“They embraced for a long time, not speaking anything for several minutes. Finally, Enoch piped up.
‘Hey Daddy? Where’s Ansel?’
Stephen let loose a small sigh. ‘Wherever you’d like him to be, Enoch. Always.'”
A newspaper, cast carelessly on the ground, sang a tune of despair. It hummed in A minor, sang in subdominant and dominant chords, but always led back to the tonic.
Car Crash in New Hemingway – 2 Dead, 3 Wounded.
The tragedy of May 12, 2002 will forever be remembered by all of us. Claire and Stephen Larkin, aged 35 and 36, as well as their two sons, Enoch and Ansel, aged 4 and 7, were the victims of a drunk driving incident. The driver, Maxwell Gregerson, was driving a red flatbed truck and is currently in critical care. He was allegedly involved in a hit-and-run five minutes prior, but no hard evidence points to this.
Hemingway Police reports that Claire Larkin, the driver, was killed on impact. Stephen and his children were all sitting in the back. The cane Stephen needed after a leg injury he sustained during his time served in the military, pierced Ansel’s upper thigh, and he died from blood loss shortly after. It is unclear as to how Enoch received the number of bruises he did, as the only injury he should have sustained was a broken wrist. Nevertheless, he sustained heavy bruising on his left side. He was conscious when paramedics arrived, and kept asking for his brother.
The rest of the newspaper was torn off, crumpled. It was clenched in Stephen’s hand, who sat against the back of the wooden door. He had drawn up his knees to his chest, and his chest was shuddering. Huge wracking sobs had seized his upper body.
He had to pull himself together. Enoch was coming home in a few minutes. He gripped the new wooden cane the hospital had given him, and heaved himself off the floor. He limped his way over to the bathroom, and stared at the blotchy face that trembled in the mirror. He turned the tap on and allowed cold water to overflow out of his cupped palms for a few minutes.
After washing his face, he pulled out a packet of macaroni and cheese for Enoch. It was his favorite.
He had just poured the cheese powder into the broth of hot milk and noodles when the doorbell rang three times in quick succession. Enoch. He made his way to the door, glad to have a son but dreading the questions to come.
Enoch bounded into the house and straight into his father’s waiting arms. They embraced for a long time, not speaking anything for several minutes. Finally, Enoch piped up. “Hey, Daddy? Where’s Ansel?”
Stephen let loose a small sigh. “Wherever you’d like him to be, Enoch. Always.”
Cold, soothing rain streams down the sides of the little glass hummingbird. The pale blue wings are streaked with tiny rivulets of the ocean.
“There was just so much traveling involved, you know? For these itsy-bitsy little drops to clump. Hey, I bet they come from different places. Just like us, Ansel. Some of them mighta started out in the ocean, and then others were ice on top of the biggest iceberg you can imagine. But now they’re all together. Forced into one. D’you think they care about it very much? Maybe some of them came from the water kings, and you have water princesses and water barons and water scholars. But then you have water peasants and water farmers. Maybe the water nobles don’t care. Maybe they do. Hey, Ansel, what’d you think? Ansel?”
Enoch sits down on the the poorly painted steps inscribed with chalk. The air smells like woodsmoke, and he wears a puffy jacket that makes him feel like a marshmallow.
“Maybe the blue blocks shouldn’t have to only fit on the greenies. Miss Hamel says you can’t twist the blocks so that they just fit onto the red blocks. It’s not fair, Ansel. It’s also not fair that only the girls get to play house. Ansel, what makes the girls better than us? I bet it’s because they get to wear those little braids. The braids must be their secret sign that they’re royalty. I bet they’re secretly queens that run around and… and…
“But being a boy is fun too. You don’t have to wear skirts. I guess. I wonder how they feel. Hey, Ansel, do you think that Daddy will let us try on skirts? He’d probably say no.”
Enoch’s doing addition problems outside now, catching onto the problems easily. He’s not the best, but he’s ahead of the curve by a dash. The air is warm and humid, curling his hair.
“I like math. It’s all the same. I bet it’s the same everywhere, and even aliens do the same math we do. Math is dependable. It’s always there. Apparently, without math, you couldn’t have cakes or birthdays or comfy beds or trampolines! That’s awful. Ansel, not everyone likes math. Sometimes they look at me funny. I tell them that they need math, but they don’t agree. Am I weird? Maybe I’m an alien. I think they do the same math as us.
“Hey Ansel, what if you could do math with more than numbers? I mean, I know that you can add oranges and buttons and stuffed animals, but those have numbers. What if you could add letters to get a ‘superletter?’ Maybe that’s what ‘w’ secretly is. Or if you added time, instead of getting more time, you actually jumped ahead in time. You added two minutes to two minutes, and then you’re automatically four minutes into the future. Or, if you do the subtraction thingy, you subtract a time from a time. What if you could subtract moments in time, Ansel? Imagine how we would be different if we’d never gone to Julian’s birthday party, or if we didn’t drink that one cup of water. It’d be cool, wouldn’t it?
“But I wouldn’t try it, Ansel. I like who I am very much. Even though people thi –– I think I’m an alien for liking math. But who knows, Ansel? Not me.”
Enoch bolts outside the house, slightly out of breath. Sweat trickles down the middle of his spine.
“Hey, Ansel, why is Daddy always so sad when he’s alone? He smiles all the time when I’m with him. Do ya think he’s lonely? Maybe I should go to him now, Ansel, so he’s not lonely. But he’s reading something, I think. The words didn’t look like they do when the computer writes them, but they also don’t look how I write them. They look more like Mrs. Sanese’s writing, ya know? I wanna write like her, with the tall loops.
“Ansel, I think Daddy was crying. D’you think I should go back? Maybe I should get rid of the book. Ansel, I’ve never seen Daddy cry. I was so scared, Ansel, I –– I still am, Ansel. Daddies are strong and constant and always there. I
Enoch’s voice catches, his breath hitches. The cool wind that has been whipping his cheeks blows colder on the tears trickling down his face. He stands up shakily, rubs his eyes, and goes back inside.
Years and inches have grown in similar directions for Enoch. His hair is longer and curlier, but his face is still sprinkled with freckles that sing with innocence. He’s not as lonely anymore, but he still tries to remember to talk to Ansel. Granted, he doesn’t always remember, but he tells himself that nobody’s perfect.
“Daniel says it’s not really a great thing to say. He wants to know why you can’t try, if there’s something wrong with perfection. But Ansel, perfect is a weird word. One person’s perfect might not be someone else’s perfect. Perfect can’t have one distinct meaning for everyone. This older guy, with the purple tee with an eye on it, says that nothing is perfect. It only becomes perfect when you acknowledge its flaws and learn to love it regardless.
“I don’t know, Ansel. The word perfect is used so freely when it’s not a word of levity. It’s not a song to sing lightly, but somehow it is. It ends up going like that for a lot of things, Ansel. I keep seeing people saying hard things in the worstest ways.
“I guess the word used on packets of chocolate can sum it up easily, Ansel. Bittersweet.”
His voice is trembling. It is May 12, 2022. His hands shake, and he stuffs them into his jean pockets, the blue material encasing the melancholy despair he feels. He hasn’t spoken to Ansel in years. He stands alone in front of the tombstone that hasn’t come to haunt him a long time.
“H-Hey, Ansel. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? The doctors said it was natural, my way of dealing with the pain. It still helps. I’ve… missed you.
“I’m thankful for the times we’ve had together, even though you weren’t really there. If you were ever next to me, or grew with me, there’d be so much that would be different. I’d be different. Sometimes, I wonder if that would be for the better.
“But I like who I am. I like that I have an industrial engineering major and a potential job interview soon. I love that I’m a nerd for outer space, and that I have unnecessary knowledge about butterflies. I like that I like spending days with Dad when it’s a little overcast and going for walks. I like that I like colorful organized notes and dimpled smiles and people who laugh while telling jokes. I like that I know the perfect hot chocolate recipe and its Brazilian origins. I’m just a compilation of experiences and I couldn’t be happier.
“Ansel, I’m planning on proposing to my girlfriend. Her name is Eloise. You’d have liked her. She has emerald eyes and is just amazing in every way. She plays the saxophone, like you used to.”
He smiles, feeling the sense of unease finally slipping off his shoulders. “It’s been fun, Ansel. I’ll see you later, I guess. But not too soon.”
He raises a hand in farewell, and turns and trudges back to his car. He gets into his car, and the little glass hummingbird swings from the mirror as he drives away.