“Aren’t candles bad for the ozone?” he asked.
“What do you know about the ozone?”
“I saw it on a cartoon,” he replied.
“Of course you did. Yeah, I suppose someone is making the case that candles are bad. Still, we’re saving electricity. It’s a wash.”
“You can’t fucking win,” he said. Except that he didn’t because I would have scrubbed his mouth out with soap until he was blind.
“Wash what?” he asked.
“Your hands,” I told him. “And take your brother.”
The thing about drinking heavily on surprisingly little food and even less sleep is that something has to give and it is usually the wallet. It gave a lot. Now there are memories where dollars used to be, and they were worth every one.
“Don’t go avenge’anin my name,” sang the youngest between bites of warm biscuits and fresh blueberry jam.
“I would,” I told him.
“What does that mean?” asked the older.
“It means that I love you,” I said.
“Is this the Avett Brothers?”
“Yes. They’re a band of brothers, just like the two of you.”
The jam nearly melted into the bread, and the taste was like pie in the shadow of the oven.
“It’s good to have a brother,” said the youngest.
“You are both very lucky,” I said as I watched their faces through the reflection of the window. They were looking at the blueberries on their fingers.
It took two nights for me to accept that I wasn’t going to die in my sleep. Things tend to slow down when the party stops, and shifting into a lower gear doesn’t make the hill any less steep. The last time I flushed something solid was when I dropped my gum in the airport urinal. My head was full of clouds and cocktails.
“It’s past your bedtime. Again. Hurry up.”
That was me. They were mostly screams and laughter.
“Why is it past our bedtime?” one asked.
“Because it’s late,” said the other.
“Will you read us a story?” they asked.
“No,” I said, “but I will write you one.”
Once there was a man full of malice and mischief. He was made to wonder and wander, so he did both in spells and pieces. Sometimes he mixed mischief with wonder and malice with wander, and sometimes it was the other way around.
Most of the time he preferred just to wander and while doing so he wondered about things like where dreams came from, why stones break bones, and where it was he was going. Now and again he gave way to a tune in his head and he would lose himself in a whistle. He was as happy as he thought he could be.
It wasn’t until he met a woman and fell to courting that he did the things that men of fancy find themselves doing in front of crowds of friends and strangers — with caution nothing but the wind upon his back. Then it started to gather a bit in the middle and he said to himself, “That is how you focus.”
Malice gave way to mischief and mischief gave way to just occasional nights of far too rowdy. The wandering went to destinations and the wonder was said aloud instead of swirling thoughts inside his head. He was happier than he was before, so he thought that was the end. But it wasn’t.
Eventually they had a son and there had never been anything like it except for maybe those occasional whistles from paragraphs before had they been shared by a choir of angels and, he thought, if cartoon birds put ribbons upon my wife and in her hair, then that, too, might be half as good as this.
That went on for the space of time that exists between one son and the other. Then there were two boys with the man and his wife and you would not be laughed at if you assumed that their happiness had doubled, but that would be easy and math seldom is. There were algorithms and remainders and factors to consider which is only one of the reasons you should stay in school, but when the dust had settled the number had grown larger than the paper on which it was written — so the man threw it into the sky and told it to return when it had settled on a sum and the paper is still floating out there somewhere like so many stars and expanding equations. I hope you were listening to the part about staying in school.
So that is where the story is now. The man healing from a few nights of far too rowdy and his wife ready to wander with ribbons in her hair and her destination fixed. The day was one where two little boys floated and whistled and filled themselves with a bit of malice, the best kind of mischief and mastered, once again, the tendency to grasp happiness while expanding through worlds worn with wonder. They went to bed too late, covered in warm crumbs, small kisses, and the freshest coat of blueberries.
The man sat by a candle and did exactly as he had promised.