The last video he ever watched, because he died a few weeks later, was one he had absolutely no recollection of filming. It was an inclement day, a true Chicago snow. In the front yard, Amber was rolling in the powder with Ben. He was maybe four. Had his wife ever again been as happy as she was there? Giggling with majesty, Ben clung to her, screaming as they steamrolled each other, their snowy feet twirling like snowballs. There were angels in the snow, and a baby snowman stood as tall as a pyramid and would for a few days more anyway. Ben’s skin burnt as hot as my father’s eyes as he watched the video. Then Carrie entered the frame. She was eating snow. She spat and it dripped down her jacket. But she didn’t care. Mommy, she said, will you do that with me? Yes, honey, come here. They rolled too, another whirl of snowy feet, and Ben jumped on them in a cloud of white. A benevolent explosion. My father was heaving with tears, keening, and he fell out of his chair to his knees and raised his hands to the sky.
Then he stopped filming, my father, and walked around to the backyard, at whose foot he stood from the porch where he’d grilled a thousand animals like a thousand burnt offerings to an implacable god. Do you remember the smoke in the spring and the smell of the summer? Do you remember the sound of the mosquitoes bursting with our precious blood on the zapping bulb as they flew, glutted on oblivion, into light bluer than this summer twilight? Do you remember that, father? The way the grass drifted over our toys distorted beneath the lukewarm pool water as the sun set and the neon spread of lacerated lightning bugs glowing on our hairless skin?
Who will ever know how long he watched me with just his human eyes before he started filming me again? I was playing in the snow, before evergreen trees I’d climbed when they weren’t rocking madly in the ripping wind. I had toys in my hands that, along with my mittens, added color to the tableau as they flew through the circumambient blur of snowflakes, accompanied by the just audible sound waves tugged from between my teeth into the wind. I had no idea my father was filming me, and for once in my life I was truly myself, strong, indomitable, unselfconscious. I tripped and rose and flew my toys, singing, making sounds, laughing with myself. Quietly my dad watched me play through the camera lens as I entered the trees and disappeared. The snow fell hard and ceaselessly, and the wind rattled the microphone of the camera so that all you heard was a rumble, like the earth was splitting. Then the screen went blue, and there was nothing else to see.
J.C. Rubin is from Bartlett, Illinois, and currently resides in Missouri, where he teaches English and film studies classes at an at-risk high school he helped start 18 years ago. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Image Journal and The Lindenwood Review.7