by Blaire Chen
Art by Catherine Hwu
Issue: Kalopsia (Spring 2017)
“When I was young,” he started– then stopped, glancing to see if anyone was listening. It was a warm little room, with pictures along the wall and a nice cherry wood floor. Right in front of him, almost within kicking distance, was Greg and Enzo, fighting over some flashy toy. In the background: Luke, Wright, Gloria, and Slater all having their young minds occupied over matters of great importance, paying absolutely no attention to the frail old man in the chair at the head of the room. Finally, there was Priscilla, sitting in the corner, staring at him wide-eyed, and hanging onto every word he said, though there was a good chance her three-year old brain couldn’t process it anyway. One out of seven. he thought. Ha. I’ll be damned: that’s a record.
He looked at Priscilla and smiled, turning to face her. As he talked, Priscilla bounced up and down to the inflection in his voice. “When I was young, there was a hill. And it went like this.” He put his arm out in front of it and tilted it into a forty-five degree angle. Priscilla mimicked him with her own pale skinny arms.
“It was behind the house…” He trailed off, glancing this way and that as if looking for the hill. Eventually, his eyes refocused on Priscilla.There was a story to tell.
“So, anyway, I could climb to the top of this hill anytime I wanted. And, from the top, I could see everything.” He waved his arms in dramatic fashion, to Priscilla’s delight.
“There were houses and lakes and trees and… afterwards, oh, afterwards we would lie down like this.” He lept down from his chair, finally capturing the attention of Greg and Enzo.
“And we would roll down the hill!” He laughed gleefully from his undignified spot upon the ground. By now, all seven of them were looking at them. Luke, Wright, Gloria, and Slater laughed and danced around, Greg and Enzo threw themselves on the ground, and Priscilla lay there clapping in hysterics.
“The grass would prick us a little as we lay down and rolled, but we would push ourselves and down we went! And the sky would be down! And up! And down again! And up again! We would roll and roll, faster and faster and faster and faster and faaaaster and faaaaaaaa–”
“Papa!” A man burst into the room, eyes rapidly scanning through the near-empty room: warm and alone, darling old Papa, turning barrel rolls on the old hardwood floor, arms akimbo, eyes squeezed tight, and mouth hollering at the top of his lungs.
The next week was a blur. The next time he opened his eyes, he heard yelling. He heard words like “hospice” and “treatment.” He heard “need” and “want” and “best.”
He found himself on a drab white bed with nothing but his memories to keep him company. His children, of course, visited; he couldn’t quite seem to get away from those seven. Wright came first, giving him visions of monotonous brick, fresh red failures, and the fists of children. He saw Luke, and thought of old cars and tiny bunks, rainy nights and endless red. Saw Greg, and saw his first envelope, green bill upon green bill: the first of many. Enzo, sharp suits and serious faces and ladders that stretched and pain. Gloria, limitless green, rest, more pain. Then… Slater. Slater… was…
Suddenly, Priscilla, little Priscilla, grabbing his withered hand in her tiny ones. “Get up, get up,” she urged, “you didn’t finish the story!”
The story. He bolted up, his eyes suddenly open. There stood the man, caressing his hand. The man’s mouth opened, inscrutable eyes blazing. No words came out; something seemed to be in the man’s throat. He was pleased; he could finish his story. He took a moment to clear the driest mouth he had ever owned; resisting, he could feel every part of him once again start to give away. He parted his lips and forced the words out.
“And on the bottom,” he whispered, as the man leaned in, closer and closer, until he was almost kissing his ear, “On the bottom, we would put out our arms and stop. We would stop and we would stand up and we would brush off our cuts and bruises, hooting and cheering. We’d be heading up again, but our mothers would come out hollering to us that we were gonna get our fool heads knocked clean if we tried that again. So we came inside.”
He gave a weak cough as his heart began to slow. Priscilla’s wide eyes, black as sin, met his, and the words started flowing out once again.
“But you know what?” he gasped out, eyes somehow left with enough energy for that conspiratorial wink that was a vital part of the story. Priscilla leaned in as well with an ironic smile, fast fading.
“You know what? While we were coming home, getting ready for dinner, washing our hands and laying our plates, we weren’t all there. No, a part of us was still on that hill, rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling and rolling….”