“This pain, that runs so deep, shows me the height of the love we once shared.”
Nathaniel Godfrey walked to the ambo in the humble country church on the outskirts of La Crosse, Wisconsin. He had been baptized there, and married, too. After a fire destroyed most of the church eleven years ago, he began his woodworking career by chiseling that very ambo from a two hundred year old oak stump. Now, in the autumn of 1985, it was time to bury the woman who inspired him, the woman he married ten years ago.
Nathaniel scanned the crowd while pulling a eulogy from the inner breast pocket of a rarely worn navy suit coat. Light streamed through a side window piercing the stratified layers of incense smoke. Towards the front, a woman sat alone dabbing tears. From somewhere in the back, a kneeler fell to the ground with an echoing thud. The casket lay in the main aisle near the sanctuary step. As he unfolded the eulogy, a photo slipped free.
Eight years ago, he had captured Aisline’s profile as she gazed out over the North Atlantic, halfway up Mt. Brandon in Dingle, Ireland. Soft, auburn hair floated in the wind, revealing the porcelain skin of her neck. Her green eyes were cast outwards, lost in thought, searching for meaning in the vision she’d just had at the old stone chapel near the base of the mountain.
“Nathaniel, did you see that?” Aislin had asked him in the chapel.
“Yea,” he replied. “This mortise and tenon joinery on the pews is amazing, not to mention the details carved into that ambo.”
“No, silly, that light, didn’t you see the light?”
Nathaniel looked towards the altar, “Just the morning sun shining through those stained glass windows, Ace, maybe reflecting off the tabernacle.”
“No. She moved. A child, she seemed to be singing.”
He was used to her seeing things outside of the visual spectrum. Not that he understood her, but he had learned to listen.
“Singing? What’d she sing?” Nathaniel asked.
“I don’t really know for sure.” Aislin crossed herself, a rosary swaying in her hand. “It sounded like a hymn.”
“Well, we have half a day’s walk to the top. Better get started. That is, if you are done praying.”
Now, standing before the gathered crowd with the photo in his outstretched arm, Nathaniel wondered how it got there. He lowered his hand and saw his seven-year-old daughter Isabella sitting in the front pew, her hands clenched on her lap. She was conceived on that trip, and Aislin insisted on naming her Isabella, meaning consecrated to God, because of that vision.
Someone coughed. He dug through his other pockets searching for his reading glasses, then stopped. He knew that the words he had written did not reflect his true feelings. Nathaniel cleared his throat.
“Some of you came here to remember this life, too soon lost. I didn’t. Some of you came here today to mourn, to show your support, and to be supported. I didn’t. Some, for closure, a final kiss goodbye. Not me.”
His words became more infused with anger. “Some of you came here to be close to God, to pray to Him, to ask that He take this soul into His ever-loving bosom. I didn’t. I came here today to put God on notice!” He looked out over the crowd, scowling.
Father Delaney, who was seated across the sanctuary, rose to his feet, but Nathaniel stopped him with a raised hand. Uncertain of what his next words would be, Nathaniel only knew they had to be said. Father Delaney sat back down.
“They assured me she was comfortable,” he continued, gesturing to an imaginary team of doctors. “Yet her last words to me, before she clenched my hand so tight it nearly broke my bones, before she balled up, and bit down so violently she cut through her own tongue, her last words were, ‘It hurts.’ ”
Nathaniel’s thoughts turned to how Aislin had once reached deep inside him and unlocked his heart, bringing out his talent to carve objects of beauty from a piece of wood, and leaving inside the gift of faith. A faith in knowing that to create beauty for beauty’s sake would give them a full life, that they would then always have a roof over their heads and food on the table.
With a tear in his eye, he erupted towards the ceiling, “Her pain will be yours!”
Father Delaney stood again and signaled to the organist who quickly started to play “Amazing Grace.” Nathaniel stepped from the sanctuary, took Isabella’s hand, and together they walked out.
The burial was private, in the Godrey family cemetery, in a back field on Nathaniel’s land. A stream ran in the distance. Wildflowers grew outside its iron fence, and during the summer bluebirds sang. Now, aster blooms bowed to autumn winds. A red oak stood within, shading the freshly turned dirt. Aislin’s brother Sam, a few employees, and the undertaker, having finished their work, closed the gate behind them.
“Sam, I know it’s a lot, and all so sudden,” Nathaniel said.
“Don’t worry Nate, I understand.” Sam stopped walking and grabbed Nathaniel’s arm, their eyes locked.
“She meant a lot to all of us. You didn’t burn any bridges today.” He sighed and let go of Nathaniel’s arm.
“I’ll close the house down after you leave, and come around from time to time to check up on it,” Sam said. He briefly rested a hand on Nathaniel’s shoulder, and then walked ahead.
Nathaniel paused outside the barn, Isabella’s hand in his. The barn was once an integral part of the family farm that encompassed most of the valley floor, but the farming died with his father twenty years ago. Now it was full of wood, tools, and projects half completed.
While in high school, Nathaniel worked at the local lumberyard for extra cash. He loved the smell of fresh cut wood, and the endless possibilities of a simple log. His father encouraged his interest by introducing him to an Amish family that shared the valley, learning from them the elegance of woodworking. He possessed the talent, but now the inspiration was gone. Nathaniel watched as Sam slid the barn doors shut and affixed a padlock.
“Daddy?” Isabella wore a dark dress, and her shoes were muddy from walking in the field. Nathaniel knelt down. She had her mother’s green eyes and soft white skin, but her hair was blazing red. It was braided, a few loose strands drifted across her face.
“Why are you going to burn our house?”
Nathaniel sighed and put a large, calloused hand on her shoulder. “I’m not going to burn a thing Bella.” He looked around. “This was all just a dream we had, girl, but it’s over. We have to leave.”
“What about Mommy? She’ll get cold out there all alone.”
Nathaniel realized how little he had seen Bella during the past few months, and how quiet she had become when he did spend time with her. As tears began to well in her eyes, he held her tight.
“Mommy will be fine, she is with all our family. But, we have to go. We’ll come back and visit every year. I promise.” He patted the child on her back.
In the ensuing years, Nathaniel parlayed his knowledge of the lumber industry into a fortune by trading random length lumber futures on Chicago’s commodities exchanges. Water Tower Place was at the heart of the Magnificent Mile. Nathaniel owned the seventy-first floor and the rooftop. Often he sat on the deck, alone, endlessly gazing out over Lake Michigan. The interior of his condo reflected the glass and steel of contemporary urban life; streamlines, cool colors, hard surfaces.
On this Sunday, in the spring of 2004, he was in the library adjoining his office. Long curtains closed off the natural light, and tucked in a corner sat a desk. It was a bookkeeper’s desk he’d made for Aislin years ago when they started out in business. Its writing surface was covered with leather, a hutch filled with slots and drawers stood up from the back. Two photos and a lamp rested on top of the hutch. Nathaniel turned on the lamp and sat in the desk chair, motionless, eyes floating from the photo of Isabella to the photo of Aislin.
Over the years, Nathaniel watched as Bella matured into a young woman. She was twenty-six and in her final year of medical school. Nathaniel thought she became more like Aislin every day, especially her unabashed sense of life. He knew that someday Isabella would inspire someone to dream, like Aislin had once inspired him.
A clock from somewhere around the corner struck twelve noon, and Nathaniel stood. It was Sunday and he expected Bella within the hour, she was bringing a guest. On the way out of the room, he stopped at Bella’s anatomical skeleton hanging by the door.
“Sorry William, you’re going to play the role of Bella’s late boyfriend again,” he said, popping off the skull and cradling it in his hands.
Winding through the hallways of his condo, he came to the living room. He heard the clamor of a pot lid rolling on the tiled kitchen floor and smoke seeping from around its door. Bella burst from the kitchen, a cloud of smoke in tow. Seeing Nathaniel, she slowed to a nonchalant saunter and crossed the room towards the balcony. “Hi Dad! Beautiful day isn’t it? Think I’ll let some fresh air in.”
Nathaniel stood amongst his glass and steel, skull in hand, all too familiar with his daughter’s cooking skills. He noticed a man standing by the sofa. He was a tall, good-looking, dark haired man in his mid-twenties, well dressed in a casual fall way, khakis and cardigan. Nathaniel thought he looked more like a young professor than a student.
“We snuck in, thought we could surprise you,” Bella said as she opened the balcony doors. “I’m making a tomato quiche. Bacon is going too.”
Nathaniel thought he must look like a seventeenth century portrait, memento mori: remember that you too must die.
“Alas, poor Yorick!” the young man quoted. “I knew him, Horatio.”
Bella went to Nathaniel, stood on her tiptoes and whispered, “Not this time Daddy!” She then kissed his cheek, ruffled his hair and relieved him of the skull.
“Mark, this is my father. Daddy be nice,” Bella said, and then slipped back into the kitchen, letting out another small cloud of smoke. Before securely closing the door though, she added, “I think the oven needs calibration.”
When Mark shook his hand, Nathaniel appreciated his firm grip and eye contact. “That’s quite a woman you raised, Mr. Godfrey.”
Nathaniel nodded and motioned Mark to the sofa.
“We met at the Kellogg Koffee Roastery last fall,” Mark began as he sat. “She slammed into the patio door trying to push it open and dropped her coffee.” He paused and shook his head laughing. “It’s a sliding door. Then she said, ‘Geez, you’d think they would have changed the doors by now. That’s the third time I’ve done that.’”
Nathaniel couldn’t help but smile.
Over brunch, Mark explained that he was not only working on his thesis, but also putting it into practice by looking into the purchase of a failing experimental bike company in La Crosse. He seemed like a decent man, and though Nathaniel tried he had a hard time not liking him.
After brunch, Mark left to hail a cab. In a private moment by the elevator, Bella smiled and threw her arms open, “Awesome, isn’t he?”
Nathaniel hugged her good-bye and echoed, “Yeah, he’s awesome.”
As the elevator doors closed, Bella’s words descended into his heart and he felt the gentle tug of time.
Over the next five years, life unfolded as Nathaniel expected. Mark and Bella wed soon after graduation. Mark pursued his business in La Crosse, and Bella began a career in gastrointestinal medicine. Nathaniel let them stay at the old family house until they got their feet on the ground. One August day, Bella called him. She could barely contain herself. Through laughter Nathaniel didn’t understand, she asked if he could come up a few weeks earlier than usual for his annual visit.
It was late October when Nathaniel parked his Boxster in the lot of the shrine of Our Lady of Guadeloupe in La Crosse. Bella had designated via text the spot to meet. He wondered about the location, but he knew that she never lost her faith. Besides, he was always happy just to see his daughter, regardless of where.
Looking around the parking lot, he noticed the shrine was built into a horseshoe-shaped coulee, a bluff. Switchback paths cut along the interior of the bluff connecting various elements of worship. Just off the main path, beyond the visitor’s center, stood a stand of aspen dressed in their best autumn yellow. Their leaves, glistening in the sun, shimmered in the gentle breeze.
She was pacing among the trees, sometimes gesturing, sometimes wringing her hands. Nathaniel paused at the edge of the lot. Bella hadn’t noticed him.
Watching her, Nathaniel worried, her manner seemed so opposite from the joyous phone call two months ago. Looking at her like this reminded him of Aislin, who would fret over every little detail in life. After capturing this image in his mind, he sighed in a nod to the past, a tip of the hat in gratitude, for this moment.
“Bella, you’re early as usual.”
As she turned towards him, the dam broke. From the look in her eyes, it seemed to Nathaniel that variant streams of thought must have crashed together at once, causing words to fail her.
The harder he held her, the more intense her tears became. He stood with one arm around her shoulder, the other cupping the back of her head. Her body trembled.
Without a word, she took his hand and led him a short way up the path to a formal garden. A statue of Mother Mary holding three infants stood in the center of a fountain. A half-dozen raised flowerbeds formed aisles that led from Mary to a structure fifty feet away. It was a horseshoe-shaped monument crowned with Spanish tiles. Simple and elegant, merely a series of thick slabs forming one central wall under a single, over-hanging roof. Large bronze plaques hung on the wall.
“Daddy, I have something to tell you.” The words were barely audible.
Her usually confidant voice faltered as she continued, “Mark and I, we were going to call you and invite you up for a weekend. I mean, we did call.”
He thought of the past several weeks. They had been unusually silent, with none of her daily calls, texts, or emails.
“We wanted…we had…we had such wonderful news to share…” She stood shuddering, overcome with sobs. Her head dropped down upon her chest.
He stepped closer, held her once more. His eyes trailed off. He was too far away to read what was written on the large bronze plaques, and in this moment he didn’t really care what was written on them. However, he noticed smaller marble tiles grouped together between them. His eyes fell upon the tile right in front of him. He stood frozen, gasped, and then looked down at the top of the head that he held tight to his chest.
Upon the tile were etched one name and a single date, Nathaniel, October 12, 2009: his name, the date two weeks ago. He glimpsed the statue of Mary and again thought of the babies in her arms. They looked disproportionately small. Then he knew what this place was.
Gently lifting her head by the chin until her eyes met his, he spoke softly, “You lost your baby?”
She nodded. They stood in an eddy of emotion, father and daughter, holding each other up, each using the other’s shoulder to cry on. A distant glint of sunlight from a crucifix high above the cathedral caught his eye.
Nathaniel relaxed the iron grip he had on his daughter and guided her to a bench. “Are you OK?” he asked.
With a tremendous effort, she separated the hands that were so tightly wrung together and flattened them on her lap. After a few deep breaths, she tried to answer from behind the shield of her methodical medical voice.
“It was a cervical failure, an unpredictable event. After four and a half months, the weight of the baby became too much.”
The shield did not hold. Her voice cracked as she raised her hands to cover her face, “I couldn’t hold him Daddy, I couldn’t hold my baby. They said it didn’t matter, this ‘failure’ would have happened anyway.” She balled her fists, but finding nothing to strike, relaxed them. “They said a simple ‘procedure’ would prevent it from happening in the future.”
“Nice to know after the fact,” Nathaniel replied. “Doctors and gods, all incompetent bastards.” He quickly squeezed her shoulder, “Except for you, of course.”
After a few deep breaths, she rested her head on her father’s shoulder. “I am just so thankful we knew of this place.”
Bella paused and let her eyes trace the outlines of the yellow leaves overhead. “It’s peaceful here,” she said. “It’s a blessed place to come and grieve. To heal, and to hope again.”
A sparrow flitted from nest to rooftop, to clear blue sky and back home again. A gust of wind blew from the north, and leaves wept from the surrounding trees. Nathaniel scowled at the cathedral.
“Daddy?” Bella asked, looking at her father’s expression.
Nathaniel looked down at her. His face relaxed.
“You need to let go of that.”
Nathaniel just slowly shook his head. “If only you knew her, Bella. She was mine, my muse, my inspiration.”
“Daddy, that’s not all they found.”
Nathaniel twisted in his seat to face her. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, inside me. I need your prayers. It’s my pancreas. Maybe, just like mom.”
Nathaniel jumped from the bench and stared in disbelief. “They think?”
“The test will be back in two days. I haven’t told Mark.”
“Oh Bella. You should go now, go find him.”
Bella served Nathaniel’s favorite dinner: ham, baked beans, fruit salad, and rolls. The table was adorned with a bouquet of blue roses that Nathaniel had picked up on the way over. The mood that night was somber. Bella and Nathaniel listened as Mark listed all the alternatives open to her, desperately trying to sound hopeful. There were new surgeries, variations of the Whipple Procedure, and new targeted biomedicines.
Nathaniel knew the inevitable outcome of Bella’s condition if the tests proved positive. Recollections of Aislin’s final days shrouded his thoughts as he tried to listen attentively. Bella sat silent.
It was when Mark’s voice grew unsteady while talking about 3D printers being used to make living human tissue that Nathaniel noticed Bella looking frightened. “Mark,” Nathaniel interrupted with a slight shake of his head.
Mark looked at Nathaniel, then at Bella. “Of course.” Taking her hand, he said, “We can beat this. And, come what may, we will be together.”
Dinner was over. No one had eaten. Mark and Bella cleared the table while Nathaniel lit a fire, then opened a bottle of wine. Eventually, they all settled in the living room. It was a spacious room with a long arcing outside wall filled with floor to ceiling picture windows overlooking the valley and the bluffs. The inside wall was made of locally quarried stone. The firebox was raised to bench height and the hearth, which ran the length of the wall, was cushioned. Nathaniel poured the wine, took a seat near the fireplace and lit a cigarette.
Bella sat on the couch with her knees bent and feet half tucked underneath her. She leaned back against Mark who draped an arm over her. The glass of Chianti she held reflected the glow of the fire as she sat, staring, lost in thought. Both Nathaniel and Mark knew, from her pose and look, that she was miles away exploring some notion she was sure to share—at some point. They waited.
Bella suddenly sat upright and set her glass on the cocktail table. Her eyes, directed towards the fireplace, moved back and forth as if she was reading a book containing a future that only she could see.
Closing her eyes, she began to say, “I think you need a new currency in your life, Dad. Since mom died, you have buried yourself in trading. I remember, you used to tell me stories about your day, and you would name the people you traded with. You would tell me about their lives and their families.”
She cast gentle eyes upon him. “In your own Daddy-like way, you actually had friends. You haven’t done that in such a long time. You sit on that roof, staring. I wonder, are they there? I wonder, have they moved on?”
The question was rhetorical and she didn’t wait for his answer, but she did pause. Nathaniel bowed his head and stared deeply into his glass of wine while thinking about his old trading mates and the camaraderie that once existed between them. She was right, most were gone, victims of age or ego.
She stood and began to pace. “There is nothing left for you to prove. You’ve veered off your path, Daddy, and now you’re alone.”
Bella sat on the arm of the couch and rested a hand on Mark’s shoulder. “You used to tell me how back in college you worked up in the Nicolet Forest topping trees. And how, when school was in session you worked at that old lumberyard. How you loved going to job sites to deliver wood and see how things were done. Then, you and mom opened your own business making furniture. It just seems that after she died, you grew dark.”
Nathaniel began to raise a hand in objection, but before he could get a word out, Bella gestured at the log holder beside the fire. “Wood. You have chopped it, stripped it, and sold it, but you stopped actually working with it.”
She nestled back under Mark’s arm. “Daddy, Mark is buying a furniture company right here in La Crosse. Everything is handmade, everything, just like you used to do.”
Nathaniel finally had to interject, unable to hold back further, “So, you want me to work for…Mark?” he said smiling and pointing a finger in his direction.
“Oh no, Daddy!” Bella looked at Mark, squinted and scrunched her face. “Actually, you would be working for a guy that currently owns the place, he is the one that really works for Mark. You would just be…well…” As her unfinished sentence dangled, Mark cringed.
Nathaniel let out a laugh. It was a good deep laugh, one he hadn’t had in a long time. Then, smiling, he shook his head, “Bella, Bella, Bella.”
“Daddy, we need you. Mark’s businesses are growing, and it’s just that, if I don’t have…” Her words trailed off again, but no one laughed this time.
Mark looked at his father-in-law, only managing to say, “It wouldn’t be like that Nate, as though you were my employee or anything.” His words trailed off too.
“Daddy, I need you, won’t you please come home?” Bella blurted out.
Nathaniel dropped his chin and put a hand to his forehead. He mused over her words while turning the wine glass by its stem between his fingers. Currency. The word touched him. It was true; he had mastered money, yet he still felt impoverished. He felt a need for something deeper. She was right, but he wasn’t quite ready to admit that yet.
A thought turned over in his mind that perhaps Aislin’s death hadn’t marked the end of a dream, rather the beginning of a self-imposed exile, a life he wasn’t supposed to live. He looked at his children sitting on the couch and drained his wine. “Dinner was excellent, but it’s late and I should be on my way.” He didn’t intend to be short with them, his thoughts were just too nebulous to be articulated. He also saw, by the look in Mark’s eye, that he and Bella needed time to sort things out alone.
They had agreed to meet the following day, Sunday, at the shrine. A storm wasn’t far off. Branches bent in the cold winds. Nathaniel arrived early at the Memorial to the Unborn. He watched as Mark and Bella strolled towards him from the cathedral, engrossed in conversation.
“It depends on which side you look at it from,” Bella was saying. “If ‘you’ are your soul, then no. He created us; we are each new, not recycled. We begin here, but our souls, His breath, live on after our bodies die.”
Nathaniel stood in front of baby Nathaniel’s marker, silent, recalling his own understanding of the Bible. He stroked the marble tile, feeling its smooth, cold finish. As they neared, he said in a course whisper, “Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet.”
Standing arm in arm, Mark and Bella froze, listening.
Nathaniel’s gray hair was tossed about in the wind. His overcoat blew open. With hands still pressing against the tile, he leaned in closer, his head almost touching it. “They say ‘time heals all wounds,’ but it never will ease the pain of a loss. It might seem hopeless, but it isn’t.”
He looked to the sky, took a deep breath, and then looked back at the tile. “When I was a child and lost my mother, my father, then my wife, not one day has gone by that I haven’t thought of them, mourned them, and cursed God for my pain. But I understand now,” he said, patting the tile. “I only feel this pain because of the love they gave me. They made me a better man, and this life worth living. This pain, that runs so deep, shows me the height of the love we once shared.”
Nathaniel dropped his hand and turned to face Bella and Mark, “So, if this makes any sense, be grateful for your pain because it means so much. We will all be together again, in the blink of an eye, at the sounding of the last trumpet.”
Bella reached out and hugged him, then quickly turned and pulled Mark in. The three of them embraced. Nathaniel turned, and with an arm on each of their shoulders, answered Bella’s question from the previous night.
“Bella, Mark, if you don’t mind, I think I might move up here come spring. It would be nice to live with family again. You two are all that I have, all that means anything to me now.”
He cleared his throat to cover a voice grown fragile with unaccustomed emotion, stretched out his arms and looked at his sixty-three year old hands. “It will be nice to put these to a good use.”
They ate a late lunch at a nearby restaurant. The food was nondescript, but the conversation was spicy. To no one’s surprise, Bella had the future all figured out. Nathaniel would take the old house back, but not before she and Mark built a new one just down the road. This being southeastern Wisconsin, the architecture had to be in the vein of Frank Lloyd Wright, and she had an architect in mind. Mark covered the business possibilities.
Time slipped away and before they knew it, the early dinner crowd began to arrive wet and cold from the storm. They thought it best to settle up the tab and leave. Though they stood in the foul weather, their spirits were filled with the hope and promise of a new beginning.
Before Nathaniel left, Bella rummaged through her purse and pulled out a rosary that he accepted with a questioning eyebrow. He was going to Chicago to sell his exchange membership, condo, and everything else except for the bookkeeper’s desk. The rosary swayed hypnotically from the rear view mirror as he navigated the tight roads atop the coulees.
Cold autumn rains blew in from the window as intermittent wipers ticked away the remaining seconds of Nathaniel Godfrey’s life. His seat belt hung loose around his shoulder, unbuckled so that he could dig out a lighter buried deep in his pocket. He steered with a knee while struggling to light a cigarette. Between the flashes of flint, Nathaniel peeked over his fingers in time to see the deer as it leapt from the blackness of night. A frantic yank on the wheel, a forgotten curve, and before Nathaniel realized what had happened, his car flipped over the guardrail.
For an instant, before the car plummeted down the shear face of the five hundred foot coulee, he hung suspended in midair. He saw the rosary as it floated in the car cabin alongside of him. He reached out, held it in the palm of his hand, and for the first time since Aislin’s death, Nathaniel prayed. It wasn’t a formal prayer, nor was it for himself. This prayer came in the form of a memory that lay dormant in his soul for decades. It was a cherished memory of a simpler time, when on a beautiful fall day, a woman and a child played.
A soap bubble had popped on his face. A little girl ran to him bursting with excitement. Aislin laughed as she watched on from the distance. With the afternoon sun low to her back, Aislin looked like an angel.
“Did you hear it? Did you hear it Daddy?” Bella cried.
Mildly annoyed, a grocery bag in either hand, a splotch of soap on his sunglasses, Nathaniel closed the car door with his foot. “Hear what?”
As her green eyes secretively darted from side to side, Bella motioned him closer with a wave of her hand.
For a moment he just stared at his seven-year-old daughter wanting nothing more than to dump his groceries on the kitchen counter and finish a list of chores before dinner. But as sun reflected in her bright red hair, lighting her up like a candle, her eyes squinting out a smile and the freckles on her fair skin dancing across a small nose from one over-sized cheek to the other, he found himself being slowly drawn into her world and felt compelled to obey her wish. As he bent lower, she lunged forward wrapping her arms around his waist, knocking them both back against the car.
Excitement bubbled up through her voice as she explained, “I whispered in the bubble as I blew it up. Did you hear it when it popped?”
Looking down and seeing the flecks of gold within her green irises glowing with pride, he simply forgot his annoyance. A forgotten laughter from somewhere deep within his soul, his past, his child self, slowly and steadily rose upward until it burst out into the air. For that one moment, her words freed him of everything life had dumped upon him. The notion of a whisper in a bubble allowed him to see the brilliance within a giggle of a seven-year-old girl.
He knelt, letting all the cares that laid in wait outside of this moment recede further into the periphery. His own child spirit having woken, he took her hands and asked, “You know Bella, I thought I heard something, but the car door creaked. What was I supposed to hear?”
She looked into his eyes and whispered, “That you are the best Daddy in the whole wide world!”
He blinked. Soap must have blown behind his glasses for his eyes were wet and light refracted in many strange ways. Yet, he saw with perfect clarity that all the pains of the past, the joys of the present, and hopes for the future, united in purpose to create this one glorious moment. All from one soap bubble blown by the lips of a child, filled with love, and propelled by a giggle.
Aislin walked up and kissed them both. Bella stood in between, holding her parents’ hands, swinging them back and forth like a child would. She placed Aislin’s hand into Nathaniel’s. She looked up and smiled as the two embraced. Then, Bella silently skipped away, back to the life she was supposed to live.
Daniel K. Kim holds an MBA from Loyola University in Chicago and is currently pursuing a Masters of Arts in English at Mt. Mary University in Milwaukee. This story is an excerpt from a novel currently in progress. Having enjoyed success in marriage, the raising of two children, and careers ranging from trading on the Chicago Board Options Exchange to dabbling in the antiques market, Daniel observes he is “finally old enough to endure the travails of writing.”