By: Jon Epstein
“Baba!” my granddaughter Bailey hollers from the bedroom.
“Can you go in?” I ask Kelly. I’d just sat in front of the fireplace with my first Saturday morning cup of coffee and an ice pack on my back.
“She called for you,” Kelly defers.
I pull up my stakes like a Bedouin on the run, manage down the dark hallway, and open the squeaky hinged door.
Early-morning silver moonlight filters through the curtain edge and windowsill, allowing for just enough light to see. I set my mug on the nightstand like it holds the last drops from the Fountain of Youth. I recline, wedging my ice between my back and pillow.
“Baba,” Bailey says, hugging her four-foot unicorn aptly named Corny. “Do you want a hint about what I want to do?” Her perfect five-year-old nose, her perfect five-year-old cheeks, and her perfect five-year-old voice allow me a moment of reprieve from my troubled sacrum.
“Watch something on the tablet?” I reply, and realize why she called for me instead of Kelly.
“Babaaa, you’re so smart.” Her sparkling eyes are filled with enough hope and imagination to cure the most melancholy of moods.
“Okay,” I say, which was the same answer I gave last summer when she was over swimming and asked if we could get a Jacuzzi.
I get up, yet again.
I come back into the room and before I make it to the foot of the bed, Bailey says, “I can do it.”
“Here.” I hand her the device and think, Christ, five years old and she can work electronics.
I settle in, resituate my ice, and pick up my coffee. I take a sip and am more grateful than a rescued shipwreck survivor that the brew is still—not exactly hot, but much warmer than room temperature.
Bailey opens the “Users” button and toggles the toggle from the “Jon” to the “Kids” setting before I take my second sip. For a moment, despite my lower back, I feel complete and want for nothing. I lift my mug for a third sip, and Netflix is streaming a sing-along nursery rhyme show.
Bailey’s face is illuminated by the video screen, and she sings along to “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
I think back to when my own daughter was five, her innocence, her spirited optimism, and her fist-clenching courage. I regret missing time with my kids when they were growing up. I was usually working; I was afraid I wouldn’t achieve for my family the things my dad had provided for his. I was afraid of losing the ground we had gained. I was afraid of not having enough; I was afraid of running out. I was afraid I’d always be afraid. So I was always running. Running after my tail. Running after my bank account. Running after things I couldn’t describe. Running. Running. Running. I didn’t want to be a millionaire. I just wanted to be enough. I wanted to be a good son. I wanted to be a good father. I wanted to be a good husband. I wanted to be a good brother. I wanted to just be something. Now my daughter Laura’s twenty-eight and my son Alex is thirty and getting married in March. I’ll be sixty-two in February and still grapple with those same fears, even as unfounded as I know they are.
“Hands, knees, and toes,” Bailey sings along.
Time makes no sense. I reflect back to Friday night—I had to use the handicapped ranp instead of climbing five stairs. I wonder what my lower back MRI is going to show. The last couple of years I’ve watched youth in the rearview mirror, and the bastard is falling behind a little further each day.
“Baba?” Bailey pauses between songs. “Can you make me some hot cocoa with whipped cream?”
“Let me finish my coffee.”
“And can we go in the Jacuzzi?”
“After the sun comes up.”
Category: Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing