Tiny Fake Us, Staring Out to Sea
Two days after my son stops talking, he builds a miniature version of our house, rendered in wood scraps, Legos, milk cartons. A family lives inside: two Playmobil children (one with a hardhat), plastic cat mother. I am a cork from a wine bottle. I wonder at the message here. I have no limbs. I guess I’ll sleep standing up, so as not to sleep-roll off the second floor.
I ask my son if I can play with him. I keep one eye on the evening news. Another suicide bombing in Pakistan.
“Can I be me?”
A hospital this time. Legs of children poking from rubble.
Cork Dad: “Hello Son, how was school today? Good?” (Not knowing how a cork dad would talk, I sound vaguely Australian).
Shakes head no.
“Girl problems? Bullies?”
The anchor has moved on. An FBI child-trafficking crackdown in the Midwest. Fifty-seven arrested in Chicago.
Cork Dad: “It’s okay if Real You doesn’t want to talk, but maybe Pretend You can talk?” (I’m always doing this – coaxing him from holes. If he were adopted, or a mongoose, it would make more sense).
“For a little while,” he mumbles.
“So what’s bothering you?” I ask. “For a small plastic guy, you seem to have a lot on your mind.”
“My teacher says that in a few years most of Antarctica will melt and Florida will be under water.”
The little fake family is huddled on the roof.
“Don’t worry,” I tell him. “That could be years and years from now. And even if it happened, we’d be safe.”
He frowns. “You would. You can float.”
“I’d save us all,” I say. “You, your hard-hat sister and Mom Cat too. I’d scoop you all up and we’d float to higher ground.”
“You don’t have any arms,” he says.
“I have an idea,” I say. I take out my pocketknife and slice three discs from Cork Dad. I cut a notch out of each, so they fit like little flotation collars around the necks of the others. “There! Now we’ll all survive.”
“Those look stupid,” he says, frowning. He leaves the room. His footsteps shake the floor, quake the little house. What’s left of me rolls off the roof. I have no arms to wave goodbye.
The anchor ends the newscast with a story about a blind high-school senior in Atlanta who finally gets to play varsity soccer thanks to a ball that emits a beeping sound. She follows the sound around like a bat might. Her future looks brighter, her parents suggest, faces unconvinced. The reporter falters; she has no closing. The anchor won’t make eye contact with the camera – he keeps looking down, as if there’s sea water lapping at his ankles.
Joe Kapitan lives a day’s march south of Cleveland. His recent short fiction has appeared or will appear in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, Fiction Southeast, Drunk Monkeys, Thumbnail 6 and others. He is working on a novel but most times it feels like the novel is working him.
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