Michael entered the garage and found the stack of porn magazines. Under a single light bulb, minutes turned to hours as he studied every page, breathing hard, mouth open, throat parched, tongue sticky, satisfying himself over and over, imagining April in every sordid way. His legs had fallen asleep after squatting for so long, so he zipped his jeans and limped back to the empty shack of a house, laughing and shaking his head at the memory of Conner separating from the tire swing and slamming hard to the ground. He imagined the boy’s freckles sprinkling from his face like dust on impact.
At midnight, Michael wakened from a sweaty nightmare about his father’s final moments when he heard a raspy cough and smelled the thick smoke of cigarettes. The canned laughter of late night television coming from his tranquilized mother’s bedroom echoed down the hall. Blue light flickered off the ceiling like an icy fire—like the flashers on the white rooftop of a police cruiser. Michael buried his head and ears under a pillow as tacky and thin as his skin and tried to forget. He tried to forget Conner’s untied shoelace as he fled arms open to April for comfort and an explanation of how childhood heroes become villains.
Michael’s self-pity bled to despair and a suicidal self-loathing with the sickening realization that earlier he had played the role of his father and Conner the abused childhood version of himself. April’s response had been identical to that of his once beautiful mother whenever his psychotic daddy stormed through the house with thunderous threats and frightening damage. Her smile was gone. Her head was down. She refused to look him in the eye. She wanted him to leave.
That’s what he would do, then. He would leave. The river waited to embrace him.
Michael wondered if his tears were genuine. His lousy father had cried, too.
He started to pray but didn’t know where to begin. “God —”
He tried again, “God?” but fell almost instantly into a deep and troubling sleep.
Falling, falling. Arms flailing. After banging without making a noise on the padlocked doors of heaven. A sign—”CLOSED FOR BUSINESS” — was hanging on the gates.