Come Back

by Michael K. Brantley

Asher and my wife and me tried to pass the time in the tiny, sterile, fishbowl playroom where toddlers were queued for surgery. It was miserable.

He was four and didn’t really understand what was going on, what was going to happen to him and what was beginning. We were not four, and we didn’t really understand either.

He tugged nervously at his pajamas and tried to play. Every few minutes, he cut glances to make sure we were still there.

We waited.

Twenty minutes after the appointed hour, they came to take him away to the operating room. Asher made us promise to be there when he got back. We did.

He climbed into a little red Radio Flyer wagon, and a nurse pulled him down one fluorescent-tinted corridor, and pretended she had accidentally gone the wrong way. This allowed her to make one last lap by the fishbowl, where we had been instructed to stay. Asher grinned and waved and called to us as they wheeled him around the corner.

And then he was gone.

Sometimes, but not often, I have a nightmare. We are in the fishbowl, and it is time for my son to go. He climbs into the little red wagon. The nurse pulls him the wrong way, again. Asher makes his lap and grins and waves and calls out — just like that day.

I always wake up before he comes back to us.

BIO: Michael K. Brantley has been a freelance writer and photographer for over 25 years, and is an adjunct English instructor at Campbell University and Barton College. His creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry has most recently been published or is forthcoming in Revolution House, The Smoking Poet, The Fat City Review, Short, Fast, and Deadly, The Rusty Nail, The Circa Review, The Cobalt Review and Prime Number Magazine. Michael is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Queens University.