by Scott Koenig
It’s so bright even though the blinds are closed. Streaks of white light gash the wall. The wall Dad painted blue last month. Your favorite color is red but you like blue, too. There’s the humming of lawnmowers in the distance. Open those blinds.
Out there it’s green everywhere. Up above, it’s blue. There’s a white car in your driveway, too. Not our car, you think. Whose car is that. Green grass down here, around the strange little white car, and blue sky up there. The colors are so pure it kind of hurts. It’s nice, though. Do your eyes hurt? You could open the window to smell the grass but Dad got mad last time. Up on the hill where green turns into blue are big brown houses. If you squint they look like blobs of oatmeal raisin cookie dough when Mom lines them up on a baking sheet. And between the houses are thin lanes of grass where the older kids go sledding on snow days. The older kids with the colorful backpacks and the best Pokemon cards. Andy said one of the Meyer boys had three holographic Charizards. There’s no way. You aren’t allowed to go sledding on the hill yet. You just got allowed to ride your bike up to the black mailbox. The green mailbox after that is too high, too far up the hill, too dangerous, Mom always says. You know you can do it but you aren’t allowed. But soon you’ll be allowed to go all the way up – to the top of the hill. Then back down super fast into the coldy sack. Like how the older kids do.
The man across the street is bent over by a bush, the man whose house is white and black and pointy and looks like a castle. He’s bent over by a bush using those big shiny scissors. The scary ones. The kind Dad uses a lot. Is Dad outside? Look down into your part of the green. Dad isn’t in your part of the green yet. Maybe later. There’s still the humming. Humming is an outside activity, Mom always says. Sometimes she hums but she does it quieter than you. And mostly outside. Her humming is nicer than lawnmower humming. Especially because when there’s a bunch of different lawnmowers all at once it sounds like buzzing. Like bugs, kind of.
Dad isn’t in the green but his flowers are. Why does he care so much about the flowers, you think. They’re pretty and they smell good but they don’t seem to care about him. There’s still that little white car in your driveway. Not our car, you think. Our car is big and gray. That’s not our car.
You’ve got so much energy. Get out of bed.
There’s Claire’s drawing on the wall. She drew it for you. She draws a lot now. She doesn’t do much else. She can’t do much else, bless her heart, Mom always says. On account of how she feels sick and weak all the time. She’s really good at drawing, though. You’ve tried and tried and you can’t draw like she draws. You like walking up to her at the kitchen table while she draws. You like to sneak a look at her paper and all the colorful crayons and markers she puts out on the table in neat little rows. She kind of hogs the best colors but it’s okay. You’re just happy because you don’t even have to go on your tippy toes to see over the table now. You like sneaking a look while she draws but you don’t even have to be sneaky because she likes showing you. Usually she draws her favorite things, like Minnie Mouse and Bananas in Pajamas. But it changes. In the one hanging on your wall, the one you’re looking at, she drew you in a red shirt next to Thomas the Tank Engine. You’re not that tall, you think. But maybe you will be. Maybe Claire knows you will be.
There’s your door, a few steps in front of you. Big and dark brown with light brown scratches all over. One time when you didn’t win Connect Four you slammed the door closed and it made a big WHACK and the clock radio Grandma got you for Christmas fell off the dresser and the antenna broke and Dad got really mad but that kind of mad when his face doesn’t look mad but instead he just moves and talks like he’s mad. He wants you to keep the door open now. Don’t shut it. Just keep the door open. You can close it when you sleep though. Not all the way closed but almost.
Go out into the hallway. The hallway is so long and thin and it stretches out forever. Mom probably made breakfast. You don’t smell anything, though. Will Claire eat her breakfast today? Last time she didn’t. Last time it was cinnamon rolls with the gooey white glaze and they smelled really good but Claire didn’t have any. She was drawing and really focused but she looked kind of tired. She didn’t want to eat. Her face was all puffy. From the keemo, Mom always says. Look down through the handrail and into the kitchen.
There’s nobody there, in the kitchen. Nobody in the kitchen and nobody in the living room either. Usually they’re there in the morning. Mom will make cinnamon rolls or french toast on special days, maybe just eggs and toast on regular days. There have been a lot of special days lately though. On the special days—Andy is faster and stronger than you and on the special days he always gets to the kitchen first and takes more cinnamon rolls than he’s supposed to. Mom gets mad at him and then makes more for you and Claire. One time he smelled the cinnamon rolls and ran into the kitchen so fast he knocked over the metal cage thing Claire leans on to walk sometimes. It was in the corner and Claire wasn’t using it. Mom was mad but not that mad. She just told Andy to pick it up and to be more careful and then looked at the stove and went back to singing her songs, like Carole King or The Sound of Music or something.
Maybe they’re all still asleep. You should go to Mom and Dad’s room to wake them up. Their door is all the way at the end of the hall. It’s like a castle, kind of. Maybe not like a castle but like the final boss room in a Zelda temple, big and special but all tucked away. A door that’s always there. You always see it but you can’t always go inside. You know it’s an important room just by where it is. By what surrounds it.
Pass the bathroom on your right. Then the closet. The closet is where all the extra blankets and pillows and lightbulbs are. Sometimes you’re a helper and you go get lightbulbs. No, not that one, Dad always says. The bigger one, the one that’s clear, not white, and with all the little bumps on it. Yes, there it is. Good job. No, now, don’t throw it. Hand it. Just hand it. There. Thanks, little helper, he always says.
A little closer now and you can see Mom and Dad’s door is open just a little bit. And you hear something. Some movement. Some voices.
Turn right. Into Claire’s room. Hey there. Well good morning everybody. You don’t say that though, you just think it, because everyone is very quiet. Mom and Dad and Claire are all here. The gang’s all here, Mom always says. There’s a new person in the gang this time. It’s a lady, like a skinny older lady and she’s leaning over the bed. Claire is in the bed, sleeping. The older lady is touching Claire a little bit, like around her face and neck it looks like. There’s that humming still. From the lawnmowers. Why do people cut their grass so much. Why do people care about grass and flowers so much when all they do is just grow and grow and do whatever they want and don’t care back. Claire’s room has the best view of the coldy sack. You asked Mom to switch rooms with Claire but she said no. She has the best view of the coldy sack but the blinds are closed right now. They’re yellow, the blinds. The room looks yellow, too, but it might be because of the blinds, not the paint. What color is Claire’s room painted? Whatever it is, it’s not blue like yours. There’s so much sunlight behind the blinds it looks like they’re going to burst open like a broken dam. Whenever you say dam Andy raises his eyebrows and goes awww but you say it’s the beaver dam and not the bad dam.
There’s Andy. He’s here watching, too. Maybe he got here earlier. Maybe he was here for the explanation. Maybe he understands more than you. He usually understands more than you. His mouth is open. That must be the face someone makes when they understand.
Mom is crying. You didn’t see before but she is crying. One time you and Andy were sitting at the kitchen table playing Connect Four and she was there making mac and cheese and she burned her hand by accident on the stove and she didn’t even cry she just said the bad dam and bit her lip and made the fast hissing breathing-in noise. If she’s crying this time it must hurt really bad. Dad isn’t crying, though. He looks serious. He looks like he looks when he works in the garden.
Move a little bit closer to Claire’s bed. Go ahead. The older lady is leaning over the bed and she’s touching Claire’s face. She’s opening Claire’s eye and shining a little flashlight at it and looking really close at it. She’s gonna wake her up. She’s gonna wake her up if she doesn’t stop. If she isn’t careful. The eye isn’t moving, it’s just looking up at the ceiling. She’s gonna wake her up.
Scott Koenig is a graduate student in neuroscience at CUNY. In addition to short fiction, he writes about science and culture on his website, scott-koenig.com/blog. He currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Illustration by Devan Murphy