He was four years old, and he was holding his father’s head against his lap, smoothing his hands over the man’s dark hair as he wept, trembled even, into the folds of his son’s blanket. The boy, more conscious than most at his age, understood that something was terribly wrong, but in his youth he could not guess what. He sought only to stop the sound of his father’s weeping, to bring solace to the distressing noise of it, the quaking of each fresh sob.
The boy lay back against his pillow and continued to pet his father’s head until the man’s tears ran dry and his throat croaked its last. The hard, gray walls of the room, softened by tapestries, seemed to sigh with indifference. The silver lamplight of a faraway moon shone through a south-facing window, casting pale rectangles across the cold floor.
For a long while after the sobbing ended, the boy’s father lay still across the rumpled blanket. The heat from his breath pooled warmth onto the boy’s legs, and the boy felt his eyelids grow heavy with the promise of sleep. A sweet, lazy warmth seemed to fill the room as the first glimpses of a dream world crept in.
Then, as abruptly as he had arrived and fallen at the boy’s bedside in grief, his father stood up from the bed and, with brusque confidence, strode from the room.
The boy was startled nearly to tears, confused by the cold departure. There were no words, no loving embraces, no warm look of gratitude from his father’s teary, swollen eyes. Only this bizarre reprieve, like a discharge of lightning on a winter’s day.
The boy drew his blankets tight about his neck and curled up in his bed. A chill seeped into his mind then as sleep once again took hold. This time, though, there was no tantalizing shimmer of the dreams that would come to him in the night. There was only the dark wave.