My eleven year old son and I are sitting a couch eroded by time and evenings of wrestling and cuddling; it is eroded by the spilling over of sickness and pet hair and declarations of endless love.
His bare legs are over mine; he has no sense of where his space ends and mine begins. In my peripheral vision I see eyes made up of every colour conceivable, eyes carefully sketched by the hands of a magnificent god. They are gazing out the window at people shuffling by with shopping carts filled with soon-to-be-cashed-in televisions and empties that promise five dollar bills and tins of moist tobacco. Children toddle far behind, clutching coins sticky with sweat and anticipation, black hair gleaming like the most beautiful fire. In front of the house next door, a man walks in endless circles, like a restless dog on a chain. Noah can’t see him and I am glad. Instead he blinks and I watch his irises contract against an aggressive sun; in my mind I picture this sun hunting my child, lifting up chairs, searching in all shades of darkness.
I pull him against me and he is warm, and all is well again until I hear my name. He speaks hesitantly, absently rubbing his feet on his sister’s hair. She is seated on the floor, colouring a picture, and I wait for him to finish.
“What will the world be like in a hundred years?”
Sasha looks to me, waiting for my answer, turning over her picture so that I won’t see it, but I do anyway. It’s a unicorn. Be careful, Damien, I think to myself, and I try to be but inside my heart the world speeds by in fast forward, and it is nothing that I can speak aloud to my children. Noah pulls me back again with a giggle. “It’s okay, Bob,” he says, idly stroking my arm. “In a hundred years everyone we know will be dead.” Sasha laughs too, and I hold my breath in waiting.
She glides on her knees on the worn wooden floors, to where we are sitting, and smiles up at me, but I can see her eyes, coal black, turn to liquid. Those eyes that I have studied like the most precious jewel; eyes that, when she was born, I held up to the window, to see the colours held within, shaken but not surprised by the iridescence of all that is hidden inside black – like a raven’s wing in the sunlight. I speak to her with my mind as my heart climbs into my throat. Come.
Noah moves and she crawls into my lap, wrapping her tiny brown arms around me and squeezing as hard as she can. Her sobs fill my ears and I talk to her softly about how there is never an ending – that she will never end. Noah reminds me – Bob, not everyone believes that- but I keep rocking and whispering because I cannot bring myself, in this moment, to take away what she is desperately clinging to; this hope that at the end of all of this – there is something else. I cannot tell her about my own sleepless nights and bargains with God – that will come later, when her heart is mended and standing all on its own.
Later, after everyone is sleeping and I am washing my face before bed, I stare at my reflection in the mirror. My own eyes are shining, despite knowing loss and fear for so many years. Theirs will too, I think, and I am relieved – there is no ending.