Don’t Ask Why

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by Kathleen

April never considered telling her father no. Although she lived a mere train ride away, Anders hadn’t contacted her even when Max was born. But now that her son was six, he invited them kindly. No matter that in thirty-two years, he had only once taken April to lunch, when she was ten. That, and several random, pre-dawn phone calls; a few greeting cards.

On the train Max asked a stream of questions about the grandfather nobody ever mentioned. Why did Anders want to meet Max now? What was a recluse and why did April call him one?

“Don’t keep asking why, sweetheart. Sometimes you have to wait and see.”

But why hadn’t Max seen Insect Collector magazine if Anders owned it? Why did some people collect insects when most people hated them? Why did people have bug fairs? Why couldn’t Max go to one?

“Ask him to take you, honey.”

At Grand Central they took a taxi to West 21st Street. The sidewalks teemed with people; the narrow, towering buildings obliterated daylight.

Anders’ building looked especially decrepit. They waited long minutes until he opened the door. “Well, well.” He shook Max’s hand and moved to kiss April, who recoiled involuntarily.

In the unkempt studio, April touched her son’s head and knew Max found the shrunken old man amazing. That Anders reeked of alcohol and loneliness didn’t penetrate the boy
s wonder. Whereas April imagined the cluttered space and soiled artifacts springing organically from her father’s leathery hands.

Beneath a gray window a primitive computer and printer sat on a linoleum-topped table. “A young man at Radio Shack provides me with parts.” Anders smiled, showing his grimy teeth.

“Come here, Max.” He steered the boy, waving to include April, toward two cabinets, where a fluorescent lamp brought a spurt of cleanliness into sharp relief.

He opened a thin cabinet drawer, which displayed huge, iridescent beetles.

Max said, “Yikes.”

Anders chuckled or more like croaked. “See these?” He opened the next cabinet with its array of butterflies.

“Wow!” Max’s eyes widened. He peered at the vivid gossamer wings swirling with red, orange, and blue. Patterns like eyes dotted a lot of them.

“Asterope sapphira.” Anders pointed to an especially gorgeous blue butterfly. “Originates in the Amazon.”


Anders opened every drawer and talked about every specimen. Origins and traits.

Then April forgot herself. Almost unaware, she clenched her fists. “Why, Anders, why? Why now? I mean, why you? Why you jerk! Why oh why ever not?”

Max was tugging her elbow. “Mommy. Don’t keep asking why. Sometimes you have to wait and see. Sometimes nobody knows.”


Rousby said...

What a remarkable, lovely story. As beautiful and eerie as the butterfly.

Jane Turley said...

I want to know more! Part Two please!

Ed Yates said...

It is interesting how children sometimes react and put things in perspective in a way that adults with all their baggage simply cannot. I think you captured this nicely in this short Kathleen.

I second Jane Turley's request for Part Two. Although I know writing takes time.

kathleenmaher said...

Thank you Rousby, Jane, and Ed. I don't know about Part Two. It pleases me you want to know more, but these super-short stories are intended to stand on their own.
I've written enough of them now to realize that's tricky.