Wednesday was to be the celebration of life for my uncle Amal, who had died a year earlier to the date. My father had rented a car to drive us there, and a cabin for the two of us through Thursday. I did not know why they were holding it in New Hampshire. Everyone my uncle had loved was either dead or in Brooklyn. Monday was our first morning in the cabin, and we did not speak for the whole day. We had been in the car together for most of Sunday, and we had exhausted ourselves of small talk. There was a distinction to the silence on Monday, and my father and I both believed in it. Evidently, we also had faith in the feverish recovery of Tuesday. We woke up and addressed each other as if it were simple. The drive felt scenic, but the driver felt a stranger, and I might not have come if I felt I had a choice. Naturally, my father had reminded me immediately after extending the invitation that attendance was not mandatory. Whether this qualifier was real or was for liability I was not sure. I was not used to being invited by him. In the end, it was not up to either of us. I had loved my uncle like I was made of him. Every second of love like that had a cost. Tuesday morning, my father cracked eggs into a skillet on the stove. “I could make you some,” he offered. “Sure,” I replied and sat up on the couch. I gathered the thin, knitted blanket around my legs. “I like them scrambled.” “You didn’t used to like eggs,” he said. “You didn’t used to cook,” I said. “Yeah, well. I lived with your mother and then I lived with my chef of a brother. Sue me if I took advantage.” The comment sat suspended in the air, hovering as if trying to unlock a trapdoor. Finally, it fell through the ground with the gravitational weight of a passing beat. I looked out the window and changed the subject. “I slept okay last night,” I said. “I’d hope so,” he replied. “This is a beautiful place to sleep.” “I dreamed about that rest stop,” I said. “The one from Sunday, where we saw that little girl with the yelling parents. I swear I saw them in my dream.” “I’m surprised it was the parents,” he answered. “You were looking at that kid like you knew her.” “No,” I said. “I can’t even remember her face.” “It was embarrassing for all of them, anyway,” he said. “Better not to look.” I brushed my hair with my fingers. The cabin was basically one room, excluding the slightly more secluded bedroom which my father had claimed his own, and the attached bathroom. For the middle of nowhere, it was nice. I was surprised that he was able to pay for it. The stove was situated along a wall of countertops, but the couch and small eating table faced two intersecting walls of windows. Out of them, I could see only a spectrum of greens. Tree branches sectioned the morning sunlight off into linear beams. We sat across from each other at the table. We ate our breakfast. My father looked old. What hair he did have was thin, with roots white enough to dull the color collected at its ends. His face was sunken inwards at the cheeks, like he had gathered all the air for a gasp, then, in the absence of anything striking, imprisoned it in his throat. Thoughts of his death occurred to me only vaguely. To me, age and death had never been correlated by more than coincidence. “Who’s going to be there tomorrow?” I asked. “The same crowd as the funeral,” he said. “Minus Ingrid, obviously.” “She’s not coming?” I asked. Ingrid had grown up next door to my father and uncle, her childhood home a near replica of theirs. When I was a child, I had called her my aunt. By the funeral, it had been about a decade since our last interaction. That day alone, she told me more stories about the adolescence of my uncle than I had ever heard before. “Ingrid died,” my father said. “I thought you knew that.” “How would I have known that?” I said. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It was a drug thing with her. Always was.” I finished my eggs and stood up from the table. “I’ll miss her tomorrow,” I said. “She was really nice to me.” When I saw that he was done, I picked up my father’s plate, and took both our empty dishes to the sink. “You don’t have to clean those,” he said. “Do you want to go for a walk?” From the other side of the window, the woods were just as beautiful, only much colder. After we got a few feet in, the trees arched inwards and formed a lush ceiling. Sharply bounded tunnels of sunlight streamed in through their gaps. “Real shame about Ingrid,” I said. “I didn’t know you cared about her so much,” he said. “You talked to her at the funeral?” “She told me so much about Amal,” I replied. “She really pulled him open for me.” “You’re lucky,” he said. Sheets of expired snow made sporadic appearances on the ground. Besides that, everything was dirt. “I know everything about him that I’ll ever know.” “Everybody has secrets,” I replied. “Even dead people.” He smiled. “You’re just how you were when you were a kid. Empathetic.” We were silent for a while after that. We just walked. “He died on a Monday,” my father said. “This year, the date is a Wednesday. A normal year would have been better – the leap year really confused it all. If he had wanted to die on a Wednesday, he’d have done it.” “I don’t think he wanted to die at all,” I said. We continued to walk. “I bet it was hard,” I said. “To find him the way you did.” “Very empathetic,” he repeated. I told him that his shoelace was untied and he told me that it was fine. I offered to tie it for him, but we kept walking instead. When ditches in the ground noticed his dragging lace, my father did not move gradually into cursing. He staggered through half a second and he landed at “Fuck.” His hands hit the ground first, bracing his body. The lifelines in his palms collected thin particles of black dust and cracked leaves. His knees and stomach were next, soft body on hard dirt. Our stomachs made visible the lineage of my father into me. We had the same slope downwards into our pelvises, circular bellies that sat on flat hips. I asked if he was all right. “Fine,” he said. I offered my hand and he used it to stand up. When he was back on his feet, I bent down and began to tie his shoe. “You know,” he said. “I can tie my own shoes.” “I know,” I said. “You taught me.” I knelt over his sneaker. My cold fingers could only generate halfway knots in the slippery laces. I asked, “Did you kill him?” He jerked his foot away from my hands. “You didn’t, right?” I added, quickly. “I just want you to say that you didn’t.” I looked up, and imagined that from the corneas of each of his eyes emerged strings that knotted my vision to his. It was my best mechanism for maintaining eye contact. Eventually, the wind took a gentle scissor to the strings. He offered me a hand to stand up. A small laugh in my throat crawled onto the back of my tongue, and I only uncaged it when I saw that he was laughing, too. “It’s not that crazy to wonder,” I said. We started to walk again. “You’re new to being nice. He used to hate you.” “He never hated me,” he said. “He was my brother.” We were quiet for a few minutes. The wind, like a reminder, whipped softly at our coats. “Let me get this straight,” he said, breaking the silence. “You think you’re out in the middle of the woods right now with a murderer?” “I don’t know what I think,” I answered. “It’s not like I really know you.” “Just for the future,” he said. “Probably best not to go to the woods with strangers.” “What else is there to do in New Hampshire?” His laugh was really more of a cough, but I was proud nonetheless. “You know,” he said, after we had walked a few steps further. “It’s not like I didn’t want you to know me. I used to tuck you in every night.” The wind picked up against us and made each step a confrontation. As we walked and spoke, it blew our words backwards. “You stole from me,” I said. “When I got my first job, I was trying to fill out all of these tax forms. I remembered you taking me to set up a bank account, so I called the bank to see if I had one. They said the account had been overcharged for years. I owed them two hundred dollars. I was sixteen. I had to give my whole first paycheck to the bank.” “I said I tried,” he said. After a pause, he added, “I never said I was any good.” The air felt dewy and wet in my nose, even though the ground was so dry I almost worried it was cracking beneath us. “Yeah,” I agreed. My pace quickened until I was a few steps in the lead. “Hey,” he said, and stopped. I turned around to face him. “I’m sorry. I really am.” I said nothing. In the distance between us, I felt embarrassingly large. “Why don’t we turn around?” he asked. I turned and took the steps towards him, and we both began back the way we came. “I didn’t know you were alive,” I said. “When I was sixteen and owed the bank two hundred dollars, I wondered if you were dead.” “I would’ve come back around sooner,” he replied. It was like pushing a promise back through time. “If I thought I could’ve been better, I would’ve.” “You know what you told me once?” I asked. He shook his head. “Shit changes,” I answered. “It doesn’t have to get better, but it at least gets different.” He cracked his knuckles. “When did I say that?” “Over the phone,” I answered. We both knew what that meant. He had been a voice from the rehabilitation center, and I had been an excited ear from the living room landline. “In hindsight,” he said, “you might have been a little young to be hearing the word shit.” We both laughed. No one added that I might have been a little young for a lot of things. Still, we both heard it, ticking in the background like a grandfather clock. “Your mom would have killed me if I stayed,” he said to the silence. “Rightfully.” “It’s not like you had much to lose,” I countered. “She was going to hate you either way.” He kicked a stone between his feet for a few steps. I was reminded that at one point, in the body of a teenager, he had played soccer. “She thought I was having an affair,” he said. “Were you?” I asked. “I was a drunk,” he answered. “Call that what you will.” I was quiet for a few steps. The cabin, in the near distance, came back into sight. Visible through its massive window was the couch on which I had slept, alone in the space except for the eating table. It looked microscopic. “I just don’t know how you could do that to her,” I replied. “I did it to you, too,” he said. “I don’t know how, either. You were just a kid.” “I’m still a kid,” I replied. “I know,” he said. “I still feel like a kid, too.” “That’s not what I meant.” We reached the clearing of the woods and left our dirty shoes out on the steps of the back porch. We took turns taking showers before my father drove to the nearest deli to pick up lunch. Alone in the cabin, I tried on my outfit for the celebration of life: black boots and a short white dress. I stood in the bathroom mirror, leant over the sink, and pulled my hair back to examine the outline of my jaw from different angles. I never looked pointy enough. My father returned with a paper bag of food in his hand. He stood behind me in the bathroom doorway. “You look nice,” he said. The reflection made him appear to be in front of me. “You’ll be the prettiest girl there, tomorrow.” I smiled. “The day will be about Amal.” “You’re also liable to be the only girl there.” I laughed. “Still, he would’ve wanted it to be about you,” my father said, and left the bathroom. Even though it was hardly one in the afternoon, I changed back into pajamas. We sat down at the table to eat. My father and I agreed that the chicken salad sandwiches in New Hampshire were nothing compared to Brooklyn. That night, I laid on the couch in the dark. Falling asleep led me into a nightmare wherein my body was covered in unwanted tattoos. It was a recurring dream of mine. Looking for a glass of water, my father made his way out of the bedroom. On his way to the sink, he accidentally and loudly kicked the refrigerator. “Fuck,” he whispered. I jolted awake to the sound of his subsequent “sorry.” In an effort to orient myself, I touched my sweaty skin everywhere I could, making sure that it was unmarked, that it was clean, that it was mine. He apologized again. I listened to the tap water collide with the confines of the cup. “You’ve got to keep it down,” I said. “I need sleep to be the prettiest girl at the funeral.” We both laughed. “It’s a celebration of life,” he said. “So much for you being an empath, huh?” He walked back to the bedroom and I remained on the couch. My hands still rubbed up and down my skin, investigating from ankle to eyebrow, as if to summon a genie from inside of it. If one could be extracted, I wondered what she would tell me to do. It was quite possible that she, in keeping with every therapist I had ever had, would want to talk about my father. The therapists fell into two camps: some of them urged me to start more conversations with my father, others argued that complete silence was at least more predictable than disappointment. I did not expect that he and I would talk much after we returned from the cabin, anyway, not until there was some other reason or some other death. The genie would at least be a helpful resource in negotiating the insurmountable loss of my uncle. After that, if she could earn my trust, I would tell her about my new and perverse wish for Ingrid to die a second death. I wanted to spend her second funeral with my father. My efforts to fall asleep were insufficient, so my mind set to assemble an image of the little girl at the rest stop. I could concoct a view of her from behind, of the purple veins that understudied her skin as she tried to pick out a convenience store candy. She wore beneath her body the sheet music for a symphony of public parental disputes. She was not wearing a jacket. When I tried to see her face, called out for her to turn around through my blurry attempted sleep, all I could see was my father. With his face on her body, the two of them looked back at me. It gave my half-constructed dream a sense of shared recognition, though I knew it was accidental. In the morning, the three of us would passively notice the permeative distance carving our lives into distinct wholes, and we would actively choose to surrender to it. The analog clock on the wall revealed to me that today had transitioned into tomorrow. I threw my body over to the cushioned backing of the couch. It was Wednesday.
Melissa Boberg is a soon-to-be alumna of Boston University, where she studied English and Philosophy. Her short story “Dinosaur” won the first annual campus-wide fiction contest in 2021. More of her work can be found in the South Shore Review, Off the Cuff Magazine, or at her personal website melissaboberg.com. She is trying to be cool about it, but really hopes you enjoyed reading this story.