Sep '02 [Home]


In A Single Bound
by Terrence Dunn

He is wakened in the middle of the night by her murmurs, finds her standing in the dark hallway, arms folded tightly across her front, eyes shut. She's been doing this once or twice a week, going to the heart of the house and hiding.
          "Find me, find me."
          "Come into my room." She follows his voice in the dark, arms extended. They sit on the floor, as they do each time.
          "Can the planes come through your window, Brian?"
          "No, Lyd."
          "How do you know?"
          "Mrs. Simmons told me the planes only hit really big buildings."
          "Who's that?"
          "A teacher. I'll have her in fourth next year."
          "Oh. How does she know?"
          "I don't know, Lyd, but she does." He slides back with her and leans against his giant panda. Head in her brother's lap, she yawns.
          "Shhhh, now," he says. "Try to sleep."
          "Don't worry, Honey," Mrs. Simmons had said. "I can't believe anyone would hurt children." She glanced towards the windows. "Even them." He didn't know how she figured that. And she didn't seem all that certain. Grown-ups never told everything.
          "I'm so sleepy, Brian. But I'm afraid. I don't like the dream."
          "Tell me about it."
          Her eyes glisten when she looks up at him. "Okay." She swipes them quickly. "I'm playing dolls in the yard with Lauren and the police jets fly over. You know those jets that fly over?"
          "Uh, sure."
          "And we watch them and we play with our dolls. But then one jet turns over and comes down. Down, down. Real fast. And we run into the house screaming, but Mommy and Daddy aren't there and we run upstairs and we hide in my room and we look out the window and there it is, covering the whole sky and getting bigger and bigger, and then, and then it blows up. And then we're dead."
          "Where am I?"
          "I don't know. In your room?"
          "Am I dead?"
          "I don't know. Maybe." She sniffles. "I don't want you to be dead, Brian!"
          "I'll be okay, Lyd."
          "You promise not to tell Mommy and Daddy about my dream?"
          "Why don't you want me to tell them?"
          "Because they say I should stop worrying about it."
          "You're not going to get killed by the planes, Lyd."
          "How do you know?"
          "Because I know. They'll never come here."
          "Are you sure?"
          "Positive, Lyd."
          "Okay. But can I come in your room when I get scared, just to be sure?"
          "Anytime, Lyd."
          "Will you stay awake anyway and watch out the window?"
          "Of course, Lyd."
          "You are sure, aren't you, Brian? You don't worry at all?"
          "Totally. You'll be fine. You're going to live to be an old geezer."
          She giggles, nuzzles her head into his stomach and draws her legs up. He pulls a sweatshirt down from the jumble on his chair and covers her up.
          "Go to sleep, baby girl." In no time she is breathing evenly, thumb in her mouth.

He can't move now without waking her, but maybe this time she'll roll off and he can get back into bed. The corner streetlight gives the room a trace of fluorescent glow, shining on his wall posters of pro athletes and cartoon monsters, the floor littered with Legos, his baseball cards, Yankees and Orioles lined up straight in rows where he and his mom had been playing a game he made up, picking players and rolling dice. His mom's from Baltimore. She always changes the rules as they go along so he wins, but he pretends not to catch on.
          He worries that she will yell at him because his room is such a mess. "I don't have time to do everything and clean up your room!" She makes more lists than ever now, writing, startled when she notices him standing near. Yet, she's the one who says, "Earth to Brian. Are you with us, Brian? Are you all right?" He always says he's fine. Fine. Everything's fine.
          The sky outside is changing from black to deep blue as the sun starts to creep into the world. A bird sings quietly, one of the pair of bluejays that live in the oak next to his window. He leans back and closes his eyes, sees the plane angling for the plunge into his suburban neighborhood. A scary idea, he tells himself that wouldn't happen: They'll always target a landmark.
          He saw it over and over again on TV, and now in his head, the film of the second plane hitting the tower, at first disappearing into it, just making a gash in the building. Before it exploded in a huge fireball. At that moment everyone on the plane and in the building could have been frozen in time, could have had time to think, Here is when I die. Maybe. Do you think anything or do you just go up in smoke?

Brian strokes his little sister's head, feels tears come to his eyes, rubs them away. He hasn't slept a whole night in weeks. He is always tired. He only got a 68 on his last math test, hid it under his bed. He doesn't know if they'd be mad or just worried. His parents want his life to be perfect, so by telling them nothing, he tells them it is. Probably mad. He doesn't know what he can tell them anymore.
          He tries counting to a hundred. At seventy, the people start jumping out of the tower windows. Mr. Ardley, the sixth grade science teacher, said a human body falling from a hundred floors up would hit the ground like a water balloon. Brian wishes he hadn't told him that. He starts over at one.
          He is floating in the air, drifting on the wind outside a tall, tall silver building. The people inside don't notice him. They just go about their business. He yells at them, Get out! You can save your lives! His father sits at a desk, writing. Dad! he yells and waves. But his father can't hear him either. Brian looks up and sees the plane coming closer and closer. The sky around him fills with water balloons of every size and color, hundreds, speeding silently to the ground. He shuts his eyes hard and braces for the fireball.
          Now other birds join the bluejay. He relaxes his eyes a little, can tell from the golden glow through his lids that it is daytime. His parents will be standing, waiting in the doorway, watching them. Guarding them. He will tell them Lyd woke up to pee and just konked out in his lap. He opens his eyes slowly, tries to smile sleepily. The doorframe is empty.

He rouses Lyd. She is, as usual, instantly awake and cheerful, a little surprised to see where she is.
          "Brian," she grins, "did you put me here again?"
          She is up and singing to herself on the way into the bathroom. Downstairs, the kitchen hums with morning sounds: the clink of forks on plates, the thump of the closing refrigerator door, the rumble of his father's voice.
          "Mom, I want pancakes for breakfast!" Lydia yells through the toothpaste.
          I should get up, Brian thinks. I have to get up. His sister pauses in the hallway.
          "Brian! Are you up?" his mother calls from the bottom of the stairs. "You should have put Lydia back to bed! Come down now or you'll be late. Brian!"
          "This little piggy…," she taunts.
          But he does not move; he cannot move. He has dropped from the sky and splattered on the ground. He is a puddle absorbing the dust of two tall buildings fallen down around his ears.

(Terrence Dunn was born in New York City and has his law practice here, but lives in Pelham with his wife and family. He is at work on a novel and on several pieces about children. Dunn's story, "A Tornado of Birds," appeared in the Mar '02 issue's special WTC section, Living in the Falling Apart, as Gathering the Storm ….)

Photo:  Robin Cooke