The Cranes

Qualified Entry: Fiction Category

By: Rachel Burger

The discarded origami paper crunched satisfactorily under Avi’s black Crocs.

There were hundreds of cranes on the floor, some scrappily folded and others meticulously measured to the 3” x 3” standard, many tied together with string while others lay lonely on the ground. Jeremy, only three years younger than Avi, used his shoe to spread out the cranes before stepping gently, bobbing his full head of coffee ringlet hair. Avi glanced at her four-year-old brother, noting his discomfort, before focusing on her parents hovering around her grandfather, Papa J.

Papa J ignored the people surrounding him. Fold, crease, fold, crease. Avi remembered when Papa J could make a crane in less than seven minutes only last year. He used to give Avi and Jeremy cranes alongside presents, little paper toys that Papa J rained upon his grandchildren for their amusement. Avi and Jeremy would fight about who had the better crane, contrasting little imperfections, paper color, and size. Papa J hadn’t made any cranes for Avi or her brother since he moved out of the house into this apartment. His health and ability to play decreased congruently. Papa J seemed ugly now. His skin lacked pigment and sagged off of his retiring bones. His brain, Avi’s mother explained at the breakfast table nine months ago, doesn’t work anymore. He has Gaucher’s disease. Everybody dies honey, we just don’t know when.

“Dad.” Avi’s father, David, hovered over Papa J, trying to communicate. “Jonah.” Papa J paused, setting down his half-finished crane.

Papa J furrowed his brow and responded, “Were you at Saipan? Infantry?”
Josie, Avi’s mother chuckled, “At least he knows the war is over this time.” David never appreciated Josie’s sarcasm, but wouldn’t speak firmly with her in front of Papa J or “the kids.” Avi could always hear them yell when they fought though. Josie’s subtlety dissipated when she yelled.

David made a strange face towards his wife, a pinched, bug-eyed glare with a misplaced softness. Avi uncomfortably looked away from her father, then noticed an overturned plate half covered with cranes, its mushy contents smothered with black ants. Wrinkling her nose, Avi made eye contact with her mother, mouthing, Can we go home now? Avi’s mother turned away from her, focusing on her husband, who was offering Papa J more paper, and insisting that the octogenarian had made at least 1,000 cranes.

“You’ve probably made thousands,” Avi’s father said desperately, “but I’ve promised you a million times, you won’t be forgotten. You don’t need to make all these cranes to get your wish.”

Papa J coughed. Avi rolled her eyes in boredom. Papa J should just get better.

“You will remember my Yahrtzeit.” Papa J raved, his gray eyes staring at nothing. He coughed some more. Beeps began emitting from the machinery next to Papa J’s bed. Jeremy started crying. The room smelled like urine. Josie quickly moved towards Avi and Jeremy. “Let’s leave Daddy alone,” she said, eyes dry, “Papa J isn’t feeling well.” A nurse flew into the room. Stomping through the dead birds, Avi, Josie, and Jeremy exited Papa J’s apartment for the last time.

Avi peered through her bedroom window to the crows pecking at the bare ground. She closed her eyes as Jeremy tantrumed in the room next to her. Josie had been trying to convince Jeremy to get into his pajamas for the past 20 minutes, but Jeremy, suddenly aware that the room across from him was once Papa J’s, refused to undress.

He’s your father! I’d like a little help taking care of him. Before Papa J moved out, Josie and David had this loudly whispered argument in the same hallway. They stopped when Avi peeked her head out her door, awakened from the tension.

“I want Daddy!” Jeremy squawked, loud enough for the crows to pause and stare listlessly at the house. Josie, exasperated, offered, “Do you want to get dressed in Mommy and Daddy’s room?” After a moment of silence, she added, “Let’s play doggies! You can wear your pajamas with spots on them. Come on, I’ll race you to my room.” Avi turned her head long enough to watch her mother crawl slowly past her bedroom door, allowing Jeremy to race past, knees scraping against the carpet, pajamas hanging limply out of his mouth. “Ruff!” he garbled.

Avi turned away from the window to follow her brother and mom, dropping to the floor. Josie stood up from the floor quickly. “You two play,” she purred, “and Avi, make sure Jeremy gets dressed all the way.” Jeremy giggled and wiggled his bare bottom as Josie left the room.

Avi rose from the floor as well. She placed a hand on her hip and parroted her mother, “Get dressed all the way.” Jeremy rolled onto his back and limply hung his tongue out of his mouth, panting to spite his sister. Avi squatted to tickle her brother, who quickly rolled under his mother’s bed.

“Avi!” he yelled, “Avi stop! Look at what I found!” Avi peeked under the bed. Jeremy cradled a wrinkled origami crane in his little hand. Pausing, Avi reached for the crimson bird. Its neck permanently cocked to the side, as if stepped on, and its left wing awkwardly pushed against its breast.

“Papa J made this one for me,” Avi decided, standing up and holding the paper bird close to her. “She gets to stay in my room. I’m going to call her Birdy.” Immediately, Jeremy began to shuffle from under the bed. “No Avi, it’s mine! I found it!” Avi pranced out of the room, delicately holding the damaged bird, spitefully yelling at her brother, “You can’t come out until you get dressed! Birdy likes me better!” She flew to her room to put the crane on top of her dresser, where Jeremy couldn’t reach, where she could see it at night. Avi chirped loudly at the bird so that Jeremy could hear. The four-year-old stomped loudly down the hall to complain to Josie. Upon hearing the kitchen door open, Avi creaked down the hall to watch her father. David stood in front of the door, backlit by the overcast sky at dusk, holding carry-on and a large brown bag.

“Daddy, Avi took my crane and I found it and I want it back.” Jeremy gripped hard around David’s waist, staring up at his father, waiting for an affectionate pat on the head, for his hero to storm into Avi’s room, removing the bird from her grasp.

Instead, David looked ahead at nothing in particular, allowing just his lower lip to tremble. Swallowing hard, avoiding Jeremy and Josie’s gaze, he put down the paper bag, allowing its contents to spill across the floor.

“Why did you bring them here?” Josie cried, getting up from her laptop to clean the mess of folded paper. While Josie clawed at the origami, Jeremy picked out the cranes he wanted to keep. “This one is a baby duck,” he said, holding up his new favorite toy, a 3”x3” mint condition yellow bird with orange spots.

“You can have three, Jeremy, no more,” Josie said authoritatively. Avi watched her mother huff at David, “Why would you bring them here? I don’t need any more messes.”

“He wanted me to.” David responded blankly. “I couldn’t say no.” His eyes drifted across the kitchen to meet Avi’s gaze. Avi cowered momentarily, fearful of her punishment for stealing Jeremy’s crane. She relaxed as David crooned, “Avalyn. Come here.”

Avi happily obeyed, eyeing the cluster of toys on the floor. She hugged her father then quickly dropped to join Jeremy, picking her three favorites as her mother instructed. As she and Jeremy exited the kitchen, she heard her father choke on tears. She turned to watch Josie hug David as he buried his face into her shoulder. Josie cradled the back of his head, whispered into his ear, then began to throw away the rest of the birds.

****

Synagogue competed with visits to Papa J. Avi squirmed uncomfortably as Jeremy sat firmly, his hand on his head to keep his yarmulke in place. David was crying again. He had cried at the funeral too, Avi noted. David screamed at 2AM the night before, but he said he was sleeping and didn’t remember why. Avi knew Dad could not be his children’s hero right now.

The service closed and the congregation flocked to Avi’s family. Condolences swarmed in a heat. David and Josie hugged their friends and acquaintances, David lingering in the touch of warm bodies. Avi awkwardly hugged those who offered, frustrated that they knew nothing of her or of her grandfather. Jeremy squirmed away, only to be later found talking with Rabbi Malachi near the oneg, or after-service snacks.

Avi felt awkward as the room buzzed. Her family was silent, quietly crunching their apples, crackers, and challah, each lost in their own thoughts. Rabbi Malachi approached them, his kind eyes focusing on little Jeremy. He squatted near Avi and her brother and offered, in a kind gesture, two origami frogs. Avi picked hers from the rabbi’s extended hand and immediately began popping it on the floor, while Jeremy stared at the odd white paper of which it was made.  David said thank you, while Josie mumbled that they had enough folded paper in the house. Avi looked up at Rabbi Malachi from her squatted position over the frog.

“Papa J only made cranes,” she tried to explain to the silly old man, “You can only get a wish with cranes.”

Rabbi Malachi raised his eyebrows. “Oh?” he inquired.

“Yeah,” Jeremy said, handing back the rabbi his frog, “but only if you make a ton.” Avi scrambled up, abandoning her frog to take Jeremy’s. The rabbi curtly offered his condolences, quickly leaving to speak with other families in the congregation. The family packed into the mini van and drove home.

Avi and Jeremy quickly prepared for bed. “I want to sleep with Daddy!” Jeremy declared. Avi furrowed her brow, rushing to her parents’ room. “I’m going to sleep with Mom!” She avowed, jumping onto her parents bed. Jeremy followed her, grabbing his father’s pillow. “No Avi!” He said, swatting her heavily across her face. Avi looked at him in shock, then grabbed Josie’s pillow to attack her brother. Right before she swung, her eye caught a green, crushed crane resting where her mother’s pillow once occupied.

Avi put her arm out, and asserted, “Jeremy! Stop!” Jeremy dropped his pillow instantly, and examined the green fowl. “Is it yours, Avi?” Avi shook her head no as Josie entered the room. Upon spotting the paper bird, Josie growled, “New rule kids, no cranes in Mommy and Daddy’s bed.” Josie picked it up and sent it into a nosedive to the trash. Jeremy stayed in his parents’ bed as Avi made her way to her room.

The following morning, Avi got up at five to watch cartoons. She tiptoed across the house, TV in sight. She almost stepped on the birds, but the bright origami colors caught her eye. The two cranes were tied together as she used to see Papa J do. Examining them, Avi decided that Jeremy must have stolen the cranes from the bag David brought home from the apartment. She plucked the two cranes from the floor and quickly rushed back to her room. Avi intended to put them next to the four cranes she already had, only to find her shelf crowded with thirteen cranes. Delighted, Avi stacked the two she just discovered on top of her growing gaggle. Before she could return to the television, her father entered the room.

“Where did you get those?” he asked, making Avi jump. She then fluttered to her father, reaching high for him to lift her into the air. David hugged her firmly instead, and then let go.

“They were here when I woke up.” Avi pouted. David looked at the birds quizzically, then shrugged.

“Stranger things have happened,” he acknowledged. David then half-smiled, “This shelf is missing something,” exiting the room and creaking into the dining room. Upon his return, he placed a yellowing framed picture of four Asian men surrounding Papa J in uniform at a restaurant on Avi’s shelf. The five men held each other at the shoulder, huddled and smiling at the camera.

“Who are they?” Avi asked. David shrugged, “I don’t know, but Dad always kept Japanese company. He never got over their culture.” Avi hesitated.

“He never watched Pokémon with me and Jeremy,” she noted. David didn’t respond, lost in a trance as he stared at the photograph. Ruffling his own hair, David muttered, “I wonder if he even remembered them before he died.” He turned to his daughter, hesitated, then added, “I think dementia really scared Papa J.” Avi nodded, pretending to understand what her father was trying to say. Silence stood between them for a moment.

David interrupted the peace. “Anyway Avi,” he murmured, “I couldn’t sleep. I was curious if you wanted to spend some time together.” He sounded oddly desperate. Avi lit up immediately.

“Rock Band!” She twittered, rushing for the Xbox. Ignoring the time, David followed his daughter, pulling out the chunky guitar while Avi unraveled the microphone and clicked on the console. Turning the volume as low as possible, David offered, “I Wanna Be Sedated?” Avi smiled at her dad. “Definitely,” she said. Josie soon joined the duo. She pounced on her daughter, giving her a bear hug and a big, wet kiss, right on her neck. Avi squawked in delight. Grinning, Josie lifted herself from the ground, giving her husband a kiss on the cheek.

“Excuse me, I am the leader of this band,” Josie said, stealing Avi’s microphone. Avi pulled out the drums and prepared to play “25 or 6 or 4,” when a splattering of paper hit the window to the left of the TV. Thirty origami cranes were pushed against the glass, the wind blowing them gently to and fro. Josie turned to David, who, for the second time that morning, simply shrugged. “Coffee?” He offered.

Josie declined, making her way to the kitchen. She then hesitated and turned to David. “Will you please help me clean them up?” David’s eyes softened then welled with tears. He opened his mouth to speak then closed them again. He remained unmoved, looking to the floor.

“Dave,” Josie pressed, “I cleaned after your father when he lived with us. His cranes, his mess, his sheets. I know you couldn’t help me then because it was too much for you, but this is just paper. I need some help now.”

“I’ll help, Mom,” Avi tweeted, hoping to help her father. David sat back down on the couch while the girls disposed of the birds together. When they returned with a full trash bag, David finally spoke: “He wants to be remembered, Jo. This is the way he wants that to happen.” Josie scowled and responded, “You can’t know that. I’m going to check on Jeremy.” She hustled out of the room.

****

The following Monday, Avi and Jeremy covertly observed their father from the couch as he exited. Purple bags puffed under his eyes. He held his briefcase limply on his left hand as he paused to look up at the overcast atmosphere, as if looking for someone.

Cranes gently soared through the sky and settled on David’s briefcase like snowflakes. He took that moment in his front yard and inhaled for the first time that week. His shoulders relaxed. A scarlet crane pecked his cheek softly and fell to the ground. Staring at the tancho on the grass then out into the horizon, David became lost in the birds’ dance. They gracefully fell like balloons without enough helium, as if being lowered slowly by an invisible string. In that moment, Avi’s father was at peace.

Jeremy did not have the same reaction. He squirmed off the couch to rescue his father. As he approached the door, Avi diverted him.

“I see him too,” she cooed, “He doesn’t need you right now.” Jeremy wrinkled his eyebrows angrily. His face then softened as he broke down. “What’s wrong with Daddy,” he hiccoughed. “Why doesn’t Daddy love anyone anymore. Is Daddy going to die too?”

Avi felt a sudden maturity in contrast with her weeping brother. She wrapped her arms around him tightly, kissing him on the forehead. “Everybody dies, Jeremy,” she clucked, “We just don’t know when.”

Josie entered the room. She inspected the children, watching them curiously clutch each other. “What’s wrong?” she asked, but neither Jeremy nor Avi felt the desire to explain. Glancing out the window, Josie spotted her husband. She began skulking towards the door and then paused. Avi looked up from Jeremy, watching her mother in silence. Josie’s body trembled. Avi pecked her brother thoughtfully, grooming his hair back, staring and unmoving. Josie’s body collapsed to the floor, her hand grasping at her mouth. Avi let go of Jeremy.

“Mom?” She questioned. Josie gasped as she pulled a damp, crimson and gold crane from her throat. Josie looked up at nothing while Jeremy encroached his mother as well.

“It’s not fair,” Josie rasped, looking up at nothing, “Please let me move on.” Jeremy inspected the moist bird as Avi walked up to her mother, placing two fingers on her neck like on TV. Her heartbeat was fluttering. Avi removed her hand from her mother’s carotid artery, and kissed her mother on the forehead. Without prompt, Avi picked up the bird and threw it into the trash. When she returned, the cranes that surrounded her father in the front yard disappeared as well, and her father had left for work. Josie sat up, holding her forehead.

“Thank you, Avi,” she mumbled, “I appreciate your help.” Avi smiled then began walking to her room. Jeremy rushed passed her, grabbed two cranes, and offered to share. Together, they began animating the cranes, using the toys as Papa J intended.

The discarded origami paper crunched satisfactorily under Avi’s black Crocs. There were hundreds of cranes on the floor, some scrappily folded and others meticulously measured to the 3” x 3” standard, many tied together with string while others lay lonely on the ground. Jeremy, only three years younger than Avi, used his shoe to spread out the cranes before stepping gently, bobbing his full head of coffee ringlet hair. Avi glanced at her four-year-old brother, noting his discomfort, before focusing on her parents hovering around her grandfather, Papa J.

Papa J ignored the people surrounding him. Fold, crease, fold, crease. Avi remembered when Papa J could make a crane in less than seven minutes only last year. He used to give Avi and Jeremy cranes alongside presents, little paper toys that Papa J rained upon his grandchildren for their amusement. Avi and Jeremy would fight about who had the better crane, contrasting little imperfections, paper color, and size. Papa J hadn’t made any cranes for Avi or her brother since he moved out of the house into this apartment. His health and ability to play decreased congruently. Papa J seemed ugly now. His skin lacked pigment and sagged off of his retiring bones. His brain, Avi’s mother explained at the breakfast table nine months ago, doesn’t work anymore. He has Gaucher’s disease. Everybody dies honey, we just don’t know when.

“Dad.” Avi’s father, David, hovered over Papa J, trying to communicate. “Jonah.” Papa J paused, setting down his half-finished crane.

Papa J furrowed his brow and responded, “Were you at Saipan? Infantry?”
Josie, Avi’s mother chuckled, “At least he knows the war is over this time.” David never appreciated Josie’s sarcasm, but wouldn’t speak firmly with her in front of Papa J or “the kids.” Avi could always hear them yell when they fought though. Josie’s subtlety dissipated when she yelled.

David made a strange face towards his wife, a pinched, bug-eyed glare with a misplaced softness. Avi uncomfortably looked away from her father, then noticed an overturned plate half covered with cranes, its mushy contents smothered with black ants. Wrinkling her nose, Avi made eye contact with her mother, mouthing, Can we go home now? Avi’s mother turned away from her, focusing on her husband, who was offering Papa J more paper, and insisting that the octogenarian had made at least 1,000 cranes.
“You’ve probably made thousands,” Avi’s father said desperately, “but I’ve promised you a million times, you won’t be forgotten. You don’t need to make all these cranes to get your wish.”

Papa J coughed. Avi rolled her eyes in boredom. Papa J should just get better.
“You will remember my Yahrtzeit.” Papa J raved, his gray eyes staring at nothing. He coughed some more. Beeps began emitting from the machinery next to Papa J’s bed. Jeremy started crying. The room smelled like urine. Josie quickly moved towards Avi and Jeremy. “Let’s leave Daddy alone,” she said, eyes dry, “Papa J isn’t feeling well.” A nurse flew into the room. Stomping through the dead birds, Avi, Josie, and Jeremy exited Papa J’s apartment for the last time.

Avi peered through her bedroom window to the crows pecking at the bare ground. She closed her eyes as Jeremy tantrumed in the room next to her. Josie had been trying to convince Jeremy to get into his pajamas for the past 20 minutes, but Jeremy, suddenly aware that the room across from him was once Papa J’s, refused to undress.

He’s your father! I’d like a little help taking care of him. Before Papa J moved out, Josie and David had this loudly whispered argument in the same hallway. They stopped when Avi peeked her head out her door, awakened from the tension.

“I want Daddy!” Jeremy squawked, loud enough for the crows to pause and stare listlessly at the house. Josie, exasperated, offered, “Do you want to get dressed in Mommy and Daddy’s room?” After a moment of silence, she added, “Let’s play doggies! You can wear your pajamas with spots on them. Come on, I’ll race you to my room.” Avi turned her head long enough to watch her mother crawl slowly past her bedroom door, allowing Jeremy to race past, knees scraping against the carpet, pajamas hanging limply out of his mouth. “Ruff!” he garbled.

Avi turned away from the window to follow her brother and mom, dropping to the floor. Josie stood up from the floor quickly. “You two play,” she purred, “and Avi, make sure Jeremy gets dressed all the way.” Jeremy giggled and wiggled his bare bottom as Josie left the room.

Avi rose from the floor as well. She placed a hand on her hip and parroted her mother, “Get dressed all the way.” Jeremy rolled onto his back and limply hung his tongue out of his mouth, panting to spite his sister. Avi squatted to tickle her brother, who quickly rolled under his mother’s bed.

“Avi!” he yelled, “Avi stop! Look at what I found!” Avi peeked under the bed. Jeremy cradled a wrinkled origami crane in his little hand. Pausing, Avi reached for the crimson bird. Its neck permanently cocked to the side, as if stepped on, and its left wing awkwardly pushed against its breast.

“Papa J made this one for me,” Avi decided, standing up and holding the paper bird close to her. “She gets to stay in my room. I’m going to call her Birdy.” Immediately, Jeremy began to shuffle from under the bed. “No Avi, it’s mine! I found it!” Avi pranced out of the room, delicately holding the damaged bird, spitefully yelling at her brother, “You can’t come out until you get dressed! Birdy likes me better!” She flew to her room to put the crane on top of her dresser, where Jeremy couldn’t reach, where she could see it at night. Avi chirped loudly at the bird so that Jeremy could hear. The four-year-old stomped loudly down the hall to complain to Josie. Upon hearing the kitchen door open, Avi creaked down the hall to watch her father. David stood in front of the door, backlit by the overcast sky at dusk, holding carry-on and a large brown bag.

“Daddy, Avi took my crane and I found it and I want it back.” Jeremy gripped hard around David’s waist, staring up at his father, waiting for an affectionate pat on the head, for his hero to storm into Avi’s room, removing the bird from her grasp.

Instead, David looked ahead at nothing in particular, allowing just his lower lip to tremble. Swallowing hard, avoiding Jeremy and Josie’s gaze, he put down the paper bag, allowing its contents to spill across the floor.

“Why did you bring them here?” Josie cried, getting up from her laptop to clean the mess of folded paper. While Josie clawed at the origami, Jeremy picked out the cranes he wanted to keep. “This one is a baby duck,” he said, holding up his new favorite toy, a 3”x3” mint condition yellow bird with orange spots.

“You can have three, Jeremy, no more,” Josie said authoritatively. Avi watched her mother huff at David, “Why would you bring them here? I don’t need any more messes.”
“He wanted me to.” David responded blankly. “I couldn’t say no.” His eyes drifted across the kitchen to meet Avi’s gaze. Avi cowered momentarily, fearful of her punishment for stealing Jeremy’s crane. She relaxed as David crooned, “Avalyn. Come here.”

Avi happily obeyed, eyeing the cluster of toys on the floor. She hugged her father then quickly dropped to join Jeremy, picking her three favorites as her mother instructed. As she and Jeremy exited the kitchen, she heard her father choke on tears. She turned to watch Josie hug David as he buried his face into her shoulder. Josie cradled the back of his head, whispered into his ear, then began to throw away the rest of the birds.

Synagogue competed with visits to Papa J. Avi squirmed uncomfortably as Jeremy sat firmly, his hand on his head to keep his yarmulke in place. David was crying again. He had cried at the funeral too, Avi noted. David screamed at 2AM the night before, but he said he was sleeping and didn’t remember why. Avi knew Dad could not be his children’s hero right now.

The service closed and the congregation flocked to Avi’s family. Condolences swarmed in a heat. David and Josie hugged their friends and acquaintances, David lingering in the touch of warm bodies. Avi awkwardly hugged those who offered, frustrated that they knew nothing of her or of her grandfather. Jeremy squirmed away, only to be later found talking with Rabbi Malachi near the oneg, or after-service snacks.

Avi felt awkward as the room buzzed. Her family was silent, quietly crunching their apples, crackers, and challah, each lost in their own thoughts. Rabbi Malachi approached them, his kind eyes focusing on little Jeremy. He squatted near Avi and her brother and offered, in a kind gesture, two origami frogs. Avi picked hers from the rabbi’s extended hand and immediately began popping it on the floor, while Jeremy stared at the odd white paper of which it was made.  David said thank you, while Josie mumbled that they had enough folded paper in the house. Avi looked up at Rabbi Malachi from her squatted position over the frog.

“Papa J only made cranes,” she tried to explain to the silly old man, “You can only get a wish with cranes.”

Rabbi Malachi raised his eyebrows. “Oh?” he inquired.

“Yeah,” Jeremy said, handing back the rabbi his frog, “but only if you make a ton.” Avi scrambled up, abandoning her frog to take Jeremy’s. The rabbi curtly offered his condolences, quickly leaving to speak with other families in the congregation. The family packed into the mini van and drove home.

Avi and Jeremy quickly prepared for bed. “I want to sleep with Daddy!” Jeremy declared. Avi furrowed her brow, rushing to her parents’ room. “I’m going to sleep with Mom!” She avowed, jumping onto her parents bed. Jeremy followed her, grabbing his father’s pillow. “No Avi!” He said, swatting her heavily across her face. Avi looked at him in shock, then grabbed Josie’s pillow to attack her brother. Right before she swung, her eye caught a green, crushed crane resting where her mother’s pillow once occupied.

Avi put her arm out, and asserted, “Jeremy! Stop!” Jeremy dropped his pillow instantly, and examined the green fowl. “Is it yours, Avi?” Avi shook her head no as Josie entered the room. Upon spotting the paper bird, Josie growled, “New rule kids, no cranes in Mommy and Daddy’s bed.” Josie picked it up and sent it into a nosedive to the trash. Jeremy stayed in his parents’ bed as Avi made her way to her room.

The following morning, Avi got up at five to watch cartoons. She tiptoed across the house, TV in sight. She almost stepped on the birds, but the bright origami colors caught her eye. The two cranes were tied together as she used to see Papa J do. Examining them, Avi decided that Jeremy must have stolen the cranes from the bag David brought home from the apartment. She plucked the two cranes from the floor and quickly rushed back to her room. Avi intended to put them next to the four cranes she already had, only to find her shelf crowded with thirteen cranes. Delighted, Avi stacked the two she just discovered on top of her growing gaggle. Before she could return to the television, her father entered the room.

“Where did you get those?” he asked, making Avi jump. She then fluttered to her father, reaching high for him to lift her into the air. David hugged her firmly instead, and then let go.
“They were here when I woke up.” Avi pouted. David looked at the birds quizzically, then shrugged.

“Stranger things have happened,” he acknowledged. David then half-smiled, “This shelf is missing something,” exiting the room and creaking into the dining room. Upon his return, he placed a yellowing framed picture of four Asian men surrounding Papa J in uniform at a restaurant on Avi’s shelf. The five men held each other at the shoulder, huddled and smiling at the camera.

“Who are they?” Avi asked. David shrugged, “I don’t know, but Dad always kept Japanese company. He never got over their culture.” Avi hesitated.

“He never watched Pokémon with me and Jeremy,” she noted. David didn’t respond, lost in a trance as he stared at the photograph. Ruffling his own hair, David muttered, “I wonder if he even remembered them before he died.” He turned to his daughter, hesitated, then added, “I think dementia really scared Papa J.” Avi nodded, pretending to understand what her father was trying to say. Silence stood between them for a moment.

David interrupted the peace. “Anyway Avi,” he murmured, “I couldn’t sleep. I was curious if you wanted to spend some time together.” He sounded oddly desperate. Avi lit up immediately.

“Rock Band!” She twittered, rushing for the Xbox. Ignoring the time, David followed his daughter, pulling out the chunky guitar while Avi unraveled the microphone and clicked on the console. Turning the volume as low as possible, David offered, “I Wanna Be Sedated?” Avi smiled at her dad. “Definitely,” she said. Josie soon joined the duo. She pounced on her daughter, giving her a bear hug and a big, wet kiss, right on her neck. Avi squawked in delight. Grinning, Josie lifted herself from the ground, giving her husband a kiss on the cheek.

“Excuse me, I am the leader of this band,” Josie said, stealing Avi’s microphone. Avi pulled out the drums and prepared to play “25 or 6 or 4,” when a splattering of paper hit the window to the left of the TV. Thirty origami cranes were pushed against the glass, the wind blowing them gently to and fro. Josie turned to David, who, for the second time that morning, simply shrugged. “Coffee?” He offered.

Josie declined, making her way to the kitchen. She then hesitated and turned to David. “Will you please help me clean them up?” David’s eyes softened then welled with tears. He opened his mouth to speak then closed them again. He remained unmoved, looking to the floor.

“Dave,” Josie pressed, “I cleaned after your father when he lived with us. His cranes, his mess, his sheets. I know you couldn’t help me then because it was too much for you, but this is just paper. I need some help now.”

“I’ll help, Mom,” Avi tweeted, hoping to help her father. David sat back down on the couch while the girls disposed of the birds together. When they returned with a full trash bag, David finally spoke: “He wants to be remembered, Jo. This is the way he wants that to happen.” Josie scowled and responded, “You can’t know that. I’m going to check on Jeremy.” She hustled out of the room.

The following Monday, Avi and Jeremy covertly observed their father from the couch as he exited. Purple bags puffed under his eyes. He held his briefcase limply on his left hand as he paused to look up at the overcast atmosphere, as if looking for someone.

Cranes gently soared through the sky and settled on David’s briefcase like snowflakes. He took that moment in his front yard and inhaled for the first time that week. His shoulders relaxed. A scarlet crane pecked his cheek softly and fell to the ground. Staring at the tancho on the grass then out into the horizon, David became lost in the birds’ dance. They gracefully fell like balloons without enough helium, as if being lowered slowly by an invisible string. In that moment, Avi’s father was at peace.

Jeremy did not have the same reaction. He squirmed off the couch to rescue his father. As he approached the door, Avi diverted him.

“I see him too,” she cooed, “He doesn’t need you right now.” Jeremy wrinkled his eyebrows angrily. His face then softened as he broke down. “What’s wrong with Daddy,” he hiccoughed. “Why doesn’t Daddy love anyone anymore. Is Daddy going to die too?”
Avi felt a sudden maturity in contrast with her weeping brother. She wrapped her arms around him tightly, kissing him on the forehead. “Everybody dies, Jeremy,” she clucked, “We just don’t know when.”

Josie entered the room. She inspected the children, watching them curiously clutch each other. “What’s wrong?” she asked, but neither Jeremy nor Avi felt the desire to explain. Glancing out the window, Josie spotted her husband. She began skulking towards the door and then paused. Avi looked up from Jeremy, watching her mother in silence. Josie’s body trembled. Avi pecked her brother thoughtfully, grooming his hair back, staring and unmoving. Josie’s body collapsed to the floor, her hand grasping at her mouth. Avi let go of Jeremy.

“Mom?” She questioned. Josie gasped as she pulled a damp, crimson and gold crane from her throat. Josie looked up at nothing while Jeremy encroached his mother as well.
“It’s not fair,” Josie rasped, looking up at nothing, “Please let me move on.” Jeremy inspected the moist bird as Avi walked up to her mother, placing two fingers on her neck like on TV. Her heartbeat was fluttering. Avi removed her hand from her mother’s carotid artery, and kissed her mother on the forehead. Without prompt, Avi picked up the bird and threw it into the trash. When she returned, the cranes that surrounded her father in the front yard disappeared as well, and her father had left for work. Josie sat up, holding her forehead.

“Thank you, Avi,” she mumbled, “I appreciate your help.” Avi smiled then began walking to her room. Jeremy rushed passed her, grabbed two cranes, and offered to share. Together, they began animating the cranes, using the toys as Papa J intended.

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