Shannon Brugh


I’m lying on her lap, my head on her legs, and she strokes my hair slowly with her fingernails. Each stroke sends goosebumps down my arms, the sound like a pencil on paper, like a rake through leaves. The light is honey gold, the light of evening, of warmth, of family. She laughs. Her laughter is rich, begins in her belly and floats into the golden light. And her fingers never stop combing my hair, navigating the curves of my head.

Across the room, my father and his brother, my uncle, play music together. Their guitars thrum in harmony, strumming out some vaguely familiar tune, and I’m enveloped in love. In warmth. In comfort. I don’t look up, lest she stop stroking my hair, but I can hear in her voice that she’s smiling. Happy. As I am.

I remain still, soaking it all in, cementing this moment in my body.

* * *

She watches him, the worry pooling behind his eyes. He pops his ears over and over, a tick he’s developed to dull the panic. His eyes dart about like a wild fox, first slow and measured, then frantic and searching.

She doesn’t know how to help him.

* * *

I’m standing on the carpet, all bare feet and excitement, as my father reaches from the floor to help me up. I step first on his behind, trying to find balance, and giggle at the difficulty and absurdity of this exercise. I sway this way and that, trying to steady myself with my outstretched arms as I step onto his lower back.

(This was one of my favorite games.)

He tells me to begin and I walk up and down his back, both thrilled and frightened at the thought that I might hurt him. My toes grip his skin, little stones on a great wall. I titter and wobble, feeling the weight of childhood, buoyant and heady, held up by my father.

* * *

His pain leaps about now. It starts in his head or his stomach, then winds its way through his body until it finds new spaces to worm into. His eyes. His heart. His gut. His mouth.

She gives him every tool she has, forges new ones from her arsenal of devotion. She’d give him her flesh and bones if it would help.

He is her flesh and bones.

* * *

I pull his heavy head into my lap and apologize for raising my voice. I run my fingers through his shining chocolate hair, the sound like a pencil on paper, and tell him I’m sorry. I tell him I want us to make more good memories. I tell him I want his life to be filled with honey-colored warmth and cemented with love. He curls into me, eyes welling with love and gratefulness, and says, “It is.”