“Good,” says his father.

“They’d be lucky to have you,” says his mother.

“You’d make a good teacher,” says David.

Only Muriel offers a shadow of dissent. “You were never happy there…”

But there’s no judgment in the words, only a fierce protectiveness.

After dinner, everyone retreats to their respective corners, his mother to the kitchen, his father and brother to the study, his sister out into the night to look at stars and feel grounded, which is usually code for getting stoned.

Henry goes into the kitchen to help his mother with the dishes.

“I’ll wash, you dry,” she says, handing him a towel. They find a pleasant rhythm, and then his mother clears her throat.

“I’m sorry about Tabitha,” she says, her voice low, as if she knows the subject is taboo. “I’m sorry you wasted so much time on her.”

“It wasn’t a waste,” he says, even though it does kind of feel that way.

She rinses a plate. “I just want you to be happy. You deserve to be happy.” Her eyes shine, and he’s not sure if it’s the strange frost, or simply maternal tears. “You’re strong, and smart, and successful.”

“I don’t know about that,” Henry says, drying a plate. “I still feel like a disappointment.”

“Don’t talk like that,” says his mother, looking genuinely hurt. She cups his cheek. “I love you, Henry, just as you are.” Her hand drops to the plate. “Let me finish up,” she says. “Go find your sister.”

Henry knows exactly where she is.

He steps out onto the back porch, sees Muriel sitting on the porch swing, smoking a joint and looking out at the trees, striking a pensive pose. She always sits like that, as if waiting for someone to snap a photo. He has, once or twice, but it always looked too stiff, too framed. Trust Muriel to make a candid look staged.

The boards creak a little under his feet now, and she smiles without looking up. “Hey, Hen.”

“How did you know it was me?” he asks, sinking down beside her.

“You have the lightest step,” she says, passing him the joint.

Henry takes a long drag, holds the smoke in his chest until he feels it in his head. A soft, buzzing blur. They pass the joint back and forth, studying their parents through the glass. Well, their parents and David, who trails behind their father, striking the exact same poses.

“So creepy,” mutters Muriel.

“Uncanny, really.”

She chuckles. “Why don’t we hang out more?”

“You’re busy,” he says, because it’s kinder than reminding her they aren’t really friends.

She leans her head against his shoulder. “I always have time for you.”

They smoke in silence until there’s nothing left to smoke, and their mother calls out that it’s time for dessert. Henry stands, his head swimming in a pleasant way.

“Mint?” she asks, holding out a tin, but when he opens it, he sees the pile of little pink pills. Umbrellas. He thinks of the rain pelting down, the stranger beside him, perfectly dry, and snaps the tin shut.

“No thanks.”

They go back inside for dessert, spend the next hour talking about everything and nothing, and all of it is so nice, so aggressively pleasant, so mercifully free of snide remarks, petty squabbles, passive disapproval, that Henry feels like he’s still holding his breath, still holding on to the high, his lungs aching but his heart happy.

He rises, setting his coffee aside. “I should get going.”

“You could stay,” offers his mom, and for the first time in ten years, he’s actually tempted, wonders what it would be like to wake up to this, the warmth, the ease, the feeling of family, but the truth is, the evening’s been too perfect. He feels like he’s walking that narrow line between a good buzz and a night on the bathroom floor, and he doesn’t want anything to tip the balance.

“I have to get back,” he says, “the shop opens at ten.”

“You work so hard” is a thing his mother has never said. A thing she apparently says now.

David grips his shoulder and looks at him with those mercifully clouded eyes and says, “I love you, Henry. I’m glad you’re doing so well.”

Muriel wraps her arms around his waist. “Don’t be such a stranger.”

His father follows him out to the car, and when Henry holds out his hand, his father pulls him in for a hug, and says, “I’m proud of you, son.”

And part of him wants to ask why, to bait, to test the limits of this spell, to press his father into faltering, but he can’t bring himself to do it. He knows it’s not real, not in the strictest sense, but he doesn’t care.

It still feels good.

New York City

March 18, 2014


Laughter spills down from the High Line.

Built along a defunct rail, the raised park runs down the western edge of Manhattan from Thirtieth to Twelfth. It’s normally a pleasant place, with food carts and gardens, tunnels and benches, winding paths and city views.

Today, it is something else entirely.

The Artifact has consumed a stretch of the elevated rail, transformed it into a dreamlike jungle gym of color and light. A three-dimensional landscape of whimsy and wonder.

At the entrance, a volunteer gives them colored rubber bands to wear around their wrists. A rainbow against their skin, each one providing access to a different piece of the exhibit.

“This will get you into the Sky,” she says, as if the works of art are rides at an amusement park.

“This will get you into Voice.”

“This will get you into Memory.”

She smiles at Henry as she talks, her eyes a milky blue. But as they move through the carnival of free exhibits, the artists all turn to look at Addie. He may be a sun, but she is a shining comet, dragging their focus like burning meteors in her wake.

Nearby, a guy sculpts pieces of cotton candy as if they were balloons, then hands out the edible works of art. Some of them are recognizable shapes—here is a dog, here is a giraffe, here is a dragon—while others are abstract—here is a sunset, here is a dream, here is nostalgia.

To Henry, they all taste like sugar.

Addie kisses him, and she tastes like sugar too.

The green band gets them into Memory, which turns out to be a sort of three-dimensional kaleidoscope, made of colored glass—a sculpture that rises to every side, and turns with every step.

They hold on to each other as the world bends and rights and bends again around them, and neither says it, but both, he thinks, are happy to get out.

The art spills into the space between the exhibits. A field of metal sunflowers. A pool of melted crayons. A curtain of water, as thin as paper, that leaves nothing but mist on his glasses, an iridescent shine on Addie’s skin.

The Sky, it turns out, lives inside a tunnel.

Made by a light artist, it’s a series of interlocking rooms. From the outside, they don’t look like much, the wood frames shells of bare construction, little more than nail and stud, but inside—inside is everything.

They move hand in hand so they won’t lose each other. One space is glaringly bright, the next so dark the world seems to plunge away, and Addie shivers beside him, fingers tightening on Henry’s arm. The next is pale with fog, like the inside of a cloud, and in the next, filaments as thin as rain rise and fall to every side. Henry runs his fingers through the field of silver drops, and they ring like chimes.