H is for Happiness
Word count: 871
His wife was acting squirrely. Anna was normally a very serious woman, practically no sense of humor at all and that suited Abraham Hesse just fine. He was a scientist, she was a scientist, there wasn’t much room for silliness in their professions, nor in their home. Thankfully, they’d had two kids, Peter and Olive, who were just as serious as they were.
He’d first noticed the change in his wife on Tuesday. She’d been in the kitchen, on her phone, giggling. Anna was not a giggler, it didn’t need to be said. He’d asked her what was so funny but she’d flipped her phone over and said something about adding to the grocery list.
It was true that Anna kept a running list on her phone so he’d dismissed it at once. Perhaps he’d only misheard her. Perhaps she’d been clearing her throat.
However, before dinner on the same night, he was sure he heard her humming. Anna was not a hummer, that went without saying. That was, in fact, ridiculous. When he got closer to her, the sound stopped and she turned to him questioningly. Her face was unlined, he was startled to see how much younger she looked. He quickly left the room without saying anything.
On Wednesday morning, Anna got up much earlier than the rest of them, and when he blearily turned off his alarm he swore he could hear her singing in the shower. Anna was not a singer. In fact she was very close to tone deaf and rarely even listened to the radio. When he approached their shared bathroom door, the singing stopped, and the space seemed filled only with the rush of water. Could he have imagined it? A slip of a dream still in his mind when he awoke?
The following day he caught Peter, Olive, and their mother huddled together in the kitchen. As soon as he entered the room they sprang apart, each going their separate way. He stood for a moment, annoyed, then left by the front door without a word. Perhaps they’d only been planning something– a school project maybe. A coincidence that they had scattered like rats with a secret, nothing more.
On Saturday his serious faced son Peter (so much like his own, that face) had a soccer game. Abraham attended as usual sitting in the stands with the other parents–keeping himself purposely separate. He hated small talk. After awhile he grew puzzled, then concerned. The boy looked like stranger– a smile ready on his face, his gaze easy and relaxed. He was enjoying himself on the field. It was Peter out there, but it wasn’t Peter.
At home his daughter Olive stared at him blankly when he greeted her and he had to admit that she probably hadn’t heard him. There were earbuds in her ears and he realized with horror, she was actually dancing away from him, down the hall and to her bedroom, the door of which she closed with a thump.
Had his whole house gone mad? It was too much. He could tolerate a little eccentricity from his wife but to have it affect his children? Never. Their futures were at stake.
Dancing, music, jokes, humming, singing. He had to put an end to it all. Right now.
He called a family meeting. They met in the living room. He in the chair, his son across the marble coffee table, his wife and daughter closest to him on the sofa. Despite the stern look on his face and the tension in his shoulders, they all had the audacity to be smiling at him. Unsettled, he realized his wife and daughter were even holding hands.
“What is wrong with all of you?”
His wife glanced at her children. They all nodded and then turned back to Abraham.
“I said, what the devil is wrong with all of you?”
Their eyes got bigger, bolder; their smiles faded, slipped away. The skin of their faces rippled, just slightly.
Abraham shrank back, afraid.
The skin on their arms rippled, tiny rivers bucked and entwined just under the surface. Abraham’s breath came faster and faster.
“Dear god,” he said, although he had never uttered the words before. He swallowed hard. “I’ll think of something. I’ll fix this. I know I can.” His voice was barely a whisper, his body didn’t move out of the chair. He was riveted in place by the sight of his family, and their condition.
“There’s nothing to fix, Abraham,” his wife said.
His son reached for his hand, but Abraham sat back out of reach. He was studying a problem that he meant to solve. His concentration was total.
“How can I kill it,” Abraham whispered. “Maybe I can cut it out?”
His wife laughed, sweet and bell-like, like nothing he’d ever heard before. “Abraham, you can’t kill happiness. No matter its form.”
She moved closer to him, leaning over and gently kissing the center of his forehead. The touch was light but he was instantly contaminated; he could feel it spread across his forehead, down his cheeks to his smile muscles, settling there.
Idiotically, he began to smile.