Cold Darkness

To Muds and Bixby- wish we had the chance to eat snacks and watch a movie together…

Bixby blinked into his black room, praying for silence. Nothing stirred in the house. Floorboards refused to creak. Faucets defiantly held their water. Even the trees folded their branches to avoid scraping his windows. Only one sound bounced around the room, taunting the ten year old with an evil laugh- cancer.

The doctor had crinkled his eyes in pity, though his lips tumbled out the word too easily. Bixby didn’t understand the ins and outs- Hodgkins versus non-Hodgkins. The medical jargon made no sense. But he knew the word sent his mother into a quiet fit of tears and turned his father into a stone white statue.

A different sound broke his taunting imagination- tears. Bixby blinked three more times to confirm their reality. Tiptoeing to his door, he cracked it open. Muffled sobs drifted from his parents’ room. A strange aura wrapped the house, as though it, too, were sobbing. Bixby’s ears rang with it, the odd sensation pushing his feet forward to the bedroom door. Reason told him to go back to bed, that his parents would only send him back anyway. But something stopped Bixby. At first he couldn’t decipher it. His eyes fell once again on the door, noticing this time that it had been left cracked open. His parents never failed to close and lock it.

He dared to peek through the thin gap. His mother sat on the bed, muffling her sobs with her blanket, a crumpled yellow paper in her other hand. Bixby scanned the surface of the bed, his father nowhere to be found. He looked towards their private bathroom. Its door also rested open. Bixby couldn’t see entirely inside, but he knew in every ounce of his soul that his father wasn’t in there.

Pushing away the barrier, he stepped into the room and crawled into bed with his mother. She startled at the sight of him, wiping her eyes and rushing quickly into the bathroom. When she returned, the note had vanished. She wrapped her protective arms around him. Bixby could feel her body fight against the tears. He sensed she wanted to look strong for him.

“Where’s daddy?” Bixby asked, his curiosity commanding his tongue.

“He…had to go on a business trip, dear.”

Bixby squeezed her closer, momentarily comforted. Perhaps his fear of his father leaving had been irrational.

“I can’t sleep,” Bixby said.

“Me neither,” said his mother.

“Want to watch a movie?”

“But I have school tomorrow.”

“No, I’m keeping you home tomorrow.”

“Because I’m sick?”

“Yes, sweetie, because you’re sick.”

“Can we eat snacks during the movie?”

“Of course, anything you want. I’ll go to the kitchen and get it ready. You pick out a movie.”

“Ok,” Bixby paused, gathering the nerve to lie to his mother and also hoping he kept his same casual tone. “May I use your bathroom first?”

“Go ahead. Oh and bring out the blanket and pillows to the living room.”

She planted a kiss on his forehead and wrinkled her fingers through his hair before leaving the room. He waited until her footsteps softened through the hall. Walking bravely to the trashcan, he stared uncertainly at the crinkled yellow paper. He wanted to know what it read, yet he didn’t. Knowing it was his only chance, he inhaled and pinched a corner with his forefinger and thumb. Carefully, he opened the ball and smoothed out the edges, slumping slowly to the floor as his eyes scanned the sparse words.

I can’t watch my kid die. Sorry. –Rick

Bixby’s fingers shook. Bile slid up his throat. Rushing to the side of the toilet, he vomited. Afraid his mother would find him with the note, he flushed. Suddenly, something else overtook Bixby. Despite being sick and losing a father in one day, he refused to be defeated. Carefully, he crumpled the note back up and set it in the same position he found it. Squishing mouth wash through his teeth, he spit it out, grabbed the blanket and pillows and walked to the living room.

He arranged the pillows on the couch and folded the blankets as his mind simultaneously arranged Cancer and Dad into neat, iron clad boxes. His mother exited the kitchen, her eyes wet. Bixby pat the space next to him.

“Did you pick out a movie?” she asked.

“Yep. Titanic.”

“Why on earth did you pick that movie?”

“Because it’s your favorite. And dad hates it.”

His mother eyed him quizzically. Bixby rolled his, forcing his classic impish grin.

“And since he’s not here right now, we can watch it.”

His mother grinned slightly.

“But it’s so depressing. Shouldn’t we watch something funny?”

“I don’t feel like laughing. Do you?”

His mother stroked his hair fondly.

“No, I don’t suppose I do.”

They settled onto the couch, their arms around each other. One by one, Bixby picked off the last pieces of popcorn, his round eyes taking in the many people flailing helplessly in the freezing water, their stiffening bodies stilling and sinking into the darkness.

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