… and I land in a living room. It feels familiar, but… somehow I don’t even recognize it, except for that feeling. I can hear my dad in the next room, on the phone, talking quietly. He doesn’t sound the way I remember him. He sounds… much younger.
Something clicks in my brain. I only ever saw him cry a few times. When Mum’s mum passed on, and… when his dad did. It has to be that—I remember where we lived when we lost grandma. Here, this place is… I shake my head, fuzziness filling it. Wasn’t I here, just… not even an hour ago? (Whatever that means?) I should recognize it, now. And yet…
He’s talking, still, but it sounds like the conversation is coming to a close. Who called? Were my Great Aunties still in Malawi then? I… there’s so much I don’t know about this moment, such an important one and I know almost nothing about it. I didn’t even know the call came until night. I don’t remember if he flew back—did we have the money, living in a little place like this? He must have…
I walk carefully, hoping Mum’s at work, hoping my sisters and I are asleep, and I walk—without knowing for sure it’s where I’m going until I arrive—until I reach the bedroom I share with them. I see myself, in the upper bunk of the bed, and feel dizzy at the sight of him. Of me, I mean.
I think I hear something, and go to the door, listening. I did hear something. Sobbing. I want to go out there, so badly; say something that’ll make Dad pause, not just throw out this middle-aged stranger who’s intruded somehow into his house on one of the hardest nights of his life. But when I even think of going out there, I feel dizzy and my muscles fail me. I can’t breathe, and I know I can’t.
What if he comes in here? Wouldn’t he? Come look at his kids, when he lost his own parent? The thought makes me shiver, not in panic, just instinctively. I look around for something to write in, and… there, a notebook beside me in bed. I carefully pick it up, and the wooden pencil tucked into it—man, how long has it been since I touched one of these—and open the notebook. Inside, I write, as clearly as I can:
Dad lost his dad. Hug him really hard.
I’m about to try explain what I mean—the boy in the bed might be a reader, might be bright, but he won’t really understand all this at the time. I didn’t. But before the pencil touches paper, there’s a sound behind me, and I recognize it, too—the door swinging open—and I’m wrenched from the moment.
The dizziness is gone, now that I’m not in that moment anymore, but I resist the force that is trying to propel me away from this instant. I see the notebook drop, the pencil bounce softly on the shag carpet. I manage it, too, for a moment—just long enough see my father as a younger man, just the back of his head, that bald spot just starting to show, his hair still brown. Does he have a red beard now? He must, like he did in pictures from this time, but I see only the back of his head as he bends down to pick up the notebook. He looks in it, seems to read the line, and then looks up in surprise. He glances around the room, and just as he’s turning toward where I’m watching from, in this strange not-place outside spacetime, the force overwhelms me, and I’m hurled off in another direction, tears in my eyes, swallowing hard.
I miss you, I say, my voice echoing a little through the silent not-space. I don’t even bother to try watch the years flicker past now. I just look back toward where I lost him again, a second time.