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Paul dreams again (short story)

Brigitte Neumann

“That’s it for today,” said Dad. “Oh, what a pity...”, Paul grumbles. He wants to keep playing. In the past, they didn’t stop until Mama had called several times. But she’s gone. Since then many things have changed, but they still like to play football.

“Come with me,” calls Dad now and waves him over. Paul hesitates. Dad opens his arms. There he runs to him. Dad catches him. Paul cuddles his face to his shoulder. Dad smells so good of Dad. He snuggles up even tighter and sniffs at his neck. No one else smells like Dad. “Where are we going?” asks Paul. “Remember what I promised you? Think about it,” Dad asks him.

Paul remembers it, slips off daddy’s arm, tumbles into the grass, his red cap with him. He leaves his cap, rises and hurries to the other end of the garden. There’s an apple tree. Mom planted it last summer. Paul could help her spread the earth around the roots and stomp it with his bare feet. Dad comes afterwards with the cap in his hand, puts it back on and says: “Yes, Paul, this apple is ripe. You can pick it.” He lifts it up. Paul plucks the apple from the branch. “Can I eat this?” he asks. “Yes.” Daddy’s voice is a little shaky. That’s all he says. Paul holds the apple in his hands, sniffs it, strokes the smooth skin and bites into it. “Hmmm, this tastes good.” He’s stalling Dad’s apple. “Do you like it?” They’ll eat him up together. When only the apple peck is left, Paul pours out the seeds with his sticky fingers. “Look, Papa. The apple has five seeds,” he says. He can count to five.

Meanwhile, it has almost become dark. Paul puts his hand in daddy’s hand and they go into the house. After dinner, Papa Paul puts Paul first in the bathtub and then in bed. He’s reading him a story. The room door remains open a crack as it exits. Paul falls asleep. Before falling asleep, he thinks of Mom. Because the pillow is as cuddly as she is. And the ceiling smells a little like her.

Mama’s never coming back. Dad is often very sad about it. Then Paul climbs onto his lap and they both cry. When Paul had a fever the other day, Grandma came. He didn’t want to stay in bed. Because Mom was in bed for a long time. She had to go to the hospital and never came home. Paul was afraid it would be the same for him. Grandma comforted him: “Don’t be afraid. You’re going to be fine. You can play football again. But only if you stay in bed and drink a lot.” Now Grandma’s gone away. But I’m sure she’ll be back. That’s what she promised. “Promises are promises,” Paul knows. Grandma is Dad’s mother. Moms always keep their promises.

The last time he visited Mama in the hospital, he had asked: “Will you play with me in the garden again soon?” Mama’s voice sounded strange. He could not understand her answer. “My dear Paul, if I get well, I’ll play with you in the garden again. But I can’t promise you that,” she whispered, and the tears flowed from her eyes. Papa and Paul had to cry too. Paul forgot the snail he had hidden in his pocket. He had found it under the apple tree and wanted to give it to Mom. She liked snails and always laughed when the animals took their feelers in with every touch and hid in their house. But Mama had been so different from home. He was happy when Dad took him in his arms and they left. Dad still smelled like Dad.

Dad let him slide down the car. Paul’s pocket cracked. A big stain spread on his pants. The snail! She was crushed. Paul cried again. “How does that giant snail get in your pocket?” Dad asked, half amazed, half angry. Under sobs, Paul stammered his story. Then Dad took him in his arms again and comforted him. “I’m sure you’ll find a new one,” he said. “But please don’t take them back to the hospital. Promise?” “Promise!” Paul sighed.

All this was a long time ago for Paul. At first, when Mom wasn’t around anymore, he always wanted to stay with Dad. Even at night. He didn’t want to eat or drink or talk to anyone. But now he sleeps in his bed again. Today he dreams he plays football with his dad although it’s already dark outside. The apple tree shines like the floodlights of a real stadium.

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