Write Now: My Secret Wish

My Secret Wish | By Jeffrey Koterba
{This essay is an excerpt from Inklings, the first book by Jeffrey Koterba.}

That night, my father taps lightly on my bedroom door. “Feeling better?” he asks.

I’m up on one elbow. A dull ache throbs in my jaw, but I want to appear brave.

“Would you like to hear a story?” His voice is low, mesmerizing.

“Okay.”

My father’s bedtime visits are sporadic. Most of the time it’s my mother’s job to tuck me in. She reads me stories from Golden Books; other times she lies next to me, holding my hand until I fall asleep.

“How about ‘Puffy the Cloud’?” my father asks, reclining next to me.

“Puffy,” he always starts out, “is a little cloud in the sky. He floats down, down, down, and comes in through the side door of our house, through the kitchen, through the hallway, to this bedroom.

“Hi, Jeffrey!” My father’s voice now high-pitched, breathy. The voice of Puffy. “Climb aboard!”

Back in his narrator’s voice, my father tells me I climb aboard.

I shift under the covers as though I am climbing aboard. “Puffy’s body is fluffy and soft like a big pillow,” he continues. “Together, Jeffrey and Puffy float out of the bedroom, through the kitchen, through the hallway, out the side door, and into the night sky. They go up and up and up, and the night is clear.”

I allow my head to sink into the pillow, closing my eyes to the dim, cobwebbed ceiling.

“Look, Jeffrey,” says Puffy. “See down there? That’s your school.”

Although it’s a December night, I imagine the story takes place on a warm spring afternoon. Children skip and dance on the playground.

“They keep floating,” my father tells me, through the night sky. “Puffy is cozy.”

I’m struggling against sleep.

“And see that tiny house down there?” says Puffy. “That’s where your father grew up. And that big brown circle? That’s the baseball field at Brown Park.”

Puffy takes me on a flight high above the business district of South Omaha, above Seig Drugs, Hinky Dinky, and the Salvation Army, where we buy clothes. In my mind, I see squares and rectangles, building after building.

“Well,” says Puffy, “it’s time I got you home and into bed.”

Together, I am told, we return to our neighborhood, past the ravine, over our backyard and house, floating “down, down, down, through the side door, through the kitchen, through the hallway, into this bedroom,” where I “crawl back into bed.”

As my father stands, he asks if I’d like a “parachute.” Before I can answer, he grabs one end of my bed sheet, softly snapping it in the air, allowing it to unfurl into a rectangle. Slowly, he allows the sheet to float to the bed, to my body, covering me, my face.

About Jeffrey Koterba
Jeffrey Koterba is an acclaimed syndicated political cartoonist. He was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and during the summer of 1978 was struck by lightning and lived to tell about it. But even before that, he drew cartoons, creating his own newspaper at the age of seven. In 2010, Koterba will create a cartoon that will fly aboard one of NASA’s last planned space shuttle flights. He is also lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter for the Prairie Cats, a swing and jump-blues band he formed in 1998. His memoir, Inklings, is a story of Tourette’s Syndrome, a complicated father, bad weather, jazz music, and cartooning. Inklings will be published November 3 with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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