Dion comes stumbling up the stairs with a bottle of beer, and I quickly start clicking away the photos I was looking at, but I have to many images open at the same time. I slam the laptop screen down so he won't see them.
"Watching porn, were you?" he wants to know. Pushing my hand away, he flips open the computer. On the screen is one of the pictures I haven't managed to close in time: my father, with a smile that breaks my heart, a cigar in one hand and his other hand in front of his face to unsuccessfully hide from the camera. His dark beard curls around his smile, making him look like a friendly Viking. My mother must have taken the picture during one of last year's barbecues, because my father is wearing an apron and the smile he always saved especially for her. In my memory it was a sunny day; even the voice in my head, always telling me it would be better if I didn't exist at all, was quiet.
I expect Dion to ask why I'm being soppy about some old pictures, but he just gazes at the photo for a long while and then takes another sip of his beer.
"How far back do these go?" he asks.
"I don't know how many my Dad saved. It's his computer."
He leans past me and moves the cursor across the screen to the photo folders. Dad never bothered sorting anything; the folders are named according to the dates and codes the camera assigned. I was looking at a folder titled DC04839-17-2015.
Dion randomly opens a few files. Landscapes, buildings, holiday snapshots. A lot of pictures with people I don't know. Finally Dion opens a picture and it's my birthday. There is a large 9 on the cake, and I am sitting on a decorated chair to blow out the candles. I recognize the girl from next door on my left, and a couple of friends I lost touch with in high school. Twelve-year-old Dion, short and skinny but with the same black crewcut he has now, is standing at the corner of the table. He looks bored. I remember this: he showed up at my birthday party unexpectedly, without a gift, and ate most of my cake. I complained to my parents, but they said I would understand when I was older.
Another picture shows my much younger mother, standing behind Dion with her arms around him and her face next to his. Dion has the lankiness of a teenager and his left cheek is red and spotty, but he grins at her and she grins at the camera as if someone just said something funny. This I can't remember; maybe I was in school at the time. Dion often came to our house when I was in school.
There is another picture with me, Dion, and my father in front of our treehouse. I was about ten years old, and Dion was staying with us for a few weeks. My father had gotten it into his head that boys should build treehouses. No matter that he didn't know the first thing about construction, or architecture, or even how to saw wood: once the idea was born, he was sure it would be fun. And it was fun, even though after three weeks the treehouse was still little more than a plateau, and perilously unsafe to walk on.
Dion stops browsing after opening the next picture. He takes his hands away from the keyboard and sips some more beer.
This picture was taken about three years ago, on the parking lot at the beach. Me and Dion are posing in front of my parents' car. I've got my arms crossed in front of my chest like on a movie poster; Dion's one hand is dangling across the open door of the car, the other in his pocket, and there's a faint smile on his lips. He had gotten his driver's license that day, and my parents had given him permission to drive us around. I was riding shotgun and my parents huddled together in the backseat, fiercely proud and terrified at the same time.
Dion clears his throat. "Your parents ..." he starts. His voice is uncharacteristically soft.
I swallow and turn away to hide the tears that have been coming for three days now. Behind me, Dion mumbles, "They should still be here."
Then he abruptly walks out the door.
YOU ARE READING
To Be HereShort Story
Jonas threatens to lose himself to depression after his parents fall victim to a world-wide pandemic of sudden and abrupt disappearances that no one knows the cause or reason of. When his troublesome cousin Dion comes to check up on him, Jonas is fo...