My new neighbor Jack says he's half-Lemurian, this ten-year-old boy with no father, freshly re-planted here in the Philly suburbs, dreaming up a spiritual connection. He wonders how his father will find him here. I get it, after I google Lemuria, part of Mt. Shasta mythology, an alien race from a lost continent of a lost age of bridged continents and rising waters. They are an advanced race, I tell him. He nods. He stands in his yard; I, in mine. He wonders about my kids, my wife. In one scenario, I imagine telling him the truth, how I lost them, how I fucked this graduate teacher, how I confessed and wasn't redeemed and lost the kids we might have had and ended up here, talking to Jack, looking at his wide brown eyes and thinking and then rejecting the idea that he has some power to recover for me all I've lost.
Instead, I tell him I never had these things.
Today, Jack holds a Chargers Nerf football. He sails it as if it were the fathership coming for him.
"But," Jack says, "they can't leave the mountain. It used to be an ocean, you know. All of it. I bet he can breathe underwater."
And maybe he has special chewing gum for Jack, so Jack can swim with him. I picture Sea Monkeys for some reason. Of course, they'd be bigger.
"How 'bout we toss the ball," I say. "You there. Me here."
Jack's roundness—chipmunk cheeks—and his long eyelashes is evidence enough for me of his advanced lineage. He throws me the ball, end over end. So maybe evolution doesn't involve throwing spirals. My return throw bounces off his hand, deflects off his head.
I imagined him leaping into the air, catching it one-handed, somersaulting backwards and bouncing up to his feet—ta da—forgetting how I dreamed as a kid of things I didn't have. A home I wasn't ashamed of, that didn't need to be kept hidden like a pile of shit in my pants. Something like that.
A couple more throws, the ball careening off every part of Jack's body. Each time, he calls out "Oh God" and chases the ball here, there, everywhere. Then, with a bang of the screen door, his mom appears, calls Jack to the house and replaces him on their side. She's so desperately thin that I could see why the Lemurians might be irresistibly attracted to her bones and her translucent skin. Her name is Madeline, like Roderick Usher's sister, buried and resurrected. Gruesome.
"What do you want with my son?" Her husky voice, full of grit, as if coming from a deep chasm.
Jack tumbles back toward her, Sisyphus's rock, her rock, up and down, across the country they rolled. Jack got beat up on playgrounds. Jack drew Lemurians as family portraits. Jack's desperate desires won't be assuaged. Jack rolls down the hill.
"He reminds me—" But I don't know what to say after that.
"He's just Jack." He lands beside her. She rubs his ear. "He's nothing of yours."
"Hey, Just Jack," I say. "And what do you want with me?"
He lifts up his shirt, points to his back. Madeline scratches. Jack closes his eyes. "You aren't my father," Jack says.
"No one believes us," Madeline says. Her eyes the green of Rolling Rock bottles. Her dark black hair blows into her face, creating the illusion of a veil. "They don't."
"I want to believe you," I say. "And Jack, if anyone comes and says he's your dad, well, you better make sure he can fly or have gills or some kind of proof. And me—" I could lift up my shirt, show them the red scars of childhood burning there still, only the wind sweeps across them, blowing them back up the hill, mother clinging to son.
"I've got nothing, Jack. Nothing."
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