He won’t let me call him Danny any more. He’s turned into a man at twelve, his eyes old and tired.
Some kids and even adults call him “Dan the Man.” He’s a hero but doesn’t see it. He sees the kids he couldn’t save and the one he put in a coma.
He’s excused from school for a while. We have the books we need at home, and lesson plans, but lack concentration. He wonders what really matters. I’m not sure what matters, either. The counselors say this is a normal reaction. They are available 24/7.
He makes me drive him to the hospital every day to hold Shane’s hand. He doesn’t even know Shane.
Shane’s mother is forgiving and calls Dan a saint and holds the crucifix over the two of them.
Shane’s father, a redneck asshole, has hidden himself in a bunker somewhere.
If only he’d hidden his guns this well.
Shane’s head is wrapped because part of it was blown off when Dan wrestled the gun from him, but not before bullets flew into two kids and a teacher in the middle school lobby.
Machines keep Shane alive, though many, even doctors and nurses, call for the yanking of plugs. If he ever wakes up he’ll be put away for life, so he might as well stay in limbo.
One day Dan’s mother shows up. Anne. She was never my wife. She’s ancient history, having fled soon after Dan was born. Last I knew she was in addiction clinics out west.
She saw the news about the shootings and boarded a bus without a second thought.
“My baby,” she says.
She looks too dried out for even fake tears. She’s smoking on the front apartment step.
“He was never your baby.”
I intend to hurt, but it doesn’t look possible to hurt her anymore, with her body of bones and dark circles around her eyes.
Dan is behind me at the door and I try to keep him back, but he demands no secrets.
He steps out and hugs her for the longest time. She weeps. “I knew you’d come,” he says. “I’ve been waiting.”
Which is news to me — he’s never mentioned her. He has our prom picture in his sock drawer.
Later he tells me he had a vision, that since the muzzle flash there are scenes beneath his eyelids, and this was one of them, his mother coming home. Another was Shane in an alien ship, being studied for the germ of evil.
Getting all mystical was another warning sign from the counselors.
“She can’t stay,” I tell him.
“Dad, if I can forgive that kid.”
As soon as she hits the sofa she’s asleep, curled into the tiniest ball.
I picture her nodding off like that in an alley, a stranger kicking her, turning her pockets inside out. I trace her track marks and cuts and burns. The smoke off her is sweet.
When she was eight months pregnant she had a seizure in the middle of the night. She was seventeen. Coming out of it she explored her great belly and screamed, “What is this?” It took her twenty minutes to remember. She never fully trusted what came out of there after that.
She went on medicine and couldn’t breastfeed. Dan was like a doll to her, the bottle a life size version of a girlhood play set. She was afraid to hold him, afraid of having another seizure and dropping him.
She couldn’t handle it. She simply left him with me. The pain made her like other, stronger medicines.
When we get home from the hospital she’s drooling on the cushions. I cover her with a blanket and sit at the kitchen table puzzling over the new math.
“It’s no use,” Dan says, closing the book.
“What’s the point?”
But then she’s standing in the doorway, still wrapped in the blanket, yawning.
“Let me,” she says.
Then I remember how good she was at math. It was the one brilliant point in her progressively foggy mind.
Her eyes look suddenly focused, very green and fierce. That green starts something inside me. It’s Anne. It really is. Somewhere in there.
“I’d have been dead ten times over if I gave up,” she says, and Dan’s eyes spark with new interest.
Here’s another tragic person to live for.
“For now,” Dan says, “I’ll call you Annie.”
They scribble away. They look possessed. Dan’s getting it. Wild angles grow from their pencils, tangents. She draws constellations. “I was stoned in the desert a lot,” she says. “Watching the sky. Waiting for them to come.”
“Were you taken, Annie?”
“I don’t know. I know I was saved. I’d taken enough stuff to kill me. I woke up on a warm rock. I’d been cleaned up, scrubbed so my skin tingled.”
Dan drops his pencil. “Awesome.”
His hand slides toward hers, and I see how they are the same shape and size. Identical shades of red from wringing. They both bite their nails.
On the sofa she stretches her legs across my lap. Below her shredded jean cuffs her ankles are unshaven and dotted with purplish scabs.
She sighs. “So much wrong with this world.”
Dan lifts one of his earphones and looks at her.
She takes a baggie from her shirt pocket. “Herbal supplement? It helps with basic understanding.”
I think she means math. I’m not thinking. I take a slice and chomp. It tastes like shit. “Tastes like ass,” I say.
“Gross,” says Dan.
I don’t put two and two together until it’s too late, until the building starts to move. White and yellow lights flash outside, and the controls, cleverly disguised as furniture knobs, emerge. They are gummy and soft in my hands.
Dan appears on my left. We look out the window. The building is a ship, and I am its captain, steering down the street. We glide past the neon counselors’ sign, which flashes “24/7.”
“You’re doing it,” Dan says.
Anne is on my right, crying. Her tears are cherry Kool-Aid, and I taste them.
She holds her very pregnant belly and says, “What is it?”
“It’s him,” I say. “Our son.” I point to Dan.
Dan tugs my sleeve. “Stop here!”
I pull the cord to the blinds and our ships hovers.
The door opens and in comes Shane, all in one piece.
I smile at him. I press the recliner lever and we’re moving again, swiftly up and away. Stars stream. The earth recedes. Anne holds my arm.
Dan sits Shane at the table, takes his pencil and starts the diagram which explains it all.
Read more about Gary here.
Read more about Patrick here.