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Even after all these years, he couldn’t believe it’d happened while he was asleep. Curled up under the sheets, knees tucked. He never heard the screech of brakes, the impact of bone against glass, steel, whatever else. The shallow rhythm of his breathing unbroken, he went on sleeping, dreaming, while his father crossed that yawning gulf. Alone.
The death of his father should’ve been like the lowering of another world. He should’ve sensed the sky had been swallowed, should’ve felt that second world settling like another night. Its magnetic poles should’ve pricked up the hairs on the back of his neck, stiffened them into cactus needles. The added gravity should’ve squeezed the breath out of him. A small, dark world pressed against his dreaming as though sinking into the mud of the just-created, tracking itself, scarring the surface—proof of the casual forces loose in the universe, a collision at an intersection where two trucks mangled themselves as if one of them had expected to win. Their shiny grills caught like sets of teeth, both had stopped dead trying to take a hunk out of one another. No witnesses, both drivers killed, both drunk, police had never ruled on who’d run the signal.
All without waking him. Without a nightmare sticking to him like blood, without a hard rain of shattered glass. Without so much as an off-color moon. No guardian katsina had intervened, no bird friendly to their tribe had whispered a warning. Early on in the day, he hadn’t bothered to look up from the sketches he was drawing in the dirt with a stick or tried picking out the night’s events in a cloud formation. Hadn’t divined anything from the shape of the scar on the back of his father’s neck. From milling ants that had welled up like a dark stain from a crack in the sidewalk.
When his mother woke him, he clutched at whatever he’d been dreaming like a startled spider trying to leg up a ruined web. He hadn’t understood why she’d been crying, couldn’t grasp what she meant when she said his father had been in an accident. Sniffling and wiping at her nose, she covered him up again and turned out the light.
He should’ve rooted his feet and held out his hand—six years old or not—ballasted his father like a basket of rocks on a blanket. Kept him on this side. It must’ve been his father’s wish to go off like that. Not to die, but with dying imminent, to face up to it on his own. Even if as a grown man he’d been able to take his father’s hand, he’d have been yanked up like a weed, loose clods of earth trailing. So it was a safe bet that anything that could push his father so far in a direction he didn’t want to go in wasn’t going to be offset by a clinging six-year-old.
Morning couldn’t be far off.
Born in Orange, NJ, Vincent Czyz earned his BA in English literature at Rutgers University, an MA in comparative literature from Columbia University, and an MFA at Rutgers University. He spent three years at the North Jersey Herald News in Passaic, NJ, where he served as copy editor, book reviewer, and feature writer. He is the author of a novel, a novella, an essay collection, and a collection of short fiction, which won the Eric Hoffer Award for Best in Small Press. He received two fellowships from the NJ Council on the Arts, the W. Faulkner-W. Wisdom Prize for Short Fiction, and a Capote Fellow at Rutgers. His stories and essays have appeared in New England Review, Shenandoah, AGNI, The Massachusetts Review, Tin House (online), Boston Review, Copper Nickel, The Tampa Review, and Southern Indiana Review, among other publications. He spent a total of nearly a decade in Istanbul, Turkey before settling in Jersey City
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