The Happiness Machine
It wasn’t until Leo Auffman was almost done building his Happiness Machine that I noticed Evan had his good ear down on the pillow.
I’ve been reading him chapters from Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine at night. Tonight, he is smiling at me through sleepy eyes, rolled up in our winter blanket like a burrito. I thought his smile was due to the magic of Bradbury’s descriptions – especially of summertime in the Midwest – but it turns out he has just been watching my lips, happy and half-deaf, content to be read to by his wife, whose voice couldn’t sound like more than a muffled hum.
Now his eyes are all the way closed.
“Babe, are you listening?”
“I can hear. Leo Aufferman is doing something.”
“Yeah. He’s building a thing.”
“A Happiness Machine, babe. He’s building a Happiness Machine. Only it’s making his whole family miserable, when they were perfectly happy before. Isn’t that ironic?”
He doesn’t respond, but continues to smile with his eyes closed, listening to the hum of my voice. It isn’t about the story for him.
Maybe the only reason he says yes when I ask him: “Do you want me to read you a chapter tonight?” is because he sees how much I love this book. And maybe he thinks I miss reading aloud to my high school students. Maybe I do. Or maybe I miss an experience I’ve never had – reading to my own children. He knows it makes me happy to think I’m re-creating the experience my aunt gave me and my siblings when she read this book to us, crowded around her on the bed, one summer, years ago.
He knows me better than I think. I look at him, and he’s still smiling.
How can I resist? I grab his hands in both of mine and kiss his forehead, his cheek, and his arm. Then I sigh in fake exasperation, dog-ear the page, take off my glasses, and turn out the light.
Listen to this sketch