The door to Abraham’s bedroom never closed completely. Its bolt had been locked back and painted over in a child-proofing measure years earlier. So when Jerry, Abraham’s father, wanted to peek in and say good night, he could just press lightly with the back of his knuckle and it would swing open, almost noiselessly, just enough for Jerry to be able to see the boy. Usually he would find the room dark and Abraham just a lump on his big-boy bed. Jerry would stand still, letting himself get quieter and quieter until he could hear Abraham’s breathing above his own.
It was afternoon though, not night, when Jerry pressed his knuckle to the door and found his son lying on his room’s carpeted floor. The boy had cleaned his room, set everything in perfect rows on the shelves over his bed, the shelves Jerry had built from a page on eHow.com. The white cream carpet was clear of the plastic army men, the Legos, the Hot Wheels that usually kept Abraham’s parents from stepping far in.
The boy lay his the white carpet, hands laced behind his head, watching the white ceiling fan whir. Jerry thought he looked very small. Very small, in his department-store polo and his cargo shorts. Abraham seemed to float, Jerry thought, just a millimeter or so above the carpet.
Jerry left the doorway. He didn’t know if Abraham had heard or seen him.
He found Donna in the kitchen, leaning against their oven, a mug of tea in her hand. He passed her, walking instead to their fridge. He crouched before it, searching for a Diet Dr. Pepper, waiting.
“Did you talk to him?”
Jerry didn’t answer. He was caught up in extracting his Diet Dr. Pepper from behind a bottle of French’s Mustard and two uncut peppers.
After considerable fumbling, and after replacing the two fallen peppers and righting the mustard bottle, Jerry got up and leaned on against the sink across from her. Popped the tab with a ‘tsk’ and sipped. She was still waiting for an answer.
“He didn’t say anything to me. I don’t know if he noticed me,” he said.
She studied her tea.
He nodded apologetically. “I chickened out.”
“Yeah. No, I get it. I understand.” She sipped and raised her eyebrows as if to fight fatigue. He put his soda down on the counter next to the sink. Held out his hands, supplicating, shrugging.
“Do we even need to do anything? I mean-” He could see her trying not to blink at him. “I’m saying, saying this: Do you think he knows what he’s saying? Does he even know? Kids pick up words, they spit them back. That’s how they work, isn’t it?”
She laughed once through her nose, her mouth tight shut in one of her papery smiles.
“Come on,” he said. “We don’t even know where he learned it.”
It was like this was too much for Donna.
“What? How can you say he just ‘picked it up’?” Following her words with her shoulders, she sloshed her tea just to the brim. Quickly she licked the side of the mug, lest any hit the floor. “Like, he just ‘picked it up’ from Yu-Gi-Oh? Or Harry Potter? He’s not just saying it. He acts like it. He knows what it means.”
At the last word her voice muted, like a faucet stopping itself. She stirred her Good Earth tea.
“Acts like it? How can you tell?” He almost stuttered at himself. “I mean — he’s acting different, yes, I am aware. But he’s a little kid. Acting that way doesn’t mean the same thing.”
She was still looking at him.
“I mean, what do you want?” He asked, wishing she would answer. “An eight-year-old kid comes up to you, says, ‘I’m depressed.’ Walks away. What do you do? Take him to the priest? Two months ago he was laughing his ass off at Disney World, smiled every morning like the kid on the Cheerios box. And now he says a word, says he’s depressed, something most adults use wrong twice a day, and you, what, want me to call a hot line?”
She was still looking at him. Not even stirring her tea.
He dropped his eyes to her waist. Pretended to zone out. She was wearing the jeans with the frays around the pockets. Had they come like that or were the jeans just really old? He couldn’t remember. Her belt with the big buckle had little holes where she had removed a dozen little butterfly studs after high school.
“Probably — probably we don’t feed him enough meat, is the thing.”
“Or his thyroid’s off, like your brother.”
“How can he know…”
For a second he didn’t get what she had said. He was just a blank, like student needing to see a problem on the blackboard.
She was still looking at him.
“We’re raising a seven-year-old, Jerry.”
One corner of her mouth was turned down. Who’s she making that face for? He thought.
“Eight in July.”
“Yeah, July was two months ago, He’ll be seven for ten more.” He picked up his Diet Dr. Pepper. He drank with one hand and gripped the edge of the sink. He put down the can.
“I misspoke. I’m sorry.” She focused on her tea. Stirred, nodded.
“I can’t even remember how old I am, usually.”
She nodded more and looked up at him, like she were granting him his right to a mistake. He hated being granted things.
“He can’t be depressed. Can’t be. Physiologically. His whole life ahead of him. Puberty, school, girls, sports, parties, art, travel, whatever. Right?”
“I mean, assuming we aren’t awful parents,” he smiled and picked up his soda, heartily, joking, breaking the mood. He started to move away from the sink. Her eyes stayed where he had been.
Flat on his back with the cream carpet noodles nesting him, Abraham watched his ceiling fan. Its bulb, behind the big white disc, was switched off and the room was filled instead with neutral afternoon light. Behind the disc, the fan’s blades hummed, making a blurred iris, staring down at Abraham. He felt it was very far away, like he was suspended above the fan and not the other way around. He had discovered this feeling months before. It always came if he lay on his back long enough. Sometimes it felt like he would fall off, out into space, or into the fan.
His parents’ voices murmured downstairs. They would talk, Abraham thought, maybe about him. He hoped they weren’t talking about him. It wasn’t worth their time. He could go downstairs and they would stop talking, he thought. They would start cooking and talk about the baseball game, or their jobs, or a movie. Abraham used to enjoy hearing his parents talk like that.
Somewhere in the house, a baseball announcer half-shouted through AM fuzz from a radio somebody had left on. Abraham would stay where he was, he thought.
Again, his father’s heavy steps ascended the stairs along with his familiar, iambic breathing. Abraham heard his father’s knuckle against the door, more deliberate this time. Almost like a knock. Abraham wondered if he would say anything to his father, or if his father would say anything to him. But he kept watching the fan.
He could feel his father standing there, half-filling the doorway. The fan kept staring at Abraham, staring back. Again he heard his father step away.