John sat on the floor, wishing desperately he hadn’t stubbed his last cigarette out. If he was outside, he could smoke, but he wasn’t outside, and the idea of getting up and walking all the way to the front door just to go outside and smoke seemed ridiculous. If he was going to go that far, he might as well go home. Which didn’t seem like such a bad idea, really.
John climbed to his feet, steadied himself against the wall. His hand was completely inside a large yellowed water stain that started in the top corner of the room and widened and narrowed all the way down to the floor. He stared at the stain for way too long, thinking about how much fun it would be to trace the shape of the stain with a black magic marker, before forcing himself to take the two steps into the hallway that led to the living room, the hallway full of family photos framed in cheap flowery metal frames, all the pictures of Keith and Sarah’s family, including the two children they lost. The little girl, aged five, and the little boy, aged nine, both dead.
This hallway never seemed right to him. There was too much before photographed and cataloged in this walk, and it bothered him. This hallway belonged to a nice house, of a happy family where he would be a welcome guest, wearing clean clothes and bearing gifts. The walk through the short hallway always felt like drowning, and it was only with the greatest exertion that he pulled himself along the wall and into the living room.
Keith sat on the couch with a little boy. The room was full of hungover people ruffling the little boy’s short hair again and again, with the boy smiling patiently through it all as if happy to be the center of attention. “That’s my boy!” Keith said, again and again, his arm around the boy’s shoulders. He also ruffled the little boy’s haircut. Sarah, in the kitchen, making Irish coffees for everyone, smiled every time Keith said, “That’s my boy,” patting her stomach as though to reassure the baby inside that he or she would also receive similar accolades once born.
“This kid, he’s so smart,” Keith said. “He’s just great. Tell everybody something smart, little boy.”
“Did you know that there might be planet-sized moons inside of Saturn’s rings that could be terra-formed for human habitation?” the little boy piped, and smiled around the room. “It’s true, I read it in National Geographic. We don’t even know how many moons Saturn has, because we can’t look inside the rings properly. It has hundreds of moons.”
I know the names of at least a dozen of Saturn’s moons, John thought suddenly. Why can’t I remember the names of Saturn’s moons? He opened his mouth, determined to list at least one of the moons, but nothing came out.
“Wow.” Keith looked at the little boy with renewed adoration. “That is so cool. This one, he’s like a rocket scientist, he is.”
Like I was, thought John. That wasn’t right. He wasn’t a rocket scientist, but he was something, something different than this. He had that feeling like he had when he was in the hallway, like he was drowning. He opened his mouth to speak, only to find a beer bottle heading toward it, propelled by his hand. “That boy, this, it’s not right,” he muttered just barely under his breath, swallowing half the bottle in one draught. He looked up to see the little boy staring across the room at him with a look like drowning on his face. Bobby. The boy’s name was Bobby.
“Fuck you,” Sarah said, coming in from the kitchen, glaring at John as she walked by. “Little boy, I need you in the kitchen for a second. A minute, maybe. I don’t know.” She wrinkled her forehead as if concentrating on something really important. “Right now.”
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Literary Fiction, Noir, Pulp Fiction, Short Stories