Play Date

by Doug Hoekstra

Our children sit three rows in front of us, watching tornados blow across the ceiling of the planetarium in high definition. “Forces of nature” is the name of the show. Next to me, she dozes off. I gently brush the hair from her eyes, so I can see her face more clearly. She breathes quietly. Her hands are crossed on her belly, her legs tilted slightly in my direction. She is beautiful as she sleeps and my feelings are as strange to me as the small Midwestern town that’s being leveled on the two-story screen in front of us …

I don’t know what to do. Strange, because I always know what to do, eagerly taking on the most impossible challenges and always pulling through, intuitively figuring out how to put things together and come out ahead. But, this is different.

The light lifts and changes ever so slightly as rescue trucks stop at a railroad gate, impatiently waiting to cross over and reach the disaster scene. Sirens blare, but, there is no screaming. There is nothing in my life, past or present, that says this is what I should be experiencing at this moment. I’m a single parent; time is short and every second counts. My son is everything to me and everything I do must contribute to his well-being. Otherwise, I will have let him down. Despite the fact that there is no time or space for them, thoughts of her come to me daily and without warning. And, it’s freaking me out.

I could make an excuse about being rusty and out of practice, seedy or needy, removed from romance, dating, and even sex. Or that I’ve forgotten how to feel. But, as I watch a  8.9 magnitude earthquake level a South American city, I wonder, for the first time, if I ever really loved intensely in my marriage, in the way that leaves one truly vulnerable, standing alone, without shelter, simply hoping for something good to happen. I don’t know. I can’t remember. I know I can’t remember, but this is different.

There’s a gaping hole in the street where the ground gives way. Smoke and mirrors, dark clouds and rainbows, empty sky suddenly wraps around the planetarium like a vista vision dream. The inhabitants of the city are fleeing. She coils, stretches, and opens her eyes. All that’s left standing in front of us is an ancient cathedral, alone among the ruins, unaffected by the chaos.

Doug Hoekstra is from Chicago but has lived in Nashville for over a decade. His first book, “Bothering the Coffee Drinkers,” appeared on the Canopic Publishing imprint in April 2006 and earned an Independent Publisher Award for Best Short Fiction. Several of the selections in the book have appeared in other publications, and one story, “The Blarney Stone,” was nominated for a 2006 Pushcart Prize. In his previous life, Hoekstra was a singer-songwriter who released seven albums and won a Nashville Music Award. He has a son named Jude. 

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