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January 29, 2016 | Fiction

Bedtime Story

Doug Ramspeck

Bedtime Story photo

Sometimes the two memories grow conflated in her thoughts, especially in her dreams. There is the boy she lost, who seems often like the sound of distant crows from the woods at first gray light, the fog that clings to the surface of the river beyond the fence, touching its ghostly lips to the slowly-moving waters. And there is the one who exists beyond her bedroom wall, who is irritable in the mornings, rubbing his eyes with the impatient backs of his hands, growing fidgety when she tries to read to him from Charlotte’s Web. This boy throws tantrums when he is denied a piece of chocolate cream pie for breakfast or is punished for pulling the dog’s tail, and he lies on his stomach and laughs at the explosions and mayhem of his cartoons. The other son is the sound of the insects speaking in tongues to the moon still adrift above the trees. Often, when she can, she walks down to the river, leaving her husband and her son to fend for themselves, and she lets the mosquitoes anoint her skin in blood, and she sits on the bank to watch the passage of the muddy water, which heads out always in the same direction. Her first son died in the sixth month of the pregnancy, though mainly what she recalls are the dark stains of blood on her pants and undergarments when she returned from the hospital—the clothes in a plastic bag—and she thinks of the grief of that time while the loam smells of primitive earth are surrounding her, and she has a distant memory of her father sometimes hunting for squirrels when she was a child, how the creatures, when they were shot, fell from the high limbs and struck the earth with an audible thump. And she remembers how, in winter, she saw the blood from those squirrels on the white snow, and how her mother would skin the animals then stew the meat with potatoes and corn kernels and tomatoes. And always, of course, she carries the memory of childhood with her back to the house and to her son, who slaps at her with his little hands if he doesn’t get what he wants, and wants now. Her dead son, though, is the slant of the sunlight through the windows, the stillness of the dust motes becalmed in the air, the breath of August wind seeping through the screen mesh. Still, as she stands cooking at the stove and seeing her son slapping a hand pointlessly against the table, she reminds herself how sometimes at night when he falls asleep in her lap, when she feels the weight of him against her, when she touches her lips to the top of his head, there is a boy smell to his body that seems to her like every son who ever was.

image: Ian Amberson


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