Something stopped us that day. Even now, I don’t know exactly what it was.
It all began at an unnaturally early hour. For me at least. Kajtek is an old hand at
spooning down porridge at 5:30 in the morning. Outside the window, Egyptian
darkness. We were waiting for the sun. In winter, it sleeps in, rolls out of bed hours
after Kajtek, who was already sitting astride his sled in the hallway. I opened the
window, encouraging the caffeine to circulate through my veins. Chest pain hit with
the first inhalation. Asthma was up, too. Smell of chimneys burning.
It wasn’t smoke rising from the familiar shapes in the yard, not exactly. It was a fog,
dense as the dead of night. A violent act perpetrated against a pinned-down sun. I
rubbed my gummy eyes. Called to Kajtek. Nose squished to the windowpane, eyes
open wide, his mouth forming the question of the day: “Dad, what’s that?” Through a
mental mist, an answer emerged from a geography lesson of yore. “Clouds on Earth,
Something stopped us that day. Alert! Alarm! Smog! So we took off our hats and
one-piece snowsuits, disappointedly stowed the sled.
I closed the window. The smog transmogrified into a baleful dragon, writhing in the
skies above the city. Kajtek had already armed himself with sword and shield. I, too,
believed we could defend ourselves. I answered questions. I wove a tale, of verbs and
adjectives, with exclamation points! Kajtek covered a sheet of paper as white as snow
with grey and black graphite. We spun the globe, seeking to pinpoint the dragon’s
lair. Brush-stroked Chinese characters appeared before my mind’s eye. Cough.
I cannot speak. I cannot write. But I can look. I can show. The idea expelled itself
from me like a cough. Biological, organic. An unconditional reflex of a concept. I
owe it to my son. To you, too. And to the planet. To exhibit smog to the world. To
expose its nebulous face.
Something stopped us that day. We were held motionless, in anticipation of the sun.