My ex-wife, Janie, died. I was happy to see her go.
I regained custody of our beautiful son, Barry. He’s four years old. For the last two years, I’d been out of his life. Janie kept him away from me. God only knows what poison she filled his head with; all her hatred of me spilling out of her lying mouth to make Barry despise his old man. But all that’s over now. He’s mine again. And he’ll love me soon enough.
It was clear she’d said some terrible things to influence his perception of me. “Daddy’s bad,” Barry informed me one night. Tears filled my eyes and I clutched my son to my chest and whispered, “your Daddy is a good man, Barry. Your Daddy will take care of you.”
I meant it, although I hated him when he squirmed to get away. He was afraid of me. His mother’s poison still coursed through his veins.
In early April, Barry seemed under the weather. I checked him out. He’d developed hives. I was overjoyed. This would be my opportunity to redeem myself with him. Once he saw how well I could take care of him, he’d love me again. I thought back to his tiny hand clutching my finger moments after he was born. He’d loved me from the start. Then Janie ripped it out of him. I seethed.
I tucked Barry in and brought him his favorite toys. He didn’t shrink away when I kissed his forehead. Progress. I stroked his hair while we watched his cartoons on Netflix. He felt a little warm. Just his body fighting off what he had. Nothing to worry about. Nothing Daddy’s love couldn’t fix.
The next day, Barry’s hives had gotten bigger. There were more of them, too. I was concerned. I knew he had allergies; I’d kept the window to his bedroom open all the time so he could get fresh air. Maybe that was a bad idea. I didn’t know he was so sensitive. From that point on, the window stayed closed.
The days went by and Barry seemed to get worse. The hives were everywhere and Barry had very little energy. The one saving grace was that he appeared to have warmed up to me. He no longer cringed when I walked in the room. He let me brush his hair without wincing when the brush came near. Baby steps, but success nonetheless.
In the middle of April, I had to come to terms with the fact that Barry was very sick. He never wanted to get out of bed. He soiled his sheets every day. His hives were large and angry; the biggest ones were on his back and they stretched from his shoulder blades to his tailbone. Still, I refused to take him to the doctor. We’d get through this. My boy and I were a team, damn it. If a father can’t take care of his son, then what good is he?
After I’d changed Barry’s sheets, I decided it was time to give him a bath. I’d always been reluctant to do this; I still didn’t know the depths to which Janie had sunk to demean me – I worried she’d told Barry I’d take advantage of him. I wouldn’t put it past her.
I stripped Barry and brought him into the bathroom. I turned on the water and let it warm up. My son stood naked, shoulders hunched, holding onto the sink for support. In the harsh overhead light of the bathroom, I could see the product of his hives drooling down his back, over his butt and thighs and to his feet where it pooled in sticky puddles on the floor.
I checked the water in the bath. Perfect. I lifted Barry and placed him in. He shivered. I readjusted the temperature until it was right for him. I ran the soft loofah over his body, being careful not to damage any of the hives. They looked terrible. Deep and hexagonal, with puffy edges. I wondered if they hurt.
I looked down and saw Barry wiggling his toes. When he was a toddler, I remembered how he’d do that when he was happy. To tell you the truth, it looked like he felt a little better.. This bath was just what he needed. I assumed he was on the road to recovery.
As I washed him, I heard humming inside his back and chest. Barry splashed around with one of his Steven Universe toys and I put my ear to his back. The humming was low and hypnotic. Comforting.
I studied one of the hives. It looked so deep. I took my index finger and touched the edge, studying Barry’s reaction. He didn’t pull away. I pushed my finger inside, up to the nail, being careful to read Barry’s body language so I could stop if it hurt. No change. I went deeper. It slid in effortlessly, all the way to the knuckle.
I felt things wriggling against my fingertip. I was so deep inside his body I could feel his heart beating from only centimeters away. I withdrew my finger. A tiny bee, still in a late stage of development, sat on my fingernail. I flicked it off onto the carpet and brought my finger to my lips. I tasted the product of the hive. It was sweet. So sweet.
“Hey buddy,” I whispered to Barry. “Here you go.”
I brought my finger around to his mouth. Barry clasped the finger in his small hand, just like he’d done when he was an infant. Tears ran down my cheeks as he lapped at the honey with his warm tongue.
“Good boy,” I told him, my eyes leaking into the tub. “You’re a good boy, Barry.”
He ate the honey he’d made in his hives as I stroked his hair. No matter what happened after that point, it would be okay. I’d finally reconnected with my son. And the moment was sweeter than I could have ever imagined.