by Sean Robinson
I think the hardest part has been my name. They call me Robert. When I don’t answer, it’s Robbie, or Bobbie, or Son. I think it’s because I answer to the last that gives them hope. If I answer to the thin-shouldered woman who calls me ‘Son’, maybe they can tell themselves the rest never happened. That the intervening years were some mix-up, or confusion. And that their Robert—their pride and joy—had not been misplaced. That I was just sleeping.
That the faeries never came.
It’s a pretty common story, think: well-to-do heiress marries below her station. He’s in building maintenance, she’s in one-of-a-kind gowns. Love ensues, babies are made, and the universe responds.
They didn’t mean to lose me anymore than I meant to be lost. That is the second hardest part of things: they carry blame on their skin so wild that it bites when they touch me. I do not like it when they touch me, and so we draw farther away from each other.
She sets the table every night. Smooths out the corners of the tablecloth like someone other than me is watching. She slices the bread. She makes spaghetti again. My favorite. When I was five. I know what that little boy looks like, with a gap in his teeth. He stares at me from the pictures on the wall. From birthday parties, junior little league. He looks at me, with eyes that ask me why I didn’t come home, why I couldn’t be him again.
I do not like Spaghetti. I do not like bread. I miss acorn meal and sweet water. She tried, once, to make it, but the acorns burnt in the oven, and the water had been passed through a filter. I ate it anyway, head tilted back like a heron.
We all try not to hurt each other any more than we have to.
He thinks his son shouldn’t dance. He doesn’t let music play in the house anymore. I think it’s because that is how they pray—with their bodies in motion. How I learned to move through the world. It scares him, and his closed fists and unbending shoulders say that he is a man who is always afraid.
We have weekly meetings with the doctor. We talk about things, normal things. Words are hard too. The doctors ask me how they speak. I try to explain, tilting my head away, running my hand down my cheek. When my father reminds me that I was asked a question I remind myself that is not their fault they do not understand.
They say my name again and again. They do not realize that is the third time that I respond. I have learned my manners, and they do not deserve my disrespect. It is not their fault they cannot dream big enough. I try to make myself for them. ‘Dad’, I try to call him, smaller than ‘father’. ‘Mom’, smaller than ‘mother’.
The therapist asks how reintegration is going. Dad says they’re great, that I’m doing so well. I don’t say anything, because I cannot lie. I cannot tell them that at night, I pull the stuffy flannel from my skin and push open the curtains to stand in the moonlight. I cannot say how much I miss before.
No. Reintegration is not going well.
I dance, because there is music in the dark and the moon. I move so quiet on my feet that my parents, who count my every sleeping breath, cannot hear me. They cannot see what their precious son has become. What he is happy to be when the sweat has dried and the tears have left.
When they find me, naked and sleeping beside the open window, they think that I am safe. They think that I am home. They bundle me up again and give me hot cocoa to chase away my nightmares. I have never been so far away.
Sean Robinson‘s work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, and Unlikely Story.