by Alexander Albatross
It is two in the early, early morning in Alytus, Lithuania. My exceptional, unconventional toy-crafting business (and consequently my residence) is where one would look for me during these rayless hours. Not that anyone has ever set foot to the cobblestone or the circuitous steps that lead to my chamber above the shop. At least not for as long as I can remember.
I turn the many locks on the door to my workshop and tap my heeled boots against those steps. The street is as snug as usual, nestled between the railway and the Russian barracks–recently built by the Tsar.
I close the upstairs door and sit to converse with my son who is as reclusive as I. He is sitting on his toy chest facing the fire.
I light my pipe and devour a lungful of smoke.
“Petras! Have some my dear. I know that apprehension has been an awful nuisance. Afraid of seeing the psychologist tomorrow?”
Taciturn, as I expected.
“Please Petras. Please know that I long for your nerves to be undisturbed as much as you do.”
“Don’t suffocate me,” Petras says.
I fracture my lips into a smile, attempting to put him at ease. He does not notice, still refusing to face me.
“This pipe is imported. Chinese if you must know. Pure silver.”
He remains still, stooped in silence. The gentle hearth wreaths him in familiar flame.
“Forgive me. You are an expert. I by no means meant to insult you. Please, I only, well–I do not have many, or any people in my life, to converse with. I know I must have done something to cause this dissension between us. I mean you no ill will. I meant you no ill will. I swear it on The Lord’s name.”
“Don’t suffocate Petras. Please.”
“Damn it all to hell! You heartless sack of horse shit! I slave wearily away day and night! Speak to me? No, no, no that must be far too much to ask. I brought you into the world and you cannot even muster the courage to speak to your own mother about your quandaries in life? That’s what I’m here for.”
I roll back in my spindly rocking chair, fiddling with the engraved Han characters on my pipe. “That’s what I’m here for…”
“I love you,” Petras says.
My throat and chest tighten and I choke out a single sob, rocking forward in my chair. I let my dirty hair, laden with dried glue and material shavings, hang toward the dusty floorboards. A few tiny sprockets fall out, dust breading their greasy coats like a holiday meal.
“Forgive me, son,” I say through my chaotic hair.
“I do not know…what I would do without you. Here, if you have a distaste for smoking, why not have a drink with me?”
I pop the cork on a bottle of absinthe, offering it after four gulps.
“You know. The hallucinogenic properties have been greatly exaggerated. Should be the least of your worries. But…with enough we can remedy that.”
He sits on his toy chest, stares directly ahead and says:
“Don’t suffocate me.”
I throw the bottle and he thumps limply to the floor, limbs sprawled unnaturally.
“Here. Have some. There is no choice in the matter you won’t ignore me any longer.”
He refuses to look directly at me, gazing at the ceiling. The spirits must be burning his eyes as I pour, his face glistening. He finally speaks when the bottle is empty.
“Don’t. S-suffocate Petras. P-please.”
His mouth is agape and he sounds strange. A clicking gibberish comes from inside.
“Apologize to me.”
Petras says nothing, lying still.
“Say. You’re sorry.”
I turn him over fiercely and twist the hand-crank around and around and around.
“I beg you–say anything to me. Anything.”
I embrace him tightly, smelling our alcohol soaked clothes and his wiry hair. His jaw grinds oddly as he opens and closes his mouth, but no words escape. Those words that I long to hear again and again. Words that revive me from insanity.
“So be it.”
I carry him toward the fire, burning low in the early, early morning. I let him roll from my grasp; he strikes the glowing logs heavily, filling the small chamber with soot and smoke. I quickly return to my chair and cover the grisly sight with my hand. The fire seethes and his body is engulfed in a brilliant light. The paint on Petras’ face peels and I hear those familiar words.
“I love. You.”
A thin stream of fire races across the droplet trail of absinthe toward me.
– – – – –
Alexander Albatross is a storyteller from Glendora, California. He spends the majority of his time cursing the unquenchable sun from the most somber of shadowy corners. Most humans describe him as approachable and then some. His cats describe him as someone who burdens them with too many adorable nicknames.