Khami, Midnight

Khami stepped out small, pudgy foot hesitate over kitchen tile, walk out slow from the foyer corridor, bare skin of white heel against icy porcelain, the cuff of her powder blue pajama bottom loose around her little ankle, this tiny girl of nine years old awake, alone in this lonesome hour of midnight: out of her bed, out of her element, out of her mind with the cold sink of fear.

Outside it was hot Summer, heart of a heatwave, but the family HVAC was working overtime, pumping refrigerated air into the house and the little girl's lungs. Outside the mosquitoes sting and buzz, the flowers wilting dry and the grass shrug in overgrowth, but in Khami's house: the weather so chill she could almost see her breath. Her feet left wet footprints on the Victorian hex, but still she walked, still she took her steps. The world as she knew it was deep asleep, headline news on repeat, tweets slug slow and liquor-laden, everybody pads & cells recharging. But she was drawn here, like a grown man to cinnamon, to the cool blue of fluorescent sunshine in the dark of night, pausing at the island counter, looking up at the man sitting stiff at the kitchen table, impossible tall: Daddy still inside the suit he wore to work.

He looked different than he usually did. He looked like someone else. Daddy looked like Daddy’s brother if he had a brother but Daddy didn’t have a brother. Or a sister. He looked far away, and distracted, like he didn't see her standing there. Khami expected this, take a step deeper inside the kitchen and sure enough, Daddy's eyes still looking off and out the sliding glass door, to the backyard and beyond, a look in his eyes like he was hypnotized, mesmerized, or somehow otherwise compromised. His briefcase was sitting by his side on the tile, his laptop out on the floor, closed and unplugged, on top of it a rock-solid everything bagel from two mornings past, cream cheese petrifying by the minute.

A breeze blew through the neighborhood, a quick rush of cool air as an apology for all the blaze. There was no one awake to accept.

Daddy look up- to the bedroom, the attic? He had his gold leaf business cards on the counter in a stack, just in case he should run into a potential client, just somebody happening by who might need a senior accountant for audit and internal control. On Frazier Avenue, at 12:04 AM.

On a Tuesday.

The untouched sushi platter sat on the counter before Dad, the one that Mom had delivered, the California roll going South, the spicy tuna losing taste. The wrapped fish, Daddy's favorite, was starting to smell like just seafood, turning green and going sour. Daddy just sitting in his spot, without clue, his nose closed off, unable to smell the ocean for the sea. In his head a sensory synapse fired- it must have- as he felt the pooling saliva in his mouth and came to the inescapable conclusion that it must be time to swallow.

And so, after a moment of consideration, he did.

The eyes in his head were hollow marbles, spinning without purpose or focus, their soul lost at some point last week in the debit columns of the accounting spreadsheets, trying in vain to reconcile the disobedient numbers as they multiplied, alive, unexpectedly, exponentially. It was too late. Eventually the junior staff would be brought in to audit, and they would discover, it would be revealed, they would find out...

Daddy’s hands, his fingers, were functioning independent of his blown motherboard. They had opened the cabinet and grabbed the Tupperware full of fresh Oreo cookies, placed them on the table, the zebra stripe of sandwich some cold kind of comfort. Daddy stacked them as he sat alone, one by one, climbing the corporate ladder, a series of tiny skyscrapers, ascending to glory and success, to heaven and return on investment and-


He looked up, missing Khami before him, not allowing the location of the sound or the fear in the voice to register. Daddy turned his head. Away.

Khami, across from him, now standing at the table, sensing wrong all day and yesterday as well: Mom on the phone with the therapist and Nana and Father Tighe, Dad’s car in the driveway all day, parked at the wrong angle, alternate interior, transverse the garage and cut off the walkway to the front door. She felt it too: tried to explain to Alexandra but the girl was too young. Some bad dreams fall on your shoulders alone, and there’s nowhere to go but the source.

Daddy add another story to the Oreo tower.


He turned his head to Khami, nine years on the planet, petrified beautiful and bold, and finally saw his daughter standing before him, her hands clasped together over her belly, her eyes blinking in the artificial bright. Khami was asking a question. Asking a question and praying for an answer.

Daddy’s first thought, for reasons unknown, was the Great Wall of China. He looked down at his Khami & smiled, told her to go back to bed, that he loved her, that there was nothing to worry about, reminding her that she had school & karate tomorrow and that she needed her sleep. Well… he tried to say those things… he even thought he had. He heard the words in his head, in a back alley off the boulevard, heard them spoken in his voice or an amazing imitation thereof. It was only when he looked into her eyes and saw them getting wet, boiling over, the tears ready to escape her face, it was only then that he understood he hadn’t said a word out loud. He had forgotten how. He looked at Khami’s brow, saw it conflicted, infected, overworked: it would never be smooth and sweet again, and he knew that there was nothing he could do. This is how the future happens.

"Daddy? Are you okay?" Khami's voice, like magic, like truth in music, filling the room, waking him for just a moment from his soul coma.

"What is it? What do you want?" and he knew he had said the wrong words, even before her eyes lost all stars and begin to spill, the tears coming steady now: real, hot and salty, and in spite of his state, in spite of his absence, as her father he could taste her tears in his own mouth.

"Mommy wants to know... why you won't go to work... and Alexandra & me... We're worried about you..." In the child's innocent voice he heard the cold fear, the alarm.

Daddy, the stack of cookies suddenly insane, broke out of the trance which had held him captive for the last three days, pulling his daughter close, his fingers in her hair, her head in his chest, and he began to sob like a small child, his chest seizing, his soul refilling his body.

“I broke it, baby… I broke the damn thing wide open.”

Khami, who didn't know what to say, said nothing.

Even through Daddy's tears Khami could sense the release, knew that her father was freed, knew that this crisis- whatever it was- was finally over. She looked up at him, smiling, as he dried his eyes with his loosened tie.

“Daddy, what happened? What's wrong?” Her chest heave involuntarily as she wiped the tears away. “Is everything gonna be okay?”

Daddy's knee made spasm, leap up and knock the table from below, and the Oreo infrastructure toppled in a mess of black crumbs.

Daddy, eyes on the wreckage, swallowed hard, and then, honest: "I don't know."

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