By Michael Rhorer
In response to Ernest Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants
The father sat next to his daughter on the bed, caressing her hair.
“Dad, I’m afraid. Will there be pain?” she asks.
The father stares at the colorless walls for a moment, lost in his own thoughts. “No. Once you go to sleep, it will be over before you know it. There will be no pain.”
Silence swallows the room Whole, as if it were a living thing.
“Can you tell me a story?” Her voice is small.
“What story would you like to hear? About Hercules again?
She shakes her head.
“Then about Queen Victoria, hmm?”
Again she shakes her head and turns to look around the room. “Will I see you when I wake up? Will everything be like it used to?”
“Yes, I’ll be here. And we’ll eat your favorite chocolate pancakes. Everything will be ok.”
“But I don’t want to eat chocolate pancakes. I don’t like them anymore.”
“But I thought you loved them. Why don’t you like them any more?”
Her gaze is still away from his, fixed on one place in particular. “I don’t want to sleep. If I sleep, I will never wake up.”
“It’s better if you sleep. You don’t want to be awake when it happens.”
“Why does it have to happen? Can’t we just move to another town?”
“Either here or there, it will happen. There’s nowhere to go.”
A single tear slides down her left cheek. “Will you sleep, too? What about everyone else?”
“I’m going to sleep as well, as soon as you do. When we wake, everything will be ok.”
“But it won’t. Not after this. Everything will change.”
“When we wake-”
“We won’t,” she interrupts.
The father sighs and stands up. He walks somberly over to the window that high daughter keeps staring at. Outside, skies are blood-red, sirens blare.
Form the bed, “Will I see mother again, after this?”
The father nods sadly. “Yes. We’ll all be together again. A happy family.
“Sleep, my princess,” he says when he walked back to his daughter and tucked her in. He kisses her brow before turning to leave the room.
“Wait. can you check for monsters?”
“Check for what?”
“I’m still afraid of monsters, you know.”
The father lets out a small chuckle. “Of course you are. How could I forget.” His hands shake.
There wasn’t a monster in the closet, not under her bed. Satisfied, he once again kisses her brow.