John Waterfall


The trouble started when I heard my son’s teddy bear asking for help with suicide. Jackson was about four months old then, and I had just started being able to sleep outside the nursery, had stopped holding a spoon over his mouth to see the fog, to know that his little life hadn’t been snatched away. It came over the monitor, a breeze of a voice that woke me from sleep in our darkness addled nest, a caress of sound that fluttered my lids, “Please Jack, cutting my head off should do it. You can use the kitchen scissors. And then Wowee-Zowee gone i’ll be.” It had the voice of a child, but the pitch too high, and mechanical, something you’d squeeze the paw of in a toy store, a mechanical grind beneath it. And I lay there staring at the monitor, at the digital glow above the speaker, reading out the time of the world in deep luminescent green.

My wife didn’t hear, at that point she was having trouble staying awake and moving. Mostly on account of the fact that our bed had turned into a minor cave system. I mean that the duvet had grown, that it had enfolded her into its canyons of white depth, a mattress sinkhole that had extended down beneath her. She felt very far away from me. So it was just me trying to wrangle the situation, to somehow understand why my son’s teddy was trying to introduce him to violent suicide.

When I walked into the nursery it was silent, and my son was silent, in that tomb sleep he’d been born into, unmoving, which is what scared me so much and why I’d started with the spoon. He’d never move, he’d never wriggle, never was afraid and confused at being alive. Which, as a parent, is what you want. I’d had to get used to trusting he was alive. You have to if you want to be live.

Ruggles was in the crib with him, a tawny curl of a thing with black bead eyes, a survivor of several goes through the washing machine. Overhead the sea creature mobile turned ever so slightly, like a spirit had gone through it. He was just a little bundle there, in his crib prison, and if I hadn’t known, hadn’t trusted, I would have still been there with the spoon. But you have to trust. You have to.

I took Ruggles with me into the den, which is really the kitchen, we had a two bedroom. And I sat there undoing the knots in his fur like I was an ape and he was my ape child. He’d been my teddy for so long. Until Jackson. My mom had given him to me, I was a little attached. It’s hard to leave behind a thing you’ve named, harder still to kill it. Is that weird? The other doctor implied it might have been weird. I sat there grooming him and I asked him why he wanted to end it. And why Jackson? Why a little baby instead of his oldest friend.

And what he said, in that little grinding voice like an out of breath wind up toy, was that it was because he was afraid, afraid all the time. Because he couldn’t be there all the time, and when you weren’t there all the time anything, really anything could happen. Just thinking about it had wrung him ragged.

And so I said to him, because I knew where he was coming from, that maybe he should give me a specific example. He told me about this guy who’d had a kid, who was so worried all the time, so worried that he’d sleep next to the crib each night with a spoon in his hand, checking every few minutes to make sure the kid was breathing. Because he loved his son so much. So he wasn’t there when a blood clot made its way into his wife’s brain. And she died as he stood on guard in the other room. Because anything can happen.

So I cut his head off with the kitchen scissors, because who’d want to live through a thing like that.




A native New Yorker, John Waterfall is a writer living in New York and a current student at the New School’s creative writing MFA program. His interests include genre fiction and literature about animals. A proud father of two cats and one on-the-way baby girl. After receiving a BA in English from Boston University and an MFA in filmmaking from the New York Film Academy, John worked as a screenwriter and bookseller. His current passion is the procurement of rare signed books.