It’s a terrible thing, they say. To outlive a child. Your own strange creation. They say it and you listen and you nod your head because there’s no response for those occasions. There’s no response to that grief. A feeble apology is all you can muster and you linger awhile at the back of the room to let the women do what it is they do for each other. It’s no wonder we made such a world. And then you leave, without the flowers, and return to your own intact dream, and you hold your own babies just a little tighter, for awhile, and read to them with more vigor, noticing now when they absently place their hands on your arm and the cool sensation of the pads of their fingers, ink-stained with the juice of some crushed fruit they’d been picking, over-ripe blackberries, and their tiny, perfectly square teeth when they yawn. You put them to bed and you pull up the sheets and pratically demand in the gentlest voice that their dreams be as sweet as the land of imagination from which they had only seconds before emerged. It might have been filled with benevolent dragons or talking stuffed bears, or a badger and a toad beside a slow-moving creek, it doesn’t matter now and it didn’t matter then. What mattered was you were the dream-weaver. You. The curator of phantasm and the omniscient narrator at the apex of their lives’ goodness and joy. Their minds were yours, you knew this, and you bore that repsonsiblity with the most solemn care, knowing full well that every word you spoke, every inflection, both within the hallowed confines of story-time and everywhere else, was a spell, an incantation, a living magic you colored with intent, and what truth you held in the secret chambers of your heart. Whatever they might have become belied the smile you managed for them, and your eyes sang the hymns that would fill their tiny churches. They saw it all. They knew it all. They were the wisest and most knowing among us all; the children. And you knew it because you were one of them once and swore an oath to yourself that you’d never forget, that when your time came, if it came, you’d do it different somehow, not the way you were taught. You would teach yourself how based on this cherished oath. And the time did come, and you made yourself change. You looked deeply into that mirror where you saw your father’s face every morning and made an honest assessment, not of what you saw there but what lay hidden behind the mask and you changed. It is possible. They say that too. You can find redemption, it’s never too late. And you say it again, when you lose them, and it becomes your turn to field the apologies and gather the well-intentioned flowers. It is a terrible thing, they say, to outlive your children. But you try to hold on, to the memory of blackberries and the grip of their fingers. And to story-time, which was the greatest of your blessings and the answer to your prayer.
o O o