Everett was happy to be home, as he almost always was. Everything about his home (and even the fact that he had one) was a matter of much happiness to Everett, who could remember a time not so long ago when home had been more about emptiness and silent spaces.
As it was now, Monica met him at the door. She spoke softly, as if she did not want to be overheard, but a brightness had dawned on her face when she saw him there on the step. Bridging the distance between them quickly, she kissed him. Monica’s hair was straight, brown and almost always confined in an elastic. Whenever Everett jokingly suggested she set it free, she laughed and did not do so, not the next day or the one after that. She did not see herself the way Everett saw her.
On the walls were a number of photographs. In fact, the whole house was plastered with photos- Monica’s photos- and she was visible in a disproportionate amount, considering she was a quarter of the family. She did not like the way she looked in photos, but she liked to take them, she said. It was true that she looked different now than she did in that picture from their wedding which hung in the front hall. There were crinkles around her eyes (only because she smiled so much), and those same eyes had hollowed out a little. This was what she saw, he was sure of it.
But she did not see the endearing way she had of dancing when she walked up the stairs or down the hall, nodding her head as if in time to some inaudible music. She did not see her own gentle warmth when she spoke to the children. And she did not hear the joyful animation of her laugh without some measure of self-consciousness. She did not hear or see much of what was the real self. She did not know. And she would not often believe him when he told her.
As Everett stood there, musing a little, one of his sons came bounding around the corner: a small boy of about four years old with unkempt curly hair.
“Come see what I did today,” the child said by way of greeting, taking his father by the hand.
“Philip, Daddy just got home,” Monica reminded him. “How is the car?” she added to Everett.
“We’ll talk about it later,” he said hastily, finding himself dragged by the hand into the living room, the whole of which had been taken over by a gigantic winding railway. Everett narrowly avoided stepping on what Philip was now describing as the “master station.”
Kneeling on the floor with rapt attention, Everett listened to his son’s explanation. Both were proud, though in different ways. Philip’s eyes were shining as he led his father across the track, unveiling the fruits of a long hour of building. As Philip spoke with this lisping enthusiasm and was praised by Everett as a master architect, Everett felt proud for another reason. In this child he saw himself. And in the eagerness and unbridled joy of the little boy, he saw something pure, sweet and untainted by time.
After a half hour had been spent marvelling over and trying out the tracks, Everett perceived there was someone else behind him. Standing up and turning (with a stiffness in his back), he saw his eldest son who, after being seen, slipped quickly into a corner of the living room, sat on an armchair and began to read. “You don’t even say hello?” Everett joked, though he felt there was some edge to his words. Jason was eight years old, turning nine, and had already lost that childhood lack of self-consciousness. He peered out at his father almost suspiciously from beneath his straight brown hair (which was too long and needed to be trimmed). He did not seem to have interest in many things, aside from the book he clutched in his hand, and the books he had read before that.
“Hello.” His eyes flitted down to the book.
“Well, how was your day?”
“How was school? Did you do anything interesting?”
“Nothing at all?”
He shook his head.
Turning back to the trains, Everett suppressed a sigh, and Jason turned back to his book without further interruption. Everett did not see himself in Jason, but tried not to think about this. However, without his consent, his mind went back to a conversation he had had a week ago with Monica. “You need to at least pretend to understand him,” she had said, or something like that. But Everett had never been good at pretending, and he did not understand Jason, (though he wished that he did). Everett continued to play with the trains until dinner with the exuberant Philip. And yet his mind kept returning to the nagging idea that maybe Monica’s words had held truth, and he did not see things as he ought, or as they really were.