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When I Lose Track of the Children, 5 & 7, Near the Magazine Section at Costco

Story by Christopher Merkner (Read author interview) October 3, 2011

art by Simon Kugel

The children wanted me to buy them diapers. It was at first silly. Then they voiced up. I could not follow their logic; I rejected the appeal. I explained they were not in charge. I told them their silliness was not welcome. I may have called them idiots. I may have said they were acting like idiots. It’s hard to remember. I definitely told them it was not personal. Still, they wept. Every friendship has a bad patch.

I let things cool down. We drove home. I had a cocktail. Then, before bed that night, I kissed the older one on his head. I said I was sorry about earlier, I’d take them to Sweden in the morning. The children leapt from their sheets. We tucked them back in. We shushed them. We hit the lights. My wife’s eyes were white flags in the dark room. We closed their door. We went downstairs to speak.

In the kitchen, we did not speak. We shrugged a lot. I took a blanket back up to the children’s bedroom for a sleepover. Sometimes you can spend too much time with friends, and somewhere over Greenland I resented my two friends. They were tearing each other apart. The boy wanted to blow up his sister. I tried to call my wife: in this modern day and time, some ten thousand feet closer to heaven, no service.

I shouldered my unconscious friends through Stockholm’s customs, currency exchange and baggage. I took a cab directly to an ABBA remake off Sveavägen. My friends woke to Waterloo. We rocked. We soared. The sun never set, at least not for as long as we were awake, and it felt, we agreed over a bowl of milkless muesli the next morning, like we were players in a band dream, a bad band dream. We laughed into hiccups. Then we passed out on top of one another and woke up violently ill.

The concierge called an ambulance. We were wheeled through the lobby. We were studied. We ate intravenously behind thin and flimsy curtains for a day. The children were bored: Where the hell is mommy, anyway?

We returned to the hotel in the off-pink light of four a.m. the next day. I dumped my friends in their big hotel bed. I called down again to the concierge. I asked if it would be hard at this time of the morning to find someone to watch the sleeping children, while I went out. In Stockholm, the concierge said, nothing is cheap.

The babysitter he sent up was a delightful man about my age, spirited and amiable. He wore a suit. He said he looked forward to seeing me upon my return and if, he leaned forward toward me, if you are to have a companion with you when you return I will slip out quietly, no need to fuss. I said I’d like him to be my friend. He said, That’s extra. I said, Really? He said, I think we are misunderstanding one another in translation.

I left. I stood in the hallway outside our hotel door. I just stood there. Then I went back in. I released the nice babysitter. I went to the room and woke my friends again. I had to really shake them. This is the time of your life, I pleaded. For godsakes, the days don’t get any better than they are right now. Do not sleep this away.

They sobbed. I carried them through the lobby again, and this time I took them to a bar made of glass shaped like an igloo. It was approximately six degrees inside the igloo. I spilled all my kronor on the crystalline counter and drank all the Svedka this would afford—two shots. At some point the kids began dancing, sliding across the smooth floor in their footies, steam puffing off their heads. I kept drinking ice water. The business lunches started. We were asked to leave.

We plopped down on the street corner.

We talked about their mother, my tentative wife. They said she would have enjoyed this. They said they would have enjoyed their lives more had she been there. They said they wanted something to eat. They said they wanted somewhere to sleep. They said they wanted peace restored to their existence. I told them we all wanted something. I assured them this was not personal.

About the Author

Christopher Merkner teaches for the creative writing program at the University of Colorado Denver. Pieces in this series, currently titled “The Scandamerican Domestic,” have recently been printed in Gulf Coast, Cutbank, New Orleans Review and New South.

About the Artist

Simon Kugel lives in Boulder, Colorado. He studied drawing at Tyler School of Art, and he really likes doodling weird stuff.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Three

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