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Henry's Ghosts


Henry suspected it had to do with the starlings. Through some synaptic malfunction, their radar went haywire on the day of Martha’s funeral, and they began flying into windows. They would strike the glass with a thump and fall dazed into the shrubbery or onto the deck outside the sliding glass doors and lie like stuffed socks for several minutes before regaining their senses and flapping off in a wobbly ascent toward the trees.
      A few days after the first of the starlings struck Henry’s bedroom window, his dead son Odin began showing up, always in the drowsy hum of night just before he fell asleep, and these visits invariably seeped through that thin veil separating the real from the imagined and became dreams. But the dreams, Henry was certain, had been spawned by the physical presence of Odin at the foot of his bed, his child’s mouth and fingers white with powdered sugar from the lefser he liked so much.
     It was as if Odin knew that Martha had died and had decided the time had come to visit, now that Henry was alone.
      But he wasn’t quite alone, not as alone as he would have liked. Both his living children, Jacob and Ellie, now grown and married, had felt it necessary to move into their old rooms down the corridor for a few weeks while he adjusted to life without Martha. In fact, it would have been Ellie who’d made it easy for Odin to slip into his room by leaving the door ajar, as was her habit, after coming in to say goodnight. She was a good girl, Ellie, but as with many childless women, her finicky attentions strode a fine line between ministration and harassment. There was the matter of the partly open door, yes, but why did she find it necessary to look in on him each night in the first place, as if he were an invalid?
      Henry sometimes wondered if it wasn’t this tendency to mother that kept Grant away from their home so much. After all, the man didn’t have a real job, although as a New Jersey state senator he had more than his share of dealings, many of which Henry suspected were . . . was shady too strong a word? He hoped he was wrong about Grant, his ever-affable son-in-law, but he was pretty sure he wasn’t. At the very least, Grant made money in creative ways. They had two Mercedes and a live-in housekeeper to look after their mini-mansion in Upper Saddle River, a life-style that would have been difficult to manage on the salary of a state senator.
      Neither Ellie nor his son, Jacob, knew about Odin – not just about the visits, but that any such person had ever existed. Henry had shoved Odin into the far reaches of his memory long before they had been born, and Martha had known he didn’t want him dragged back again.
      Odin first appeared a week to the day after Martha’s funeral as Henry lay on their king bed with his eyes closed, listening for the thump of a starling, the distinctive sound of bird against glass. He heard a single word – “Papa?” – and then noted the smell of fresh-baked lefser and powdered sugar, and he knew it was Odin even before he opened his eyes. There was that smell, yes, that scent teasing his memory, but, also, no one but Odin had ever called him Papa, his American children opting for Dad, or sometimes – in the case of Ellie – Daddy.