By Kathleen Thomas
At night when he can’t sleep, he thinks of words for his father’s life, words beginning with each letter of the alphabet. Sometimes he skips letters, but he always starts with a: Afghanistan, accident, after.
Before. Before his father deployed, before he died, before the son was born.
Almost always as he thinks of words, he must combine, delete, escape. Till fragments emerge. Syntax impossible, out of context. And meaning. Change definitions to equations: x = unknown.
Boy, son, almost seventeen, almost a man, almost age of father when he deployed. C = child, children left after explosion, after Afghanistan. 1 + x times number of soldiers/father/mothers = x to the x power. How old are the children? What do they know?
D for denial, departure, dying. Dad, dads. Elusive, ever-present.
Evening light, fragments of a day. Gestures of a woman walking in a park in the evening. The woman, wife, widow, mother holds her child’s hand. He will not let go. Sometimes she will hold on even after they are home and reading his favorite story about a boy, his purple crayon, the moon he sees outside his window.
Husband. Invisible, infinitesimal, meaning and not meaning a value approaching zero. Z = Zaragon, a town in Afghanistan.
No details on the town. Language, spoken, unspoken. Today or maybe yesterday, he read that every fourteen days a language dies, goes silent. What’s missing then? What remains?
Once there was a wedding photograph. Young couple in a garden, early summer flowers everywhere around the man in a uniform, the woman in lace. No one moves, no one speaks. No one mentions her eyes look uncertain. His, the same. The future, far away. What do they want to say to one another?
Skip j, skip k. Forget j, k. A groom killed in July. Plans, known and unknown. If he had lived: he wanted, he dreamed, he planned, he loved. X = unknown = questions remain.
Restless. He can’t write. Skip ending. No ending. Go to the kitchen, make toast, pour leftover coffee.
Once a long time ago, the son, a small child, afraid of the dark, dreamt his father came to his room to protect him. He could not see him but he knew he was there. He could hear his voice saying, “No need to be afraid. Sleep. We are safe.” The next morning when the child woke up, his dream had vanished. He searched under the bed, in the closet, all through the house and outside his window. But he could not find his father.
A voice vanishes. Whose, where. Yours. In Zaragon, the town in Afghanistan where you died. You vanished in the evening, in July, in Zaragon.
Z = infinitesimal, infinitesimal. Irreversible. Universal.
Son. Return to the beginning. Begin again. Alphabet, voice, language. Bring a man, a woman, a child to life. To the briefest moments of life. Each day. Fragments, gestures, x to y without z. Home.
Kathleen Thomas wrote her first story at age seven while searching for shadows. Many years later she earned an MFA and has been a recipient of a Florida Individual Artist Fellowship for Writers. She still searches for shadows as she works in education and health care focused on bridging the creative and healing arts. Her work has appeared in Apple Valley Review, Warren Wilson Review, The Louisville Review and Kalliope, A Journal of Women’s Literature and Art.