Cold Air

Alfred wasn’t very old, a newborn of two weeks. His mother, Alicia, was exhausted and staying in the twelfth room on the fifth floor at Denver Memorial Hospital. As she fell asleep that night with her son, she smiled staring out the distant window. She dreamt of the future, a modern house with a husband and a good school for her kid, a happy life.

Her husband and Alfred’s father, Tobias, entered the room trying not to wake either. She needed the rest and so did Alfred. Tobias was less calm of being a new parent. He was an English teacher at a local high school, East High. His mind raced with possibilities, of worries one might have with a low paying job that shows you the worst of what can happen to once-adorable children.

Tobias had seen children grow up, he’d seen them get into wrong crowds. Children have actually used their potential and gone to college under him, as well as some of his students he’s known for six years at a four year high school. Tobias knows just how easily a teenager can set a great trajectory for life, as well as make sure there isn’t one.

“What a life, too,” Tobias thinks. The world around him is increasingly desperate. Climates warm and people bicker on whether it’s real. Salt water levels increase and yet drinkable water is wasted. With over seven billion people, the world is going to have too many in not too long.

Tobias whispers just too loudly, “Oh, God.”

Alfred is awake. He can’t see well, just some black and a source of light in the corner with a figure blocking it, his father, but he doesn’t know that. All Alfred knows is that it’s cold, that this isn’t comfortable, and that there might be something in his pants. Alfred juts his arms upward, though he didn’t mean to. If it weren’t so uncomfortable he might have questioned it. The strange figure starts to hobble over towards Alfred. The figure was small, only five feet five inches, but it was giant to Alfred, only thirteen inches head to toe.

This scared Alfred just enough to make him try something slightly new to him. He tried to shout, to cry, he was scared. Some mucous blocked it, so it started as a quieter warble until he was picked up by the figure.

His arms were like a bed, but they created their own heat and they had a rhythm that Alfred could hear. Though it smelled strange, it was more comfortable so Alfred was content, but hungry. The figure pulled out a white thing with a colored top, just visible under the lamp, and brought it to Alfred’s mouth. As Alfred began to drink, he felt better, happier, and started to turn the corners of his lips as best he could. But, as he got tired again, he stopped drinking and his eyelids drooped. The new father was sitting in the corner armchair with his sleeping son in his arms.

Tobias looked down at Alfred and put the bottle under the lamp again. He looked up at his wife, seeing her smile in her sleep. Tobias only frowned. A cynical man, he looked down and thought, “This might be the happiest you’ll ever be.”

For weeks now, this voice in Tobias’ head scared him. It told him of the futility of his son’s life, the darkness of the future for his son. While he struggled to see a bright future with Alicia and Alfred, his brain told him of other choices, trying to scare him out of a difficult step in his life.

“It’s easy,” the voice said slowly, with Tobias watching his son sleep, “He won’t have to suffer. It will be quick. Almost like flying. He would be happy.”

Tobias rose from his seat. With his son sleeping in his arm, he opened the window.

Trembling, Tobias raised and pushed his arms out. A war struggles in his mind. Tobias is too smart to think his child will be happy. He’s seen too much, but he’s also a father now, meant to protect. The voice asks, “How can you protect him from the future?”

Tobias looks at his wife’s smile. How many times have they talked about what they want for Alfred? How many times have they discussed schools to send him to and who to watch him while the other works? They’ve been so excited together, the whole time Tobias hiding this fear.

What if Tobias isn’t good enough to be a father? Tobias wants to be respected, loved, trusted. Tobias wants to set good examples for his son and make good decisions. For Alfred to be supported. He wants Alfred protected from the pain that the world can bring.

Since the couple learned they were going to be pregnant, Tobias had wished for a better example of a father to go off of. His own was working when he was young. The man would get home at seven in the evening, eat his dinner with his wife and two children, and then go to sleep to wake up at five and do it again. During dinner he would ask each child two essential questions: do they have homework, and how was school. This always disheveled Tobias in his youth, having a father so distant. There wasn’t time for stories or to get close, just the essentials.

With shallow breaths Tobias questions what to do with his son.

Tobias closes his eyes.

Alfred is falling. He’s coming towards the ground at almost nine point eight meters per second. A second later he’s heading downward at almost ninety six meters per second. With each passing moment his fate comes closer faster, but Alfred doesn’t know that’s happening.

Alfred didn’t see anything, he didn’t hear anything, he was unable to wake in time.

Tobias’ son just left his once strong grasp. He watched. The voice says in his head it was the only way but his body rejects it. He wails. The pain in his chest turns to a fire as with each beat his heart explodes. It spreads up his throat to his mouth, silencing him. He can’t breathe. It then goes to his eyes, the tears like acid against his skin.

As he watches his vision goes black. He sees Alfred on a swing with him behind to push. His eyes flash white and he sees the life Alfred could have had.

His first birthday party would have made him laugh. Alfred put his face into the cake. Alicia laughs and they take pictures.

His second birthday party would have gotten him his first musical instrument, a baby sized ukulele. Alicia’s idea because she knows the importance of music, something Tobias hadn’t ever much pursued.

On Alfred’s third birthday party he would get his first best friend, a puppy that would grow up with him. A dog was already decided by Tobias and Alicia, both having them as they grew up.

Alfred’s tenth birthday would get him a bike. Three months later would be his first big fall and the pain of a broken bone.

Tobias opens his eyes.

Tobias whimpers and his arms twitch as they hold Alfred out of the window, tears burning down his cheeks. The voice lingers a single question,

“Who will you be?”