I stood in the tool shed, shirtless, the sun glimmering from the cracks in the woodwork to the blue-painted walls. It smelled of summer and saw dust and sweat, lemonade and peeling cabin paint. Dad stood with his feet parted on the ladder, hammering special spikes in the window shutters below the roof, glinting bronze. He picked the studs out from between his crooked smile, one by one, bolting them in precisely with a stern wrinkle between his brows. At the cabin we were men, dad and I, with running sweat and tools in our hands and important tasks, challenges to embark on and conquer. My task was to drill precise little hole in the bronze rectangles dad was attaching to the shutters. I pressed the metal drill sturdily in the soft wood and wondered whether dad had a doctor’s appointment soon, and whether Petra was visiting her aunt on the coast and whether she was fishing for crabs in the Coble with the boy who wore wristbands and had been in the army for a year.
Dad had been in the sun for more than forty-five minutes and his forehead was red. I knew the articles about Ciliary Neuralgia by heart. A doctor with sideburns had corrected me to call them ’cluster headaches’, before describing in cautious detail the rare, but intense pain felt between one or both eyes, sometimes for as much as an hour, often compared to the sensation one would feel if being stabbed in the eye repeatedly with a red-hot metal poker. I think my stomach started hurting when I read about a man who banged his head into his fish aquarium for twenty minutes straight, about another who ripped up his floorboards, and about a woman who shot herself in the head - all to escape the grueling pain. I wrote in my notebook that the condition was sometimes called ’the suicide headache’ and that dad had gotten his first attack the day he turned thirty-three, and that I shouldn’t read articles before dinner.
- Now, let’s see if Kitty will get us some lemonade, eh?
The wrinkle between his eyebrows was pressed in firmer, and I knew he had a migraine. He smiled from the ladder and called for mom.
We drank the lemonade in silence and dad rubbed his sleeve against his mouth as I stood still, a water-beaded moustache on my upper lip. I watched two butterflies resting on a straw, fluttering their wings with lenience, trying very hard at something. Dad walked up the ladder again, tossing three wooden planks down on the grass. The largest butterfly, with wings like little seashells, drifted slowly from the grass, an elegant escape. I didn’t see where the second one went, but I assumed it stayed low, maybe buried under wooden planks. Dad asked me to get the extra handle for the chainsaw, and I quickly rubbed my wrist over my mouth, heading for the tool shed. We had work to do, work to be done precisely, without too many words lingering in the hot air.
I watched dad sweating, beads like melted butter on his narrow heels, the vein above his nose vibrating. I handed him the saw and he pulled the cord roughly. The sharp sound filled the air as dad squinted in the harsh sunlight. Pearls of sweat littered his dark-tanned legs. When mom and dad brought summer guests for a trip in the sailboat, I sometimes heard her laugh and say she was reminded her of the fact that if it weren’t for that they both wore size 9 running shoes, she and dad would never have met. I never got the whole story, but I wished that my legs were as long as dad’s. A twig broke beneath my foot and I looked up.
The smell of grass and something burned and buried butterflies and Petra and the army boy in the boat and dad screaming, getting stabbed in the eyes by a metal poker, but who still had a choice for one and a half second, a choice between a bronze roof and his own flesh, blush-red blood, right before the thundering sunlight prodded everything and a weird thump hit the ground.
I think it was in the white bedroom on the first floor, with a clicking sound like in an old telephone and the stench in my nostrils of disinfection fluid in moistened cotton that I for the first time wondered if it was OK to wish your dad had shot himself in the head on his thirty-third birthday and if long-legged girls in boats could stroke the cheek of boys who could never run in relays.