Oliver grew up in Cambria, a suburb on the outskirts of Chicago. Later, he remembered watching his mother load his father into the Deck every morning, wiring him up and then -- once he was safely checked into the program for the day -- reclining the Deck to a comfortable position that wouldn't leave his father's feet tingling at the end of the day when he came out.
One morning, as his mother was loading his father into the Deck, Oliver sat eating cereal and watching the rain fall in the backyard.
"It's raining again," Oliver said, eating his cereal as his mother reclined the Deck and coiled the extra wire behind.
"I know, sweet pea," she said, fussing with the twirly ties and recording numbers off of the Deck on a tablet that she kept beside the refrigerator. "But maybe that means we can go splashing in the park today."
Oliver loved this idea. He loved splashing with his mother in the park, dressed in his yellow rain suit and red boots when no other kids were there. Just the two of them running around, as if it were their own kingdom of slides and bridges. The springy rubberized mats lit up when he ran on them, and the screens lining the park's boundaries glistened and flickered with droplets and rivulets of rain. They splintered the colors of the faces on the screens.
"Okay, mom!" he said. And he ate his cereal.
They didn't go to the park that day. Around 11 in the morning, when they typically went to the park, Oliver's mother was back in the kitchen. She looked concerned about something. Oliver could sense it. His mother hovered over the Deck, looking at the screen and then back at the tablet.
"Mom?" Oliver asked.
"Yeah Sweet Pea?" his mother replied. But she was fixated on the Deck screen and on the tablet.
"Is something wrong?" Oliver asked.
"It's just a tough day for Daddy, sweet pea," his mother said. "That's all. Do you want to come see?"
Oliver didn't know what to say. Every morning his father climbed into the Deck and seemed to go to sleep after his mother reclined the Deck into the right position. And yet, when his father got down out of the Deck in the evening, he was grouchy and tired. He yawned a lot. And sometimes, when Oliver's parents didn't know he was looking at them from behind the kitchen door, he saw his father sobbing.
One time he heard his father say, "I don't know. Maybe it's not worth it."
"It's okay," Oliver's mother had said. "We have everything we need already, and you don't have to do it. I've been saying that for months."
So when Oliver's mother asked if he was interested in knowing more about what was going on with his father in the Deck, he just didn't really know how to answer.
"I guess," he said. And his mother gestured to him.
"Come and take a look," she said.