As an adult with grown children, Bernie found he missed his deceased parents more than ever. He could see his father in his reflection: nose, eyes, and lips. Perhaps in response to the wave of sentiment, he occasionally dreamed at night of living in his childhood home, but with the perspective of an adult who knew the future. After two months of practicing lucid dreaming techniques, something happened.
In the dream, his parents were gray-haired. The pressures of work and bills made them seem much more vulnerable than he’d considered them at the time. A familiar fight erupted at the dinner table due to overcooked London broil. “Tastes like shoe leather,” his dad grumbled. “You ruined it.”
Bernie wanted to tell them life was too short for petty grievances, but his sister, perhaps seeing the determined look in his eyes, kicked him under the table. As was the routine, the two young teens excused themselves to retreat behind closed bedroom doors until things simmered down.
So lifelike, but not a distant memory with an unalterable ending. In this iteration, he could speak up in a way he never had. He could hear his father’s car leave and his mother’s muffled cries.
On Bernie’s ceiling, glow-in-the-dark plastic stars shimmered as dusk darkened the room. They were lovely, almost magical, but they had not been there in his real youth. His daughter had put them up in her bedroom, a generation later. Things were mostly the same here, as he remembered events, but with noteworthy differences.
The front door creaked open and closed. This time, unlike the last time, he would join his mother, Enid, on the front porch. Bernie followed. His sister Lucy cracked her bedroom door open then, shaking her head dismissively, quickly shut it again. And locked it.
His mom turned at the sound of Bernie’s approach. She sat hunched, knees to her chin, in a little ball beside the milkbox. In fifth grade, he was already taller than she was. Maybe that’s why he felt protective. She rubbed away the wet from the end of her nose and brushed her hand along her pants. “You should be in your room, doing homework.”
“It’s Friday,” he lied. He actually had no idea.
“Can I join you?”
“For a little while. I don’t want your father coming home, thinking you’re taking sides.”
“I’m on both sides, yours and the poor fragile dishes’.”
“He only threw a couple. It sounded worse than it was. Chipped the basement tiles, though. Who knew he could throw that far? He’ll fix it up. You’ll never notice.”
“Somehow I don’t think it’ll be a priority,” Bernie said, recalling the actual life lived.
“He had a rough day,” Enid explained.
“I think it followed him home,” Bernie suggested, standing between Enid and the yellow porchlight. “His rough day became your rough day.”
“Sit down if you’re staying. Don’t tower over me; it’s rude.”
Bernie sat beside her. A chill went through him: she was so real. She wrapped an arm around his shoulders and pulled him closer.
“The head of the department wants your father to move to Montana.”
“I know,” said Bernie.
“What’s the point of you two shutting yourselves in your bedrooms if you still hear everything?” asked his mother.
“Less chance of collateral damage.”
His mom thought a moment. “Your father would never hit you. You know that.”
“I’m not worried about me,” said Bernie.
“I can take care of myself. I grew up on Staten Island. With three brothers. I know things. Besides, my father used to slap me when I was your age if I used bad language or had an attitude. It’s no big deal.”
“I love you!” said Bernie, eyes damp.
“You all right? Do you need some money?” Enid was suddenly concerned for him.
“I don’t tell you enough. I thought you should know.”
“You’re being silly. Everything’s fine.” Enid kissed him on the forehead and tousled his moppy
hair. “Get ready for bed. Tell Lucy the coast is clear and to brush her teeth.”
“Don’t worry, Mom. We’re not moving to Montana,” said Bernie. “I have it on good authority that Dad’s boss was just testing him.”
“He was? I’m so relieved!” said Enid, grabbing her heart playfully.
Bernie opened the door of their small ranch and stepped into the “dining room,” one end of the small living room. “I forgot our house was so small,” he said quietly. “Do you want me to clear the table?”
“Are you feeling okay? Mrs. Randall said there’s some kind of bug going around.”
“I’m fine. Can I return Mrs. Blatt’s casserole dish?”
“Not now. Go to bed.”
Bernie was in bed when his father returned. Enid wasn’t back. Mrs. Blatt loved to talk. There
was a knock on Bernie’s door.
“You asleep?” asked his father, Burle. He seemed nervous.
“Not anymore, no.”
“Where’s Mom? Did you hear her on the phone? She didn’t call her parents, did she?”
“Just what I need is her brothers paying a welfare check.”
“Say you’re sorry. Promise you’ll go to church on Sunday and that it’ll never happen again.”
“When did you get all grown-up?”
“Fifty years from now,” said Bernie.
About a week later, adult Bernie and his wife, Tabitha, were going through a box of old letters his mother had saved. They found a sympathy card, featuring Charlie Brown, from Burle.
“Dear love of my life, when I came home and couldn’t find you, I thought you’d left me. Thank you for showing me the cost of being a fool. As God is my witness, it will never happen again.”
“Must have been bad,” said Tabitha. “Do you remember? I know your dad had a hot temper when you were younger.”
“He did. I used to wish they’d get divorced. But when they got older, both of them mellowed.”
They became best friends. Too bad it took decades to get there.
Charles C Cole loved his undergraduate years at a rural Maine college. In the summer of 2011, he “awoke” much older, noticing the Internet had made the world so much more accessible. He lives with his family in Maine on land passed down by his great-great grandfather. Published in alongstoryshort, BewilderingStories, The Blue Crow, The Sandy River Review, The Café Review, Black Petals, Altered Reality.