Friday after school I discover Tommy hovering a foot above his crib. Suspended in midair, floating on all fours. Tommy, I say, you’ll hurt yourself: owie, ouchie. His mobile twirls inches above him.
Mom. Tommy’s floating.
Her voice carries from the kitchen: I know. The faucet runs over dishes already spotless. Lately, she’s been distracted. The night she gave birth, she was hallucinating, said she saw angels. She wouldn’t let go of Tommy, said they were stealing him. Murmuring, her voice slurred, her face calm, eyelids fluttering. The nurses cooed and smiled and pried Tommy from her arms.
Now she won’t look him in the eye.
Tommy’s small hands open and close around the air he’s bobbing in. I gently yank his arm but I can’t pull him down. Spit bubbles at the corner of his mouth and dribbles down his chin, dripping to the floor. I shrug off my backpack and play peek-a-boo. Don’t be scared, little guy.
Shuffling past his open door without a glance, Mom stumbles into her dark room and falls forward across her king bed. Her feet never leave the floor. Outside, heavy clouds huddle above the trees. The air hums with electricity.
In the morning, I call Dad.
Why aren’t you in school?
Nasty storm last night.
Dad, Tommy’s floating.
These things happen, bud. Hey, I’ve got to go. Do your schoolwork. I’ll see you next weekend.
When Mom got pregnant, Dad grew obsessed with the weather, with natural disasters. Hurricanes, landslides, blizzards. The Valdivia earthquake, he told her, was the strongest ever: so powerful it couldn’t be properly placed on the Richter scale. Thousands dead or left homeless. He followed her everywhere, unlit cigarette drooping between his lips, eyes glued to his phone, reciting dates, statistics, probabilities. The night her water broke, they were in the living room. He was telling her how improbable it all was. She only shook her head.
Tommy crawls above the furniture. It’s Wednesday and he hasn’t returned to the ground. He’s living on some invisible surface, as though he were filled with helium, the lovely assistant in a magic act. I follow below, play along, imitate jet engines. During his nap, while he dreams above his crib, I tinker with my science-fair volcano. I knock on Mom’s door, offering her ramen, toast, anything to fill her stomach, but she only grunts.
On Saturday, Dad collects me in his pickup, boat in tow. We fish on a lake where he fished with his father. The sky is grey, but for a moment, for once, we don’t talk about the weather.
Dad asks about school. I tell him my volcano won’t erupt. He tells me about Vesuvius.
There was no warning. Nothing they could do.
I know what he means. I’m not the first of my friends to have separated parents.
It begins to sprinkle. We take off our shirts and drink Coke, eat peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. The fish are not biting, even in the rain. He lights a cigarette and describes the difference between nimbus and cumulonimbus.
Faint ripples crease the lake. My father drones and drones, and I think about Tommy hovering in his room, his mobile spinning and spinning. My mother down the hall in the dark, her blouse unbuttoned, waiting for my father to return and leave and return, again and again. And he’s here, across from me, explaining the distinction between cyclones and tornadoes, rain collecting in his eyebrows, in his chest hair. There’s a tug on his pole and his bobber dips beneath the surface. He quiets. None of us are ready, can be ready, for what’s to come.
I stand and peer into the lake. My father reels slowly, readying to set the hook. He takes a drag on his cigarette: inhale, exhale. I jump from the boat, arms eagle-wide, counting down the seconds before I splash.
Cole Meyer is the managing editor at The Masters Review. He studied creative writing and classical humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His writing appears at SmokeLong Quarterly, SAND, Aquifer: The Florida Review Online and elsewhere. “Nightstands” was selected for The Best Small Fictions 2017 and “Vesuvius” was a finalist for The Best Small Fictions 2018. He lives in Saint Paul with his fiancée and their dog and cat. Cole tweets about writing and baseball @ColeA_Meyer. More can be found at his website: https://cole-meyer.com/
“Vesuvius” was originally published in SAND: Berlin’s English Literary Journal in May 2017.