A Lullaby for Charlie

Nonfiction By J.F. Ewert

I closed your door just two minutes ago. Surely not more than five. Yet you insist that you’ve already slept and dreamed the most terrible things.

My disbelief bewilders you. As I fight to maintain my sternest parental scowl, your bewilderment blossoms into resolute conviction. You did dream. And it was so scary. You think it might be under your bed. If not there, in your closet.

Meanwhile, my disbelief persists. Smolders, even, as you plod back to bed.

That’s the trouble with time. To you, its menace is fresh. It attacks within seconds and then draws out the hour it inevitably takes you to fall asleep.

For your old man, time dawdles even as it sprints. I have forgotten what it is like to catch a shadow on the wall. To hear a stir in the closet. And when I do notice such things, I promptly place them in the realm of reality. Because I know their whats, whys, hows, and wherefores.

You’re too young to read poetry. I’ll quote a poet at you, nonetheless. “In headaches and in worry,” he wrote, “Vaguely life leaks away.”

You’re also too young to understand the truth in those lines. And your youth is a gift. Nothing is vague in your eyes, especially in the dark, when you can’t – or won’t – sleep. Everything is vivid and instant and out of your control.

That’s why you creep across the balcony and sneak up to my chair when I am not looking. You know you shouldn’t, and yet you know that you need to.

You even know that I need you to.

We pretend that, this time, you will go back to bed and stay there.

We each make promises, threats, whatever tumbles easily out of our mouths. Passionate words and fervent nods that we both know are empty of meaning. Because it cannot end until I climb up to your room and stretch out on your bed.

When I drape my arm across your shoulders, you instantly seize it in the vice grip of your small hands. Only then is time defeated, for however long we can ward off its vague cackles, each of us banishing worry by being present to our presence.

                                                        *   *   *

J. F. Ewert is a creative writer and consultant who lives with his family in Franklin, Tennessee. Most recently, he has published memoir essays in Agape Review and Winter Pages. He previously wrote Blue Ice and Other Stories from the Rink (Canon Press, 2009), a collection of short fiction about ice hockey.

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