paganini

Certainly, Mother did not see the fog for the drapes were closed. She cuddled in the electronic hum and tumescent glow of television that served as a thrice-locked door to the silence just beyond. Father wore headphones and surrendered to links, lying next to her. None saw the mist lick the back sliding glass doors of the neatly identical five bedroom and three-and-a-half bath homes down Glen Court at the far end of Whispering Meadows in the hills just north of town.

Lying in bed, my knees hurt and my elbows, too. The insides of my joints needed scratched. I stared at the ceiling. I listened. Unwatched, there was televised talking in the living room. My sister, sotto voce, carried on a conversation on her phone, pacing up and down the hallway. Her voice echoed on the wood floors and the cathedral ceilings. The air conditioning noised.

It is impossible to sleep in this house. We’re always late. We get in the car in the garage and drive to school. I run to class. Ms. Needles says I’m bright but that I need to take the SPQR soon because if I don’t—well, she can’t even fathom that. Mother said I made the handsomest elementary school prom king she’d ever seen. Indoor soccer and tutoring—don’t forget!—until I run to the waiting car at dark to go back to the garage and to bed.

I opened the curtains and there was a misty fog so thick that streetlamps were orbs in the distance. The house and all houses at the far end of Whispering Meadows swam in it. Oddly, this fog made noise, carrying a thousand cowbells like that of a hundred demonic wind chimes several pitches apart sounding at once. The sound was getting louder.

The louder it got, the more I could hear. The fog also carried in it the sound of several hurdy-gurdies playing odd jaunty tunes and somewhere a fiddle being scratched away. Above this din, there were voices around the side of the house. “YAWP, you bastards! YAWP!” a voice cried. I could hear them telling bawdy jokes and banging the walls. Someone kept yelling about a secret hid from the ancients about how red soil with the appropriate acidic properties could be turned into gold, “I swear! I swear! I saw it with my own eyes in Győr!” I looked down to scratch my ever-itching knees.

When I looked back up, I was met with the face on the other side of the window. My bedroom was on the second story. The fog was so thick I couldn’t see how he flew to this height. The window had never been opened, but I could hear him shouting:

“I embrace you, my brother!
This is the kiss for you!
Beyond this house, this fog, this world,
Must a loving Father live. It must be!”

Like wild banners on a hill, his hair blew to the left. His eyes were like that of a cat who encounters a dog at her food bowl. Their noise was different than the noise of the house. Their noise was the noise of the brain, the insides. He flipped me the bird and motioned for me to open the window.

When I opened the window, the security system alarmed and blared. The man at the window howled. His teeth were black. The cowbell around his neck jangled. Mother and Father rushed in.

“Who zee’ hell?” the man yelled.

I swung one leg over the window and scratched my elbow.

“My son! My only son!” Mother cried, “What are you thinking? You will ruin your destiny! I don’t want to be unkind, but they’re all bipolar. It’s quite simple, really, they’re all just, well, insane. I read about it Mother’s Weekly. It was an article about the ten things only mothers of awesome kids know.”

“My gosh, honey,” Father said, looking up from his tablet, “Wikipedia says those people made deals with the devil. How about—“

“—You still have High School! You need to take the SPQR!” Mother shouted.

“I don’t.”

Leaning, I tumbled out of the window. Along with the madman, we rolled down the dozens of fogmen who created a pyramid up to the window by kneeling on each other’s backs. They laughed when I hit the earth with a thud. “C’mon, kid,” one of them said to me as he put a cowbell around my neck, “we’ve got some more kids to steal back.”

As we withdrew with the fog, Olivier Messiaen, whispering sibilants, took my left hand, “Mon petit homme, écouter les oiseaux!” And Hitchcock took my right, “Yes. The birds!” And, I heard the birds of night for the first time. They laughed, days later, when I asked about my itching joints.

My picture appeared on no milk carton or Amber Alert. The next evening, they parked their respective cars in the garage. Mother and Father closed the drapes, were baptized again in continuous noise of the house on Glen Court in Whispering Meadows, and forgot.

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