Short Stories

Reproachful Eyes

By Ernest Hadley

The door is old and a crack lets in just enough light to see the faint outline of hanging clothes and a bit of light seeps in where the hinges are, too.  When I open it, he hides.  I can’t see him, but I know he’s there, ducking to the left or right depending on what shirt I move.  I hear the soft swish of movement and I can feel him peering out at me. There’s something comforting in that small confined space.  I’m not sure if the closet keeps him in or everything else out, maybe it’s a bit of both.

Years ago, he used to come out to play though I can’t quite remember the last time he came out.  I used to be able to remember such things, but now they are as shadowy as his closet.  Dark outlines of things once concrete are all that remain, leaving only a vague impression of what once was.  Like the boy, I’m not sure if the impressions are there so I don’t forget or to keep me from remembering what really happened.

He was happy then.  I was happy then.  He never came when adults were around.  He wasn’t afraid of adults; he just didn’t see their purpose.  It was how their eyes, he said, give away their harsh judgments of the world around them to conceal their own disappointments.  It’s worse, he told me, when they don’t say anything.  When they do say something, their words come out angry and the very act of unleashing those words somehow releases the anger.  No, it’s worse, he said, when they just look and their anger stays hidden inside, their penetrating gaze a condemnation worse than any words can convey.

Let’s jump on the bed.

We can’t do that.

Why not?  It’s fun.

We might break the bed.

Beds are made for jumping.

No, they’re made for sleeping.

That’s what they want us to believe.

Why would they say that if it isn’t true?

They don’t want us to have any fun.

Why wouldn’t they want us to have fun?

They’re not having any.  That doesn’t mean we can’t.

We shouldn’t.

Shouldn’t have any fun?

Jump on the bed.

Suit yourself.

Quiet, or he’ll hear us.

You’re the one doing all the giggling.

I can hear my father in the hallway outside the bedroom door.  “You’re not jumping on the bed in there, are you?”

Look at me.  I can almost touch the ceiling.

“No.”

We should really stop.

“I’ve told you about jumping on the bed.”

He was back in the closet by the time I’d hit the floor.  The door was slightly ajar and I couldn’t see him but I could feel his eyes on me as my father entered the room.

“What the hell’s going on in here?”

The fall had taken all of the air out of my lungs and I couldn’t answer.  My side hurt and tears were starting to come.

“What’s wrong with you?  I’ve told you a thousand times not to jump on the bed.”

Later, as the emergency room doctor wrapped my cracked ribs in an Ace bandage, he asked me how it happened.

“I just kind of rolled off the bed,” I said.

“That was one pretty hard roll.”

My father said nothing but I could see his eyes.

He only came out a few times after that, but would scoot back into the closet at the smallest of sounds, even the shuffle of bare feet going past my door on the way to the bathroom.

Sometimes, I wish he would come out.  We could jump on the bed and there’d be no one to yell at us, or worse, stare at us with reproachful eyes.

Copyright © 2018. Ernest Hadley.  All rights reserved.