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Saturday Afternoon

This Sunday Story came from a dream. I dream sometimes in stories. This is one of them.

I am getting the vacuum cleaner out when the doorbell rings. I think about not answering it. I’m busy. I’m just so busy.

I try to look out the front window without being seen and immediately I am shaken.

There is a police car.

There is an officer moving up our sidewalk.

There are neighbors coming out of their homes.

But it is three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. Only three o’clock. Saturday afternoon. Nothing that bad can happen at just three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.

Still, I don’t move.

Jason comes bounding down the stairs then, showered after his run. He asks me who is at the door and I just stand staring at him and then he calls my name. I still don’t answer.

Jason steps slowly toward the door. He opens it. I hear a man’s voice asking if this is the residence of Matthew Stills. I hear my husband say that it is and ask what this is about. I hear the officer ask if he can come in and I hear my husband repeat his question as he steps aside and the officer walks in and I see his face. I see his face and I cannot believe it and I try to make it not be real. This man can’t be in my house.

He can’t be.

And he can’t be asking about Matthew.

He sees me then too. He sees me and his eyes go wide. He recognizes me, remembers.

Seventeen years ago.

The other officer notices the lull, steps in front of Mark, the man I met seventeen years ago, when things weren’t going so well with Jason. This other officer speaks.

“Are you both the parents of Matthew Stills?” he asks us.

Why is he asking us this? Why? My husband looks at me. His eyes are wide too. His eyes are wide like Mark’s, this man from seventeen years ago, in a bar after a fight with my husband.

“Mr. and Mrs. Stills,” the other officer says. “We are so sorry. But your son was just pronounced dead in an accident on Hartman Road. We are so sorry.”

My entire body goes rigid with alarm, but at the same time if feels as though he did not really say what he just said. I did not hear him correctly. I did not let it in.

“What the fuck did you just say?” Jason asks.

Mark speaks then. He repeats to my husband that our son is dead.

Our son.

I can’t begin to process this. My body is straight and tight and hard with fear and sorrow and shame, but my mind cannot understand. My mind cannot.

My hand is still on the vacuum cleaner.

Mark is looking at me and the other officer is giving details of this accident that has supposedly killed my seventeen year old son and I think Jason is screaming but I just can’t hear or see anything clearly. I cannot even breathe as I look at this man in my house whom I met all those years ago and whom I know something about as he shares in the telling that our son has been killed.

It is too much. It is more and more and more than anyone can hold, and then I think Mark is saying that she is going down and I wonder who is going down. Who is it? Who is she?

Then I just don’t know anything else.

I don’t know anything.

It is all black.

I see myself at the bar all those years before. Jason and I had been married for just eight months then and we were so young and we had no idea. We didn’t understand how hard it would be. How awful. We didn’t know that it was too soon for us, that we were so ill equipped to be married.

Then and now.

And this guy bought me a drink.

And we danced.

And I got a taste of what it might be like to have myself back and I wanted to taste that and I did, until three months later when I knew I was pregnant.

Seventeen years ago.

I told Jason then and he was so thrilled and he said that it would save us and I believed him so I didn’t tell him the rest. I didn’t tell him that I thought it was this guy’s baby, that really I knew it was. It was this guy’s baby.

This guy who is here now telling us that our son is dead.

The black is starting to lift then and I see Mark standing over me. He is saying my name and I wonder if he actually remembers it from all those years before or if someone has told him or if he found it when he was looking for the address of our dead son.

“Amber,” he says again softly, so that my eyes are drawn to his face and I take it all in and I see how much Matthew looks like him. The blue eyes that Jason and I don’t have, that Jason said must be from his great, great grandmother. But they are not. They are from this man who has come to tell me that our son is dead, a boy that he doesn’t know is his. A boy that he doesn’t even know.

So then I just say it. This thing that has been heavy as nails on my heart and mind, weighing down my entire body and being for the last seventeen years. It is absolutely suffocating me now. I am buried in a pain so severe I can hardly choke out these words that feel like they must be said, but that I also know I should not say. Not now.

“What did you say?” Mark says to me. “What?”

“He was. He was yours. Your son. From that night, Mark.”

I am saying it over and over and I do not know why, but I do. I have to get it out of me. I have to get everything out of me because it has all led to this. All of it. It has all brought us here in this house with our dead son.

Then I see Jason beside me and he is asking what I am saying as I look at his dark brown eyes, his eyes that have never looked like Matthew’s, and I don't know how I can be doing this. How can I be doing this? How can I be saying this on the day of our son’s death, when my husband’s face is ravaged with loss and love? How?

“Matthew,” I gulp. “He was not your son, Jason. He was his. Mark. This officer.”

Sobs take me over then. I cry a cry that is fierce and demanding, that is punishing me for all of the damage I have done, for the damage I am doing now too. The pain is just so unreal as I realize that my son is dead and that I am destroying these men along with him and that I do not know how to stop.

But it is three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. Only three o’clock. Saturday afternoon. Nothing that bad can happen at just three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon.

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