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September 20, 2016 | Fiction

There Is a Word for This

Ben Slotky

There Is a Word for This photo

It starts like this, the saddest story I know does. It starts with me and it starts with my son. It starts about an hour ago, just an hour ago, with my first-born son. This is how it starts and what happened was this. 

I am in a room. I am in a room with my ex-wife and we are watching my oldest son play a game. He is in a room now, a room with us, and we have been in different rooms with him before today. We have been in different rooms, different rooms with him for two years and this is the third or maybe fourth room we have been in today. He is playing a game with a doctor with gold shoes. The doctor with gold shoes looks nice. She looks like a lady I know. This lady I know looks like my mother who is dead. 

This is not part of the story and is not important, not important. There is a word for this, for this feeling. That’s important, that there’s a word. I am in a room with a wife I had and a son I have. I am in a room and this is then and what is the feeling you feel when this happens, what is this word? And maybe the way to do this is to describe what this is. Maybe that will help. 

The doctor with gold shoes takes out some toys and says, “I am going to play a game.” She says this to my son, to our son, and this is what she says. 

She says, “I am going to tell a story with these toys.” 

She says, “I am going to pick five toys,” she says, “any five toys,” and she says, “I am going to tell a story using these five toys.” The doctor with the gold shoes says this to him, not to me with my black shoes and not to my ex-wife with her brown shoes. She says this to my son with his boots, his brown boots, his brown boots that are one on and one off and untied. They are untied even though he is almost nine and he has tied them I don’t know how many times today. 

He can’t tie them tight enough, the laces, and the game doesn’t matter. There is a Superman, there is a Green Lantern, there is a Wonder Woman. There is a feather, a wrench, a car, documents, papers.  There is a card and a string and the game they play didn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter. 

I hear my son say, “Murky water.” He says, “Superman dives into the murky water.” Earlier that day, he said that low fat milk tasted blue. I completely understand what he means by this, and I know that this is why we are here, my ex-wife and I, here listening to him play with a doctor with gold shoes. 

We are here because low fat milk tastes blue. 

We are here because Superman is diving into the murky water. This is why we are here, and this is sad, I guess, but this is not why this story is sad. There is a word for why this is. Here is something that is funny. This is part of the story. One time my son was with my ex-wife. They were going to take a walk. They were in the house where we used to live, and they were going out the side door to take a walk. 

My son said, “This fucking door’s locked.” 

My son was five. 

My ex-wife said, “No!”

My son said, “This door’s fucking locked?” He said this like a question. He was trying to open the door.  

My ex-wife said no again. 

My son looked at her, not understanding. He said, “Fuck this fucking door’s locked?” 

And I can see his face even though I wasn’t there, and I can see him thinking. He is thinking, “I know there is something I should be saying. There are words for this. There is some combination of words I should be using now, something I should be doing that will make this all right, that will make this okay. I know there is,” this is what he was thinking. 

He is sad. He is sad because he thinks he is wrong and he doesn’t know how to be right.

He is sad and scared and I can see his face and I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there and I know his face was round and he was shaking, just a little, because he couldn’t find the words, the right words and I am thinking of this now, looking at him now, with one shoe on and one shoe off. I am looking at him now, and this is years ago, with Green Lantern and murky water and milk that tastes blue. I am thinking there is a word for this. There’s a word for this, for how I feel, for how we feel, and if I find that word, maybe this will all be okay.

image: Aaron Burch


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