Dad just came home from Boston like he does when he can. He drove up to the house in his rental Mustang and beeped his horn, and then he clunked his car door shut. Last time his Mustang was red. This time it is blue, and there is no wing on the trunk. It looks clean, and it is still running and sounds like deep metal glugging through my window. I like the noise, and when I run outside, Dad picks me up and spins me in the driveway. “I missed you, David,” he says. He hugs me, and my legs float out like a helicopter. I laugh because it makes me dizzy.
Mom stands on the porch with her arms crossed like she is cold. Dad puts me down and says hi to her, and she says hi back. Dad reaches into the car, turns it off, and puts the keys in his front right pocket. When he follows her inside, I run after them. I want to sit with them at the kitchen table, but they send me upstairs to play.
In my room, I start to build a house on the big square grass Lego piece. I use the holes in the Lego man’s feet to stick him in the front yard of the house. I remember last week when Mom told me Dad was coming to visit. She just got off the phone in the kitchen. I was excited and asked her what day he was going to be here, and she said, “Next Wednesday.” I wasn’t sure if I could make it until then.
Today I waited all day in school, and Mrs. Hubbs yelled at me for not paying attention in math. I just wanted to see Dad because it had been so long, and I had a lot to tell him since last time. I rode home on the bus next to Sandy . She was talking about her dog and Lindsay’s birthday party. After I walked home from the bus stop, I had to wait another three hours and twelve minutes until Dad finally got here.
But now everyone is finally eating dinner together just like before Dad left. Mom and Dad are eating quietly, and Dad tells Mom the chicken is good. They let me do most of the talking, but after a while Mom tells me to slow down. Dad says, “It’s fine. I want to hear it.” It makes me smile. I tell him about things like school, classes, and the largemouth bass that I caught with Scott in the lake. The bass was silver and muddy-green, and Scott let me hold it by its lip, which was all scratchy like sandpaper.
Dad asks where Scott is now, and Mom tells him, “Scott took a later shift so you could spend time with your son.” Dad says, “How considerate of Scott,” and no one says anything for a little while. When Dad takes another bite of his cheeseburger, ketchup drips onto his plate, and then he takes a drink from his silver beer can.
We are finished eating dinner, and Dad is sitting with me on the couch, and we watch television and share popcorn. Mom sits on the cushy chair and watches with us. It is almost like it used to be, but not really the same. I remember Mom and Dad used to sit together on the couch. They would play with each other’s hands while I sat on the floor by their feet. That’s how we watched Zorro for the first time. That weekend, Mom and Dad took me to a toy store and bought two plastic swords, a black mask and hat, and a cape. Dad called me Don Alejandro and I pretended to cut his shirt in a Z.
And sometimes I would lie across them on the couch. I would put my head on Mom’s lap and stretch my feet across Dad’s lap. Dad always tickled my feet, and sometimes Mom would help him and tickle my stomach and my armpits. I kicked and wiggled around until I thought I was going to throw up from laughing so hard. If I fell asleep later, Dad would carry me upstairs to my bed.
When it is time for my bath, Mom runs the water for me, and I get in the tub when it is almost full. She leaves me there and tells me to come down and say goodnight to Dad when I am done. I sit there for a while and play with the submarine. The bubbles are ice and the submarine breaks through and makes a trail when it moves on the surface. Then I shampoo my hair and make my hair into a spike. The television is loud downstairs, and I slap the red washcloth on my back and some water splashes out of the tub. It is not much water, and I rinse off and climb out of the tub. My feet make wet marks on the bathmat, and I wipe the water off my skin with my towel. I push the brass lever by the faucet, and the water falls out of the tub and spirals like a tornado near the drain.
I go downstairs in my pajamas, and Mom lets me stay up for an extra hour, and I don’t even have to beg. I hug Dad and say, “Goodnight Daddy,” and I am brushing my teeth when I hear his Mustang start up. From my window, I see the headlights bump out of the driveway away from the house, and when they turn and look up the road, a glob of toothpaste drips from my mouth onto the windowsill. I wipe the glob off with my thumb. I walk back to the sink and spit, and then I get into my bed and wait for Mom to kiss me goodnight.
Mom comes into my bedroom and sits on the edge of my bed. My eyes close when she wipes my hair back from my forehead. Mom asks me if I’m happy to see Dad, and I tell her I’m very happy. She kisses me on the forehead, and I ask her if she’s happy to see Dad too. She says, “I am happy because you are happy.” Then she takes a deep breath and says I need to get some rest. Mom doesn’t read me a story, but it is okay because I am too tired anyway.
I wake up, and it is Thursday. When I walk up the street to the bus stop, Harold Morrison is waiting there already and reminds me that we have a half-day in school today. I almost forgot. Half-days are always fun because the teachers don’t mind that we talk in class, and sometimes there is an assembly. It is very nice outside, and we are excited because winter is finally over, which means spring is here and summer is coming soon. The bus is blinking lights back and forth two streets down, and I kick a maroon stone into the sewer grate.
The day goes by pretty fast, and we only have three class periods before the assembly. We all go into the auditorium, and there is a performer on stage named Amazing Nathan, who is really funny and calls Lindsay up to the stage because it is her birthday this weekend. Everyone worries when Amazing Nathan gets dark blue ink on her shirt, but soon it fades away. We laugh when he keeps making things disappear and reappear, and after a while Lindsay is not so nervous up on the stage. When she sits back down in the third row, she is wearing a birthday hat made of pink and white balloons. Lindsay said into the microphone that pink was her favorite color.
It is twelve-thirty, and everyone is pouring out of the school toward the buses, and I am so happy to see Dad by the flagpole. He rubs my head and says he has a surprise for me. I worry for a moment, but when we get to his car he hands me a new baseball glove. It is a little stiff, but it is better than the glove that Mom bought me last year. I put my hand into it and cover my nose and mouth with it, and it smells like new leather. Dad laughs at me, rubs my hair, and tells me to throw my bag in the trunk and get into the car.
We drive down the highways with the windows down, and the wind tries to throw my red hat into the backseat. The wind is strong, and it makes my ears sound like black-and-white television static. Dad is laughing at me for closing my eyes and listening to the fuzzy noise, and he says something to me that I can’t hear. He puts my window up, and then he tells me I look like I am stuck in a wind tunnel and that my cheeks are getting blown all around. I miss the wind, and I tell him to put the window back down. Dad laughs again and turns up the radio. The music sounds like it could be pretty, but I can’t hear the words because of the wind. My hand rides waves out of my window.
It takes us forty minutes to get there, and the stadium is alive. There are people everywhere, and it is quiet only for a moment because there is less wind. Soon I can hear men yelling “Tickets!” and a whole bunch of other noises. There are laughing women and kids, and there is sizzling smoke floating sideways through the parking lot. Dad pays ten dollars, parks, and rolls the windows up. We get out of the car and walk behind a group with a man wearing a Chase Utley t-shirt. I point out the shirt to Dad because Chase Utley is my favorite player. Dad buys us two tickets, and we walk inside the busy stadium. I worry that I will get lost, but Dad is right next to me.
The game is so fun even though not much happens. Dad gets a beer and a hot dog, and he buys me a hot dog and a Coke. In the bottom of the fourth inning, a foul ball from Ryan Howard comes in our direction and hits the man sitting in front of us right in the shoulder. Dad almost catches it, but it goes two rows behind us. I drop my hot dog, but by then it is mostly bun anyway. Sometime around the fifth inning, I have to pee, so Dad takes me to the bathroom. On the way back to our seats, we stop in the souvenir shop, and he buys me a ball with Ryan Howard’s picture and signature on it. It is in a clear plastic case with a gold bottom, and it cost almost nine dollars. “It’s for the one I almost caught,” Dad says. In the end, the Phillies win by two runs, and everyone claps and talks and yells loud when we are leaving.
We drive back just the way we came, with the windows down and the music quiet in the wind. We stop at a Wawa for gas, and Dad buys me an Icee. I am just finishing it when we get home, and the straw slurps on the bottom. We pull in the driveway, and Mom is angry, grabs my arm, and drags me out of the car. She kneels and hugs me in the driveway and then starts yelling at Dad. She yells things like “Where have you been?” and she yells other things I won’t tell you. I am worried about them fighting like last time, but then Scott walks out on the porch and comes over and hugs me too. He stands up and shakes Dad’s hand, but he doesn’t say much besides “You should have told us.” Dad looks small next to Scott. They know each other from when they used to work together at the newspaper.
I am standing with everyone in a little circle in the driveway, and everyone is angry but me and yelling at Dad for taking me to the game. It was a good day, but nobody sees it that way, and I start to wish I never went. I get my bag out of the trunk and bring it inside while everyone is still standing by the car, and then I come back out with the Ryan Howard ball and my glove. I show Mom and Scott, and they pat my shoulders and say, “Those are very nice, David.” They tell me to go back inside, and I ride my Matchbox cars on the carpet in my bedroom.
When I get tired of Matchbox cars, I go downstairs and turn on the television. When the screen lights up, the television is showing the best parts of the Phillies game, and I yell to everyone outside when I see Dad and me on the screen. They don’t hear me, so I sit there alone watching the lady on the news laughing at the man who got hit in the shoulder with the foul ball. She doesn’t know him but laughs and makes fun of him anyway, as if the man can’t hear or isn’t watching. I turn the television off and wonder if any of my friends at school saw me on the news.
Soon everyone comes inside and apologizes, and I tell them about Dad and me on television. They say they are sorry they missed it, and I say they showed me dropping my hot dog and everything. Mom and Scott stand in the kitchen, and Dad walks into the family room and hugs me goodbye for now. He says he will see me tomorrow or the day after. Dad keeps his left hand in his pocket, and he waves with his right hand to Mom and Scott in the kitchen on his way out. I hear Dad’s car start up, and his music is loud but I can’t hear it, like when we were in the wind.
It is around seven o’clock when Mom calls me to eat dinner, and I am happy because Mom made chicken fajitas. Mom puts the chicken, peppers, onions, and mushrooms in the tortilla wraps for me, and then I get to put whatever I want on top. I pile so much lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese on my first fajita that it is really hard to eat. The brown liquid slimes down my forearm. Mom wipes it for me with a paper towel.
We sit where we always do. Mom sits across from Scott, and I sit at the end of the table. It is really quiet in the kitchen, and everyone just eats their fajitas. Mom starts to say something. I can tell she is about to cry, but Scott calms her down. I get up from my chair, and Mom asks me where I am going. I tell her I want another fajita, but I can get it for myself this time. Mom tells me she will get it for me and takes my plate. I watch her spoon more stuff into another wrap, but when she turns, she drops the plate on the floor. It breaks, and pieces of food and the plate go everywhere. Scott rushes over to help, and I get up out of my chair too. I pick up the pieces of chicken that rolled under the kitchen table, and I think how it would be nice to hide under the table for a while just like the chicken pieces. I put them into the trashcan and hug my Mom. I tell her I am sorry for leaving without telling her, and she hugs me really tight and cries. When she lets go, I walk back up the stairs to my bedroom. I am building the house of Legos, and Scott brings me a fajita with everything on it just the way I like it. He says to be careful not to spill, and he tells me Mom is just tired and didn’t mean to cry. I thank Scott for the food without looking up from my Legos.
I go to bed around nine-thirty, and I am really tired. Mom comes in and kisses me on the forehead while Scott stands by the door. I ask Scott to do the thing with the flashlight, so he grabs the flashlight out of my dresser and points it all over the ceiling. Scott says “Goodnight, Kiddo,” and I giggle because no one says that. When they turn off the lights and leave the room, I stare up at the bright glow-in-the-dark stars stuck to the ceiling. I have counted them a bunch of times. There are fifty-three—twenty-one big ones and thirty-two small ones.
On Saturday after breakfast, Scott mows the lawn, and Mom works in her garden. I watch a few cartoons then go play with Harold and his little brother Jonathan. We play with water guns, rollerblade in the street, and throw a green and yellow Nerf football in Harold’s yard. Mom calls me in for lunch, and she makes me grilled cheese and tomato soup. The meal is warm in my stomach, and the heat makes me sweat a little bit. When I am done, Mom gives me an orange popsicle, and I run back outside.
Harold and Jonathan are still inside eating, so I sit on our front porch and eat my popsicle. I chew on the wooden stick for a little while, but then Mom takes it away because I’ll choke. I see Jonathan come out of the Morrison’s house first, and I wait for him and Harold on my front lawn. Harold and Jonathan stand in their yard and I stand in mine, and we throw a baseball back and forth across the street. Harold says my new glove is cool, and then Jonathan complains that he wants to throw the ball too. Harold lets him throw the ball to me every other time, but Jonathan’s throws bounce in the street and scratch the ball a little bit each throw. Then we make a small triangle in Harold’s yard so we all can play.
We race each other around the Morrisons’ house, first me against Harold, then Harold and Jonathan, then Jonathan and me. I love when I am running. I can feel my heart like it is going to bust through my chest. My throat feels scratchy, and I can’t get enough air. It is like I am moving faster than anything else, and I speed past hedges and around trees and make sure not to trip on the hose. The race is close against Harold, but Jonathan says I won. I run slower with Jonathan, but I make sure to win at the end. After we are done running, we all lie on the Morrisons’ front yard, and I rest my hands on my chest and feel my heart beating.
Dad’s car turns loud around our corner, and we sit up to watch it pull into my driveway. I walk back to my house, and Dad gets out of his car. There are parts of a mountain bike showing in his back seat, and he pulls the parts out one at a time. Dad says, “I bought you a present” and starts to put the pieces together with a wrench from his pocket. He is really focused on the bike, so he doesn’t really look at me. I ask him what the gift is for, but he doesn’t answer right away. Then he says one day I will come visit him and Marilyn. They have a nice house, and there are a lot of fun things to do in Boston . Dad looks up and smiles, and he says that one day I will know why. That’s when I know he is leaving for Boston again.
Mom and Scott are inside eating lunch, and I call them outside. Dad has the bike all put together by the time the two of them are on the front porch. The bike is really shiny and blue like Dad’s Mustang, and it looks really fast. Dad even got me a matching helmet. I hate wearing bike helmets, but Mom says I have to until I am thirteen. So I put the helmet on and clip the snap under my chin.
I try to get up on the bike. It is too high, and Dad has to adjust the seat. Finally the seat is the right height, and I pedal the bike on the street in big circles while Harold asks if he can try riding it next. There are gears and little levers by the handlebars, and I am really excited. I pedal around the cul-de-sac, and Jonathan chases me but isn’t fast enough to catch me on the bike even when I try to go slow. On the way back, I look at the house and Scott has his arm around Mom on the porch, and they are both happy. Dad is smiling and leaning on his car in the driveway.
They look like a picture in the afternoon sun, and I wave to them before I bike right past the house and up our road. I hear Mom yelling from the porch when I turn the corner onto the big street. I pass Lindsay’s house, and there is still a tent from her party. When I pass Sandy ’s house, water from her sprinkler hits my leg. I pump my legs as fast as I can, and then my right foot slides off the pedal and I scratch my shin. I put my foot back on the pedal, and the wind blows past my ears. My shin is throbbing pain like my heartbeat is in my leg now, and it is going to bleed. My thighs burn, and it feels like I am going a hundred miles an hour down the street past houses and barking dogs. I am out of breath, but I don’t stop because I can’t. No one can catch me on these two wheels. The bike is fast, and I am a blue streak flying down the big street toward somewhere else.
George Jacob completed his undergraduate studies at Penn State University , thanks to his parents? willingness to accumulate debt. He plans on pursuing an M.F.A. at his own expense, which will most likely be obtained from a more reasonably priced institution. George is a graduate assistant in Rowan University ?s writing program.