by Clay Hobson

Somewhere at the edge of Virginia, there is a house with faded yellow paint flaking away at the corners. In one of its dimly lit rooms, there is a little boy sitting with his legs pretzeled underneath himself with all the sharp edges of barbed wire, fingers tracing patterns through the carpet fuzz.

A video comes to life as the boy stares at a dark display, the recording charged with faint gray static. The screen’s dim light illuminates features still soft with youth. There is a man in the television set before him, mouth quirked with a fading smile that only just manages to wend its way up to his eyes.

Good morning, Theo, he says. His voice is time-worn and soft at the corners, his vowels melodic and the consonants rounded, maple-sweet. He pauses to shrug, the edges of his lips twitching towards a smile. Well, I don’t know how accurate that might be. I know that it’s morning as I record this. He gestures to the sun seeping through the small window behind him, another room in the same little house that has stood seemingly forever. It could just as easily be suppertime for you, I suppose. I don’t even know if your parents named you Theo, in the end.

The boy makes a little noise in the back of his throat. “They did,” he whispers, unable to summon up the energy for anything stronger.

My brother was a Theodore, the older man says. His hair is going gray, a soft silver that overwhelms the light brown. Not that you ever got a chance to meet him. He was long gone before your time. I suppose I will be as well, in a sense. That’s precisely why I’m recording this, Theo. His mouth twists into something that cannot be called a smile. Because you’ll never meet me. 

My brother was a Theodore, he echoes, starting the thought again, the kind of idea that gets caught in its attempts to build branching patterns, still tethered by kitestring reality, though we never called him Theo. He went by Dory. A strange name for a rather strange little boy, as it was.

The clarity that comes and goes is easily visible in the man’s eyes. They have the same brightness as Theo’s as they haze-over and focus.

Your dad was still young when I started to get bad. I’ve been forgetting since I was a kid, though. My boy has been trying to keep me afloat for so long, Theo. It’s not fair to him. It’s not fair to any of you. I wish I could meet you.

Theo looks up at the video, stares down at his fingers, and picks at cornflower nail polish that’s the same color as his eyes. The man on the screen takes a moment to sigh wearily, little habits that are terribly parallel for two people who will never know each other. 

He scrubs a hand over his face, and then he continues. I used to go stargazing with my brother. There was a time when we knew the names of all the constellations and stars.

When Theo was little, Dad took him to look at the night sky. Theo wasn’t interested in all the proper names, happy to sit in the brilliant darkness and be at peace. He gave the little stellar pinpricks appellations of his own, Dorian and Isaac and Laura. He never had a chance to go stargazing with the man figmented on the little screen.

Maybe if he had, he would know the real names of the stars.

When I was younger, I always lost things. My shoes, my school bag, books, toys, you name it. My mama joked that I was harboring a black hole that just swallowed everything up. When I was a young man, it became thoughts that I was losing, unable to keep track of them. Now, it’s people. One day, I won’t remember your dad.

By the time you’re here, I won’t ever be able to remember you. I’ll never get to meet you, little Theo, but if you are truly your parents’ son, you will be amazing. Your dad is far stronger than me, because where I lost things, he kept them close to his heart, curled in his ribcage like little flowers. It’s harder to remember, Theo. Don’t forget that.

Somewhere at the edge of Virginia, there is a hospital room at the fragmented ending of a life, with pale walls still marked by faint water damage and windows that do not face the sky. The hallway is crowded by a small army of people with the same blue eyes and light brown hair. Not a single one of them makes a move towards the door.

“You should go in,” Theo’s father says softly, gaze focused on the boy who has long since memorized all the words of that old video. Theo whispers them under his breath as they wait. Theo’s father’s name is Daniel, not that he is ever called that.

“He won’t know me,” Theo says. He doesn’t yet understand that the life in the room is rapidly approaching a conclusion, a storybook left out at the whims of the grassy breeze.

“He might,” Dad argues, more weary than forceful. “Maybe this time.”

He reaches out and ruffles his son’s hair in the way Theo has always hated. He’s too old for Dad to be patronizing him like a dog. Theo does not look up, nor does he agree. He just steps slowly closer to the door and places the pads of his fingers against the painted wood.

Maybe this time. 

The handle shifts easily under his hand, despite how heavy it suddenly feels, the leaden pressure of the world settling itself on his shoulders. The door swings inward. Its distant creak is deafening in the silence. His ratty trainers carry him into the room unbidden, and he stops at the foot of a bed. 

Pale blue eyes flicker open and glance up at him, and years-gnarled fingers with knobby crooks beckon him closer.

“Good morning, Grandpa,” Theo whispers, afraid to be any louder, like he will awaken some long-dead ghosts. Maybe this time.

Grandpa looks up, gaze dancing aimlessly until his wide-eyed stare is lancing through Theo’s left shoulder, not seeing the boy who is there.

“Hello, Danny.”

Night comes by the time they realize that there is going to be an end, and the hospital room sits crowded and lonely. People who do not speak. A boy who cannot smile. A window that doesn’t look to the stars. Theo’s dad bought some cheap plastic stars, the kind that glow in the dark, and Theo is balanced on the edge of a chair, tacking them onto the ceiling for his grandfather. 

When night flees, the stars on the ceiling have dimmed, eyes have closed for the final time, and the ones who wake are left behind in the weary world.

At the edge of Virginia, there is a house of people with eyes tinted red from crying. There is a video playing in a room with the blinds drawn, staving off the sunlight to find dreary peace.

Good morning, Theo.

There is a boy sitting with his back propped against a worn couch in an old house. His fingers rap frenetic patterns into the carpet, eyes glued to a small screen.

“You can’t do this forever,” Dad says softly, standing in the doorway. His voice is rough as he stands silhouetted by the light that pours through the now-open door. Theo cannot see his face, but it’s not unreasonable to assume his eyes are watery, a faint shield against the deep sorrow harboring itself in all their hearts. “Why don’t you come for dinner?”

There’s a different question he isn’t asking.

Because you’ll never meet me, the quiet static parrots out.

Dad turns down the volume and crouches on the carpet next to Theo, blocking out the video with broad shoulders, covered in a heavy sweater anchoring him to the ground. It’s not like Theo doesn’t know every pixel of the video, anyway.

“Talk to me?” Dad asks.

Theo looks up at him, head tilted to the side like the birds that used to land on Grandpa’s

windowsill in the hospital, the ones that would huddle together against the bracing cold like Dad wants them to now.

“I don’t know how,” he says.

Dad nods, then presses the remote into Theo’s hand as he rises, knees popping as age takes its toll on his joints. “That’s alright. I’ll still be here when you’re ready to figure it out,” he promises, and the volume of the video rises as he leaves, the door closing behind him cautiously.

Grandpa beams down at Theo from inside the screen, with untidy hair that had not yet been overtaken entirely by silver and cerulean eyes glowing in tandem with his smile. The tape clicks and restarts.

Good morning, Theo.

A brightly colored collage of a black man standing looking down. Big pink letters spell out "BREATHE" around his head.


by Shelbey Leco

Clay Hobson (he/they) is a first-year student at Bennington College who has been writing as a hobby for years. Despite no other publications, they have always been taken with storytelling in all forms, and look forward to a life filled with words.

Shelbey Leco grew up in Southeast Louisiana, outside of New Orleans and was always inspired by nature. As a young adult, she studied at the University of New Orleans where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in Urban Society with disciplines: education, english, and anthropology. She enjoys traveling, art, and exploring new places.

IG @Rainbowswampraven

Etsy: ShelbeyShells

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