by Bradley Sides
When he folds along the lines, he is still. Before this moment, he hasn’t felt at peace since before her eyes closed far too soon.
What he meticulously creates isn’t really much of a figure yet — just the dream of one.
In this free class, open to anyone and inside the back room at the local craft supply store, he doesn’t interrupt the instructor or ask unnecessary questions. He listens, and he folds. Each step like a ritual. More sacred than a promise — a secret.
The other students are here to indulge in a hobby. Not the man. He’s here to be reminded of what it means to love.
His body, like a protective shield, crouches over the desk. His hands cover the completed paper creation. Slowly, he peeks between his fingers. As he does, he says a prayer. He asks that his lips will have the power to breathe life.
When the instructor comes by to check on the man’s progress, she notices his desk is already clean except for the presence of his cupped hands. He nods. She thanks him for coming and goes on to the next student.
When the man opens his hands and sees how his paper creation waves, with surprisingly uncrooked arms, the man waves back and laughs. At the paper son — his paper son.
The man gently tucks his paper son inside his shirt’s pocket. The man doesn’t button the flap, so it’s easier for him to look down inside the cotton crevice to see his paper son as he leaves the store.
The rain catches the man by surprise when he steps outside. He runs to his truck and scrambles with his keys.
When the man reaches in his pocket, his paper son is gone — not gone gone, but gone enough. The perfect folds of the paper boy are no more. His hands are no different from his head. He is translucent and ripped.
The man waves at the boy again, but his son stays limp.
The man scoops his son from the soaked corner of his wet shirt and holds him against the air conditioner. His son doesn’t come to. Not even when he’s dry.
The man goes inside the store and asks the instructor if there are ways to repair the damage. She tells him there is not, but she reminds him that he now has the knowledge of how to create. She encourages him to try again.
The man thanks her and explores the shelves for supplies. He buys three different kinds of paper. He can make another son. Maybe a daughter.
When the man is back at home, he sits at his kitchen table. He takes out the paper and begins drawing lines. But he can’t keep focus.
His hands shake. The paper tears and crumples. The man has no choice. He tosses the paper away.
A few raindrops patter on the roof, and the man thinks of his son. He will every time it rains.
Bradley Sides is a writer and English instructor. His work appears at, among other places, Chicago Review of Books, Electric Literature, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Millions, and The Rumpus. He lives in Florence, Alabama, with his wife. He is at work on his debut collection of short stories. For more, visit bradley-sides.com.