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Remembered Like Yesterday
“What are you doing, honey?”
“I dunno, standing, I guess.”
“Please get down from there, kiddo. You’re going to fall.”
“I’m not gonna fall. I’m gonna jump.”
The father stretched out his hand, not daring to move with his ankles suddenly holding taught the invisible chain that was keeping his son from taking that one more step.
“Michael, please come away from the edge,” he pleaded, unease crawling over his skin. “If you fall, it will hurt really bad.”
“But I’m not gonna fall!” the boy protested, finally looking up, his young face set with sureness.
“Yes, you are. Now come away, I can take you to go get ice-cream,” the father’s expression had lit up with hope as their eyes connected, feeling that as long as he didn’t move and he had eye contact, then maybe he son wouldn’t fall after all.
“We can get ice-cream when I can come back,” Michael looked down at his feet, shifting them on the rough wood of his fortress.
“Michael, now you look at me,” the father’s voice had become stern. “Get away from the edge right now and climb down the ladder.”
“I will later, but I wanna do this first.”
“We won’t be able to get ice-cream later because I’m going to have to take you to the hospital.” the first branches of the old oak, supporting the base of the tree house, suddenly seemed 200 feet high.
Michael suddenly smiled, “No, you won’t, because I’ve been practicing.”
“Practicing? Practicing what?” he answered weakly, painfully forcing himself to watch what he knew would happen next.
“Flying, of course,” the boy answered matter-of-factly, obviously disapproving of this need for explanation. “Let me show you at how good I’ve got.”
Michael pulled his arms back and then in a magnificent leap he propelled himself forward, arms swinging forward and knees bending to launch himself into the air. Airborne, he started pumping his arms.
Inside the house, watching through the window, a man, the father six years ago, shoved himself up from his chair with such force that he knocked it back, sprinting in a valiant attempt to get to the backdoor.
The father rushed forward, arms outstretched as Michael began to fall, his son, an Icarus too close to the sun. It was an instinctive reaction, a pointless one he knew, but he couldn’t just stand there and watch. He wouldn’t allow himself to do such a thing again.
Michael passed through his arms, falling, where he thudded to the ground without a sound.
By now the man who’d raced outdoors slammed into the father and the two became one. “Oh, God!” they cried, falling to their knees to cradle their son in their arms and stain their hands with the blood from his forehead.
After that, Michael faded, disappearing into nothing more than a tortured memory. The father looked up and he stared at the empty tree house. No matter what he did, no matter how many times he envisioned himself coming out of the house, offering all sorts of treats and compromises, it didn’t keep Michael from falling. If he’d only done this then, if he’d only come out and offered the ice-cream. If he hadn’t just been that bystander in the house.
“Oh, Michael…” he whispered.
“Daddy?” there was a gentle tug at his sleeve, his young daughter looking at him cautiously. “Who you talking to? Who’s Michael?”
The father wrapped his daughter into a hug, “No one, sweetheart. Now, don’t you worry.”