A man with an oxygen tank cooks at a stove

Rumpus Original Fiction: Dream People


On Sunday morning, I wake with a start, roused by a noise from the kitchen.

I am supposed to be alone.

More sounds. Human, not animal. Pots clanging, dishes sliding around, the refrigerator door opening with a loud suck. I put on my glasses and check Chris’s alarm clock: 5:00 a.m.

Sliding out of bed and down the hallway, I tiptoe past my son’s room and the nursery for the baby. The air is thick with steam and the smell transports me back to my childhood—Irish oatmeal, ribboned with brown sugar and topped with a pat of butter.

I hear slippered feet shuffling back and forth across the linoleum tiles.

“Hey,” I call, edging closer. “Did you catch an earlier flight?”

No response. I stand beside the doorframe and peer my head around.

There, standing at the stove, is a sick, bald man in his early fifties. Beside him, on the floor, rests a green gas canister. A rubber tube runs from its knee-high valve to the man’s neck before splitting to tuck behind each ear and under his nose.

“Kate,” he says, in that voice that I haven’t heard for a decade and a half. “There you are.”

I go to him, my dad. I realize that are we are wearing the same striped T-shirt. It is one of the few things I have left of his, to my disgrace. I started with so many—T-shirts, jackets, ties, paperweights—and I lost most by my early twenties, wandering between apartments, drunk and careless.

“Are you hungry?” he says. “I made breakfast.”

I can’t respond. I must be dreaming. He has never come to me in a dream before.

He leads me to the kitchen table, wheeling his oxygen behind him. I sit and watch as he returns to the stove to put a kettle on. My first dream of my father.

“Here,” he says, passing me a cup of green tea with lemon on the side. I don’t like green tea. I never have. I like black tea with lots of milk and sugar.

“Thank you,” I say.

He watches me drink my tea, and I think about how different I must look. I am the same dress size as when he left me, but my teeth are fixed now. I have a few wrinkles forming around my eyes, but my skin cleared up. I never stopped biting my nails like he wanted, but I did figure out how to style my hair. I am tempted to tell him about college, about my running days. I would like him to know that I was skinny and beautiful, if only for a moment.

But he speaks first. “You’re pregnant.”

“Another boy,” I say, patting my six-month belly.


“Brody,” I say. My last name. My dad’s. “He’s three and a half.”

My dad nods. Perhaps he would have preferred a more classic name. Perhaps he would have preferred James. I couldn’t do James.

“How old are you?” he asks.

“Almost thirty,” I say. “Next month.”

“Big one.”

“So they tell me,” I say.

I am embarrassed by how it scares me, getting older. By how the fear has guided every decision. By the math I’m always doing in my head, working back from fifty-two. If I die at the same age my dad died, Brody will be twenty-six, which is old enough. The new one? He will only be twenty-two.

My dad would understand. He, too, was paranoid about dying young, like his father. Paranoid, but ultimately right.

“Boys,” my dad says. “I never had boys.”

“I know,” I say. My sister and I were his boys. His boxers, his pitchers, his fishing companions.

“You’re married?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say. “He took Brody back East for the weekend.”

I take out my phone and scroll through my albums. I show him my son, his father, my book cover, my sister, her wedding.

“Where is she?” he asks, of my sister.

“She’s in New York too,” I say.

My dad looks around suspiciously. “Why did you come here?”

“California? Chris is a screenwriter.”

My dad’s jaw sets, a quick stubbly pulse that feels like a knife.

I yawn. It is still dark, but not for long. I am supposed to pick up my boys from the airport in a few hours.

“Still not a morning person,” he says. “You should sleep. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

I ask him to read to me, like he used to.

“Do you have the Wind in the Willows?” he asks.

I shake my head. “No.” I hand him the novel I’m reading for book club. Its cover features a woman’s breasts, the title strategically blocking nipple.

My dad laughs. “Okay,” he says.

I help him up and we walk arm in arm to the living room. We move slowly. His feet are numb from the chemo, and he shuffles in his leather moccasins. I sit beside him with my head on his shoulder. I can smell his ever-draining chest wound. It smells cheesy and rotten, but I don’t move. I breathe through my mouth.

He removes a pair of reading glasses from his breast pocket and balances them on the tip of his nose. They are crooked, and he begins to read.


I wake from a deep, black sleep to blinding sunlight. I am alone on the couch. It was a dream. Of course it was a dream. But then I am covered in blankets, the ones we don’t use, which are usually buried deep in the linen closet.

“Dad?” I call. No answer.

The kitchen is clean and empty. There are two bowls and a saucepan drying on the rack.

My phone dings with a text from my editor: CAN’T WAIT FOR THE NEW DRAFT!!!

I tap to like the message.


I THINK SO. I respond.

This time she taps. A heart appears next to my message.


Chris and Brody are waiting on the sidewalk at LAX. Chris’s hair sticks out in all directions, uncombed. Brody’s face is stained with tears and chocolate.

“What happened, buddy?” I ask.

“Just go,” Chris says, sliding into the passenger’s seat.

“Hi, Mommy,” Brody says, morosely.

We get onto the 405, where the heat is rising from the asphalt in waves, and I’m trying to find the words.

“How was New York?” I ask.

“So, so, so boring,” Brody says.

“That’s not nice,” Chris says.

“Did you see Grandma and Grandpa?” I ask.

“No,” Brody lies.

“Yes, you did,” Chris says.

“How’s your dad?”

Chris sighs. “Not good.”

The 405 turns into the 101 turns into Coldwater turns into the residential streets that Brody knows by heart.

We pull into the driveway. Chris goes ahead of us with the bags, while I unbuckle Brody.

“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Brody says.

I have stopped halfway up the path.

“I just missed you,” I say, and I scoop Brody up and balance him on the mound of my belly where his brother is growing. I walk into the house.

There, at the kitchen table, reading a print copy of the New York Times, is my dad.

A toilet flushes and Chris comes out of the bathroom, zipping his pants. “Do you mind if I lie down for a minute?”

I look from him to my dad and back again. Chris follows my gaze.


“Nothing,” I say. “Go ahead.”


Chris disappears down the hall, and my dad folds the section he’s working on. It makes a loud flapping noise.

“Who is that?” Brody asks.

My dad looks up and takes off his reading glasses.

“That man?” I ask. “You can see him?”

“Put me down.”

Brody wanders over to the table.

“What are you eating?”

My dad tips his bowl. “Yogurt.”

“Can I have some?”


Brody lifts himself onto the cushioned banquette.

“What’s your name?” my dad asks him.

“Brody,” my son says.

“What a coincidence. That’s my name too.”


“B-R-O-D-Y,” my dad repeats.

“That’s not your name.” Brody’s yogurt spills out the sides of his mouth. “That’s my name.”

“You’re right,” my dad says. “I was being silly.”

“What’s your name?”

“Grandpa,” my dad says.

Brody scrunches up his nose. “Grandpa lives in New York.”

My dad nods, thoughtfully. “I’m your other grandpa.”

“Another grandpa?” Brody rolls his head back and groans.

My dad laughs. “Everyone has two grandpas.”

“Do you want to watch a show?” I interrupt.

Brody darts to the couch without another word, and my dad shoots me a look of disapproval.


“Am I going crazy?” I ask, while Brody is occupied, anesthetized by Paw Patrol. “Is there pre-partum psychosis?”

“I’m real,” he says.

“How are you here?” I ask.

His face takes on an expression like he is searching for the right word and can’t find it. He shakes his head in frustration.

“Chris can’t see you,” I say.

My dad puts his swollen, waxy hand on mine, over the kitchen table, which is marred with tine marks and sticky handprints.

“He’s much bolder than you were at that age.”

“I know,” I say. I look into the other room, where Brody is lying on the rug in front of the TV. His hands are over his head and his pale belly is exposed.

“Why don’t you close your eyes too?” he says. “I’ll hold down the fort.”

I set my dad down in an armchair, and I sprawl out on the couch.

“Move back an inch or two,” My dad says to Brody. “That’s not good for your eyes.”

Without asking, Brody crawls into his lap. I worry about the plastic tubing, about the wound, but my dad doesn’t seem to mind. Sitting together, in the golden light of afternoon, they gleam. I am tempted to take a picture, but I don’t. I know without trying that it wouldn’t work. I wonder it, and the answer is there waiting for me: no.

There are questions that don’t have answers. Why? Why now? For how long?

I close my eyes.

I wake again to kitchen sounds. I move toward them, expecting to find my dad sautéing garlic in olive oil or marinating a piece of fresh fish. Instead, I find Chris, stirring orange powder into a pot of mac ’n’ cheese.

“Where’s Brody?” I ask.

“Shitting,” Chris says.

I go to the bathroom, where Brody is unspooling a mountain of toilet paper onto the floor beneath his dangling feet.

“Hey! Come on!”

He looks up, startled.

I rush to respool the tissue, but it’s loose and sloppy.

“We talked about this,” I say.

“Sorry,” he says. “Can you help me wipe?”

When he is clean and hands are washed, I send him to the kitchen, to his father, and I look for my dad. He’s not in the hallway or the bedrooms or the linen closet. Not in the driveway or the backyard or the car. Nowhere.

I go back inside.

“Stop saying that,” Chris says. He scoops steaming hot macaroni into Brody’s silicone bowl.

“I did,” Brody says, insistently. “I got a new grandpa.”

I lift a finger to my lips, hoping Chris can’t see.

“Don’t be quiet!” Brody yells.

I sit with him and pick at his mac ’n’ cheese while Chris washes dishes.

“Where’s my new grandpa?” Brody asks.

“I don’t know,” I whisper.

“You lost him,” he accuses.

“No. I didn’t lose him. We’ll find him.”

Brody grumbles and eats his pasta.

After dinner, it’s shower, teeth, and stories. When the stories are done, I turn on the dinosaur nightlight, and I play Brody’s meditation tape. I crawl into his twin, and I let him rest on my chest, his face rising and falling with my breaths. He looks like a baby when he sleeps—plump and cherubic and peaceful.

I imagine him at fifteen, rangy and hormonal and pulling away from my grasp. At thirty, back too broad to wrap my arms around. Will he smell the same? Will he remember this, remember me, remember us as we are now?

The tape waxes about puppies and patience. It asks me to consider where doggies go when they dream. It asks me why they twitch and whimper when their eyes are closed. I don’t know, I think. There are so many things I don’t know.


Brody wakes me at seven-thirty.

“It’s morning,” he says, pointing to his color-changing wake-up light. “Did you sleep in my bed?”

“It was an accident,” I say. “Let’s go potty and get dressed for school.”

We run into my dad in the bathroom. He is brushing his square, Chiclet teeth, dressed in khaki shorts, a long sleeve T-shirt, and New Balances. Socks pulled up to his mid-calf.

“Grandpa!” Brody says. “Did you have a sleepover?”

My dad smiles, foaming at the mouth from his Sensodyne.

“Do you want to brush with me?” my dad asks.

His voice sounds clearer, stronger. His oxygen is gone. His head is no longer bare and shiny but instead boasts a few millimeters of lush peach fuzz. I remember the first time he shaved it, after the initial diagnosis, the way it grew back soft as a baby’s. I loved to rub my hands over it.

I don’t have time to ask about the oxygen because a wave of nausea hits, and I rush to the toilet to puke a torrent of leftover macaroni and yellow bile.

“Come on, now,” my dad says to Brody. “Let’s fix you some breakfast.”

“He has to pee,” I say, between retches. “And get clothes on for school.”
“Can you show me where your clothes are?” my dad asks Brody.

“Yep,” Brody says, and they leave me to my misery.


“I remember when your mom was pregnant with you,” my dad says, after I’ve dropped Brody off and it is just the two of us in the house. “She never vomited.”

I sip my ginger ale. “Good for her.”

I am avoiding talking about my mom because I know that he expected me to take care of her. I don’t know how to explain that I tried, but she is hellbent on killing herself, somewhere in New Jersey, as slowly as she possibly can. He never liked excuses.

“Are you feeling better?” I ask.

My dad coughs. “I am,” he says. “Much stronger.”

“What does it mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where were you last night?”

He tilts his head, confused. “I was here.”

I missed one deadline already, and I should be editing, but my dad wants to read, so I make a stack of everything that he missed. He starts with A Visit from the Goon Squad because he likes the title and because I tell him he’ll like the music aspect. I pick up my book club book and join him on the couch.

I hadn’t thought to miss these readings sessions, but now I wonder how I ever lived without them. It seems my whole childhood was spent curled up in a chair or belly down on a rug or feet tucked into the sand—reading. My dad beside me, even when my mom and my sister were splashing in the waves, doing other things. My companion in silence.


The last two weeks of July pass in a haze. Chris works himself to the bone to avoid thinking about his dad’s remaining time, which we both feel slipping away like sand in an hourglass. Brody and I stay inside, mostly, avoiding the Valley heat and my editor’s insistent emails. My dad flits in and out, appearing and disappearing at random. Each day, his spine is straighter, his skin is brighter, and the barrel of his chest is broader. The sternum wound closes, leaving no scar. His hair grows back, wavy and auburn and beautiful. The fine lines around his eyes take shape without the lymphatic fluid to fill them in. His face transforms from a puffy circle to its chiseled form. He looks as in my childhood photo albums—athletic, virile, forties. Handsomer than in memory.

Brody doesn’t mention the changes. Every day, he greets him the same— “Grandpa!” But over time, he begins to tackle, to chase, to wrestle.

“What should we do for Mommy’s birthday?” my dad asks Brody as they fill in a puzzle.

I listen to their conversation from my desk in the nursery where my entire manuscript has begun to feel childish and pointless.

“A cake,” Brody says.

“What kind of cake?” My dad asks. “Maybe we could make one.”


“A pepperoni cake?” my dad asks, his voice skewing high and disbelieving. “That’s disgusting!”

I hear Brody thump to the ground and cackle with laughter. I hear his breathing grow sharp and fast.

“Stop! Stop!” he yells.

“Dad,” I call. “He doesn’t like to be tickled.”

“Sure he does,” my dad calls back.

I hear Brody’s screaming growing shriller. I know he will cry soon. I push away from my desk and march into Brody’s room.

“He said stop. You have to stop.”

My dad takes his hands off of Brody and holds them in the air. Brody stands and catches his breath.

“Pepperoni!” Brody shouts, trying to bait him, but my dad does not respond. He looks at me: see, he likes it.

I know that if I say it is an issue of consent, of no means no, if I try to remind him that I always hated being tickled, he’ll insist that the problem is me—I was and am hypersensitive. I took his games too seriously and cried too easily. So I turn and leave. From the hallway I hear a thump. More tickling.


A week before my birthday, Chris tells me that he has a surprise. He’s hired a sitter for next weekend. We’re going to have two nights in Santa Barbara. A babymoon.

“Next weekend?” I search for excuses not to go. “It’s supposed to rain,” I say, unsure if this is true.

“Okay. . . .”

“Stop talking,” Brody says. “Play trains with me.”

“Not the reaction I was expecting,” Chris says.

I don’t know how to tell him that I’m worried if I leave the house, my dad, who he can’t see, will disappear.

“I don’t want to go,” I say. “I don’t want to leave Brody.”

“You’ve left Brody before,” Chris says.

“Can we cancel it? Is it too late?”

Chris runs a hand through his thinning hair. “That’s not the issue.”

“Can we get our money back?”

I really need a break,” Chris says.

“How is your dad?” I ask. I have been avoiding the question.

Chris lays a curved piece of track on the tile floor. Brody connects it to another.

“Not good,” Chris says.

“What’s not good?” Brody asks. “The track? The track is not good?”

“No,” Chris says. “Grandpa. He’s not doing good. He’s sick.”

“He’s sick?”

“Yes. Very sick.”

Brody’s tiny eyebrows furrow. “The new grandpa?”

“Your grandpa,” he says. “In New York.”

Brody nods, solemnly. “New York Grandpa is boring.”

Chris stands and leaves the room, abruptly, kicking a segment of the railroad on his way out.

“Chris!” I call. “You can’t—”

“He broke it,” Brody wails.

“It’s okay. We’ll fix it.”


The next day, Brody’s school is closed for professional development. He stays home with me and Dad while Chris goes to work.

“Chase me,” Brody yells at my dad. “Chase me!”

My dad ignores him. He’s reading the latest issue of JAMA, pen tucked behind his ear. The reading glasses are gone; he doesn’t need them anymore.

“Chase me, Grandpa!”

“Not now,” my dad says.

I’m sitting beside him, on our secondhand patio furniture, glass of ice water pressed to my neck, feet elevated to help with the swelling.

“Run with him for a minute,” I say.

“You run with him,” my dad says, without looking up. “He’s your kid.”

His frame has grown lean and muscular, his hair thick, his face sinewy with tendons. He looks younger than I ever knew him. He looks as he does in the pictures I have from his modeling days—all bronzed skin and sculpted cheekbones and muscular forearms.

“I can’t run,” I say, gesturing to the baby.

“Your mother jogged until a week before you were born.”

I roll my eyes, but he isn’t looking.

“You shouldn’t be gaining more than ten, twelve pounds. I hope your OB told you that.”

“Do you want to weigh me yourself?” I say. “Like the old days?”

He looks up now and meets my eye.

Brody puts his body between us. “Are you coming to play with me, Grandpa?”

“Not now,” my dad says, and he returns to his journal.

Brody snatches the issue from his hands and runs away.

My dad bolts out of his chair and chases him. He lifts Brody into the air, and Brody shrieks; he thinks it’s a game. I know better. I run toward them.

“Put him down,” I yell.

My dad has already dropped him roughly and reclaimed his property. He stalks away, toward the sliding door, throwing it open and disappearing into the house.

“Not nice!” Brody screams.

I get down on the grass with him and hold him in my arms, let him cry into my shirt. “I know, baby. I’m sorry.”


I don’t see my dad until almost midnight. Chris and Brody are asleep. I’m awake, watching Real Housewives in my pajamas.

I hear his footsteps enter the room.

“I’m not interested in your commentary,” I say.

He sits beside me, puts his hand on my knee. It is wrinkle-free, perfect.

For a second, I am back in my childhood bedroom, waiting, with the floral comforter pulled to my chin, for my dad to creep in, wearing that hangdog expression, and perch on the side of my mattress, seeking absolution.

“You cannot talk to my son like that.”

My dad folds into himself.

There are so many things that I’ve inherited against my will. My mom’s voice, her thick calves, her talent for drinking. My dad’s hair, his freckles, his black moods.

I never stopped to think about the rage, always boiling under the surface of his skin, ready to explode out of his control. I took it for granted, the way I trust myself around Brody—to speak to him kindly, to touch him gently. It does not require great effort.

Once, maybe a year before he died, I brought him lunch, and on my way out, he grabbed my hand. The look in his eyes was crazy, desperate.

“Are you afraid of me?”

He was weak then and drained of his might, so I said no. It was easier to issue blanket pardons than admit that, of course, I feared him and loved him in equal measure. He was sick, and I had no interest in wielding power; I only wanted to be good.

“How old are you?” I ask now.

My dad rolls his sleeve to show me his elbow. I don’t know what I’m looking for. He traces the crease.

“No scar.”

I remember the story, vaguely. An accident in his early thirties, when he was in med school. A friend who was badly injured. Before I was born. Prologue.

It is late, and his stubble is growing in.

“Is he okay?” he asks.

“It’s over,” I say.

The day before my thirtieth birthday, I drop Brody at school, and when I return home, I smell it right away—cigarette smoke. It turns my stomach.

I follow the smell through the living room to the backyard, where my dad stands shirtless in a pair of swim trunks, hosing down the lawn and smoking.

“What are you doing?”

He turns to me, and I see myself distorted in the mirrored lenses of his aviators.

“You can’t smoke,” I say.

For years, I was the Smoking Police. In high school, in college, I lectured people about lung cancer, offered them the gory details about my dad’s illness.

I could do it now. He may not remember. He was unconscious, snowed under with morphine, eyelids barely fluttering. I could tell him what it looked like—like drowning. What it sounded like. How, for hours, I counted the space between each gasping breath, wondering if it would be the last one, until, ultimately, it was.

“You should go in,” he says, pointing to my belly. “Not good for the little one.”

I do as I’m told. Within a few minutes, he’s beside me.

“I read one of your stories,” he says.

“What? How?”

“Chris had it on his Kindle,” my dad says.

“You know how to use a Kindle?”

He smiles. “I’m not as thick as you think.”

“What did you think?”

“Is he me, the dad?”

“No,” I lie.

“The main character—”

“It’s fiction, Dad. It’s all made-up.”

“I know. It was very entertaining,” he says.

“Entertaining?” I am tempted to remind him that I know he wanted to write a novel, that his mother, my grandmother, told me all about his literary ambitions, how they delayed his medical school admissions. I am tempted to remind him that he had fifty-two years, which is not a lot of a life in the grand scheme of things, but it is enough to write a novel.

Instead, he opens his arms to hug me, and I let him. I miss my version. This one is too young, too shifty, too temperamental. This one doesn’t even have kids. He’s single and rash and about to get in a car accident. But he smells like my dad, plus cigarettes. And he is strong, and I let him hold me up, and when I close my eyes, just for a second, we’re back where we were, with him swinging me around like a ragdoll while “Be My Baby” plays in the background, and in the embrace comes the answer to the question we have been asking: tomorrow.

“I have to pee,” I say, standing suddenly. “And then I have to do a little work.”

“Now?” he asks. “So late?”

“I’ve fallen behind.”

My dad understands. If there is one thing he traffics in, it’s productivity.

“Let me make you some tea.”


Chris leaves early so that he can come home early. There is a vase with flowers on my bedside and a note: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO BEST WIFE/MOM/WRITER I KNOW XX.

“Good taste,” my dad says, when I bring the flowers out to the console table by the front door.

Today, my dad is gentle and kind, and he lets Brody shave using the cap of the shaving cream and a fistful of foam.

“I’ll tidy up,” my dad says when he sees me assessing the damage from the doorway. “Don’t worry.”

Brody and I split a muffin in the backyard while my dad cleans.

“No school?” Brody asks.

“It’s Mommy’s birthday and it’s Grandpa’s last day with us, so you get to stay home.”
“Grandpa has to go home?”

“Yes,” I say. “But we’re going to have a cake, for him and for me.”

Brody picks at his muffin. “He has to go home to New York?”

“He’ll be gone. We won’t see him anymore.”


“His body is sick,” I say, wishing, for once, that I was raising him religious.

“Grandpa is sick in New York,” Brody says.

“That’s not—never mind. It’s okay.”

The sliding door whooshes open, and my dad joins us outside. I know he must be itching for a smoke.

“Beautiful day,” he says.

“Can I go look for treasure?” Brody asks.

“Stay where I can see you.”

We watch Brody root around in the shrubs at the edge of the property, occasionally losing sight of him before catching a glimpse of his red shorts or auburn hair.

My dad takes a deep, healthy breath. I know that he is thinking what I’m thinking, about summers on Cape Cod, where we used to go every August for a week that spanned our birthdays. We’d celebrate together, with a joint cake. He’d buy me something beautiful from a jewelry shop by the ocean, something with a piece of sea glass or a peridot. I’d make him something out of shells. Impossibly, he would be coming up on sixty-seven.

“I wish I got to see you get old,” I say.

“I know,” he says. “But you got all this.”

Brody calls out from the bush, something about a map, and my dad calls back to him.

“Hey, pal. Do you want to go read a book with me before nap?”


When half an hour passes and my dad hasn’t reemerged, I go into Brody’s room to check on him. Brody is asleep on top of his comforter, curled in the fetal position around a stuffed giraffe. My dad is nowhere to be found.

Chris arrives home at three, while Brody is still napping. He hugs me and wishes me a happy birthday and assures me that we can do whatever I want next weekend.

“I want to go,” I say.

He pulls away. “Are you sure?”


He smiles. “Has the child been that bad today?”

“Something like that.”

Chris whips up a perfect dinner of takeout sushi and Diet Coke, all the things I’m not supposed to have. His mom calls to wish me a happy thirtieth and tell me that she misses me. I tell her that I’m sorry I haven’t called.

After I hang up, I sit for a moment on the couch, alone and in silence.

Suddenly, the room goes dark, and I turn to the sound of footsteps. Chris carries a simple olive oil cake on a dinner plate. It is blazing with candles and garnished, on the sides, with fresh berries and homemade whipped cream. When he is close enough, he balances it in front of my face, and I can smell orange zest and feel the heat from the fire.

Through the hazy flicker, I make out a little boy crouched behind his leg.

It is my dad, aged three. He has auburn hair that curls at the base of his neck, and he is singing, quietly. He wants to hold the plate. His sweet, small hands reach out and float beneath the porcelain. My eyes blur, and all I can see are the dancing yellow flames.

If I could hold his whole hand in mine. If I could pick him up and spin him around until we’re both dizzy. If I could rub his back in circles until he goes limp, with his cheek pressed into my shoulder and his warm breath on my neck. I could stop time.

He inches closer, until he is standing right in front of me. At the end of the song, he looks up and smiles. He has deep dimples and a bridge of tiny freckles that I know by heart.

“Blow out your candles, Mommy,” he says.

“You help.”

Brody crawls onto my lap and drapes himself over my belly. Chris kisses the top of my head. I close my eyes to make a wish and see my dad, with his oxygen tank and his beautiful, radiated moon face.

Happy birthday, Kate.

When I open my eyes, the room is black.




Rumpus Original Artwork by Zach Swisher

Kate Brody lives in Los Angeles, California. Her work has previously appeared in Lit Hub, The Literary Review, and Write or Die, among other publications. She holds an MFA from NYU. Her debut novel, Rabbit Hole, is forthcoming from Soho Crime in January 2024. Find her at katebrodyauthor.com or @katebrodyauthor. More from this author →