At this, Ryan pulls away. "Nn-nnng!" he says, and stomps the two steps to the door. He slips into the darkness without a look. As if a gust of wind has blown it, the door slams, rattling the knocker.
"Ryan!" Sylvia wipes her cheek as she stands. She flexes her fingers, then suddenly embraces me, too. "You're always there for me, Howie," she mumbles, and as I touch her waist I feel how thin she's gotten. I doubt she's been this thin since high school, and I remember the bus station when she saw me off. I tried not to cry because she was already sobbing harder than I'd seen anyone cry in my whole life, and I wanted her to remember me strong, in case she never saw me again. But that was all teen swagger; I never really imagined what could happen. The last thing I said was "I'll come back soon," and who knew it wasn't a quick return I should have wished for, but a slow one? A full year's tour of duty, unscathed.
I can't be mad at Sylvia. Touching a hand to her hair, I offer a quick peck to say we'll be waiting, but she's already stepped away. Caroline stands beside the red Chrysler, and with expert gestures she folds Bindi into a cat carrier and places the carrier on the back seat. Sylvia piles the crumpled bags in the trunk and slams the lid, then looks at the house, her hands on her hips. "Ryan!" The door does not open. I scan the three larger windows, plus the small, pebbled window of the bath, and I can see various decorative objects - a dried flower arrangement, a souvenir doll from Central America--but no movement within. Sylvia calls out again and takes a step toward the house.
Caroline says, "Maybe I should get him." She looks at her watch. "No, let's go." Sylvia's mouth twitches, and dark blotches color her cheeks. She looks truly haggard. "Before I change my - Let's just go, goddamn it. If he can't -" She blinks as Caroline starts the ignition, then she slips in on the passenger's side. For a moment, once her door's closed, it looks as if she might call out again. She opens her mouth and leans from the window, then turns abruptly, chin up, and scowls straight ahead. The Chrysler inches forward, and I give a wave nobody sees. Then she's gone.
I turn toward the house, wondering if the boy has locked himself in his room, and what Sylvia expects me to do if he has. But the front door opens, and out he comes, lugging a suitcase with a panel of embroidered flowers on one side. He's put on a dark blue Indians cap, and the visor makes a tight curve across his brow. I take the suitcase from him, checking as I do to see if he's crying, but his face is a single, concentrated frown. He runs back to lock the front door, slides the key under a flowerpot, and climbs silently into the cab. I pull out of Sylvia's road, and when I turn right, toward home, Ryan points to the left. "My school's thataway," he says.
"Not," I tell him. The day his mom enters rehab is one day a kid should be permitted to play hooky. "Na," I say, without meaning to speak at all.
Ryan gazes noncommittally from across the seat. "Are you a retard?" he says.
Copyright © 2005 by Dave King
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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