in retrograde meant but made a mental note to ask her again when she did feel like talking. Bonnie filled the minutes before the bus came with an unnecessarily dramatic story about her morning trip to the vet.

Harry was chatty after school. She made him a snack before he hopped on his bike in search of neighborhood kids. Helen knew, on that day, she loved her boys equally.

The phone rang at 4:28. She remembers the exact time because she had just checked the clock thinking Jack was late. But he wasn't.

Up until 4:28, it seemed as if her day moved in slow motion. Picking up the phone, was like hitting fast forward.

There had been an accident. On the baseball field. Fell to the ground. Immediately. A bee. A bee! Did you get his EpiPen? Where was his EpiPen?

Not a bee. A ball.

Give him the medicine.

A ball. Not a bee. No medicine.

He’ll be all right when he gets the medicine.

Ambulance. Hospital. Go now.

It didn't make sense. Where was Harry? She grabbed her keys, ran out the front door. She heard her own voice. “Bonnie!”

Find Harry. Call Rich. I have to go.

#

Rich pressed Helen for an answer about hiring the lawyer. Helen avoided facing him by filling the kettle with water, hiding in the pantry to get a tea bag. Rich needed to know how it happened exactly. He wanted to have details. He wanted to see each moment spliced and freeze-framed. He thought maybe it would help him understand it was just an accident. He wanted to know that there was no way he could have done anything different to change the result. He wanted to know we’re all just helpless shells getting tossed in the surf.

Helen could hear the words coming out of Rich’s mouth, but she didn’t let them in. She imagined the words ricocheting off her head. She let him talk but only pretended to listen. She knew this wasn’t helping to bring them closer, but she worried if she got too close, she’d shatter. The distance she was letting grow between them was her shield.

When Rich was done explaining, she said, “OK.” She knew he wanted more but how could she explain it? A lawyer won’t find me guilty. She tried again. “I just don’t know if I can bear to hear the details. I don’t want to know exactly what happened because it can’t change anything.” She stared into her teacup. “I’m afraid knowing every last detail...I’d crush under the weight of it all.”

All Helen could see were the moments and choices that could’ve made a difference. What if the batter had taken another practice swing? What if Jack had moved a half inch to the left or right, a half step forward or back? Tiny flinches, an extra breath, a half second. Maybe if the sun hadn’t been so bright, if his shoe had come untied, if he stopped to adjust his hat, maybe Jack would still be here. Maybe if she had turned off the Yankees games, if she put a golf club in his hand, if she’d gone to pick him up...How could a little boy be positioned in the exact wrong place when a hard-line drive was hit?

How could a teenager be responsible for deciding to let a baby live or let herself continue to grow?

A lawyer couldn’t change the outcome; a lawyer might only highlight each of these foregone decisions.

“Don’t you want to know how no one yelled for Jack to move or duck or get out of the way? Don’t you want the coach to have to explain why Jack wasn’t wearing a helmet?” Rich waited for Helen to respond. When she started tearing up, he continued, “Someone is responsible. He was just a boy playing the game he loved. He did not hit a ball into his head. I need someone to take responsibility.”

“It won’t bring him back. What good would it do? We liked Coach Mike.”

#

In between bites of his apple, Harry told Helen a story about how his teacher gave them a lesson on persuasive writing. They were at the kitchen table, raindrops tearing down the window. Harry listed good elements of a persuasive argument: a strong opinion, facts to support the opinion and a recognition of the counterargument.

“I can give you an example,” he said. “Suppose a boy wanted a pet.”

Helen smiled so Harry continued. “A strong opinion would be something like, ‘I really think a pet would be in my best interest. It would teach me responsibility and keep me busy.’” He stopped to gauge Helen’s reaction. She tried to seem open. “Did you know eighty percent of kids in America have some kind of pet? Most people have cats or dogs, but there are hundreds of other animals that you can keep as pets.” Harry continued to sell Helen on the benefits of having a pet in general before moving to bees specifically. He explained how bees help the environment and don’t even need to be kept in the house. Helen continued to listen politely. “Someday I might even be able to get the honey.” He pointed to Helen’s mug. “For your tea.”

“This is a great pitch Harry,” she finally said, “but — She stopped to see his reaction. He could not hide his disappointment. “Bees don’t like the cold, do they?” She tried to appeal to Harry’s logic. “What will you do in winter?”

Harry had an answer for everything. He’d keep them in the shed. He’d start out with just a few. He’d work with someone more experienced. He would find someone who was willing before he started.

“I’m sorry, honey,” Helen said, “I just don’t think we’re ready for such an unusual pet. Why does it have to be bees?”

Harry kept his head down.

Helen moved closer. “I want to feel close to Jack too. But sweetie, he was allergic to bees. I don’t know that keeping bees will help us feel better.”

“Bees can travel up to seven miles from their homes. They can cover up to one hundred thousand acres and still, they always find their way back to the hive. Scientists say that they use the angle of sun and maps in their brains to track where they have been. I don’t really understand how the sun thing works because if they leave in the morning and don’t come back for hours, the sun would look different.” He stopped to consider his point. “But maybe they can also figure out how much time they’ve been gone. I have to learn more about this.” Harry looked at Helen to see if she was still listening.

Helen stood still, unsure what to say.

“Mom, did you wish you could’ve stayed with Jack on the night I was born? Do you wish I came on a different night?”

The boys used to love hearing the story of the day Harry was born. When they talked about it, there was an air of excitement, knowing there was an inevitable happy ending. Harry’s now-question colored the story in a grey fog.

“Maybe we could go visit grandma for a few weeks and ask her what she thinks about keeping bees as pets.”

“You didn’t answer my question.”

She looked Harry in the eyes. Harry, her son who was now growing taller every day, who was curious, sweet and sensitive. Harry, her son who was alive.

“No, baby. I think that day happened exactly as it was supposed to. You gave us all the love and light we needed to show us the way forward.”

About the Author

Kathleen Siddell

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Kathleen Siddell is a writer living in Southern California.