, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

by Charles Duffie

His mother sews stars on their jackets. This is as bad as it will get, his father promises. They pray and pray. When the boy asks why God doesn’t listen, his father slaps his face. The boy winces as he apologizes, like he’s being slapped again.

Now his father is gone. The boy and his mother live in an old lumber room behind a fireplace. The neighbors build a false wall to hide the room. It’s too narrow for a bed, so they sleep on quilts, and too short to stand up, so they live on their knees. They come out twice a day. To eat. To walk. To use the bathroom. But one knock on the door or one voice in the hall and they scurry back. His mother asks him to wear her locket, the one with his father’s photo. She says they’re lucky to have this little temple. Her prayers make him want to scream in God’s face. He misses his father.

One night he sneaks out of the closet, crouches inside the chimney, looks up. He sees a rectangle of stars like the cold, multi-iris eye of God. He climbs, squeezing between the bricks. Fingers slip on soot-soft edges and corners scrape his knees. The funnel narrows but he drags himself higher, to the breadbox opening. The air is cold now, the brick like ice.

He reaches through, clawing heaven, and hears abrupt fluttering like angel wings. Terrified, he waits for God’s messenger to strike him, but no angel appears. The boy taps the chimney’s ledge and finds a nest. Fingers trace the warm curve of eggs.

He’s still there when the soldiers arrive. His mother says, It’s only me. She’s praying to him now, but he can’t answer her prayers either and climbs down.

Charles Duffie is a writer and designer working in the Los Angeles area. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Prime Number Magazine, Meat for Tea, Scribble, Swimming with Elephants, Role Reboot, and others.