(I’m starting a #100days of writing project inspired by my friend Madelin http://madelinwoods.com. This is post 1/100)
Brian walked confidently and calmly to his mother, crying on the kitchen floor. Her legs curled around her and wet tears marked her dress. Her chest moved in uneven, halting motions as she wept. She was much smaller than he remembered – he was over a foot taller than the last time he’d been here. He knelt behind her and laced his arms around her neck in an embrace much too firm to be from a nine-year-old.
“Remember when you were a little girl? Your favorite thing was taking your horse out for the afternoon to ride around town and see your friends. Maybe we need to get you a horse.”
She couldn’t hear him. He lingered there for minutes or maybe days and held his mother as he wished he always could have. When he stood her sobs had softened and her head slunk down toward her chest as if she were starting to tire of the exhaustion of grief.
Brian stepped gently over her legs and crossed the distance from the kitchen to the living room and then to the front porch. He stood there as time rewound and he saw a gray pickup truck back quickly into place and his stepfather step down from the driver’s seat of the truck and walk backwards up the stairs to the porch and then back through the front door. Brian saw anger and distance in the eyes of his mother’s husband.
His stepfather froze and then began to move forward, back outside the house and toward the truck. He was moving much more slowly so as to give Brian time to speak to him. “I know your dad beat you, Dave. I know the neighborhood kids taunted you, Dave. I know your dad drank and hurt your mom.” His stepdad continued moving slowly outside and gave no indication he could hear Brian.
“I don’t care what happened to you. You’re disqualified as a member of this family now. You’re going to get in your truck and leave and you can’t ever come back. This house is a safe place and that means you can’t be here.”
Dave didn’t respond.
“I’ll call the cops if I ever see you again.”
Dave climbed back into the driver’s seat and drove away. Brian stood there for a million years watching vigilantly for his return. Then he turned and searched the house for a little boy.
He climbed the carpeted stairs softly, not wanting anyone to mistake his footfalls for angry ones. He passed a jet-black german shepherd at the top of the stairs sitting in a dog bed too small for her but relishing the view of the whole lower floor from her perch. He reached down and petted her head and she licked his wrist. She still recognized him even though he was now a grown man with a balding head. Brian continued down a hallway until he came to a shattered door knocked off its hinges.
A king-sized bed filled nearly the whole room. On the far side was a desk covered in comic books and lego sets. A Metallica poster hung on the wall right next to one for Phantom of the Opera. Both hung straight but were poorly arranged against the other elements of the room.
A boy of nine curled up on the bed with his knees to his chest and his arms around his shins. His eyes were open, fixed on the far wall and he breathed slowly.
“He’s gone, Brian.”
Brian’s body relaxed almost imperceptibly. His shoulders sunk slightly and his spine adjusted to the shape of the bed.
“This will never happen again Brian. And it shouldn’t have happened to you in the first place.”
Brian climbed onto the bed and sat next to his younger self. He rubbed his own back softly and continued speaking of the things that will never again be and the life that should have been. He wove a story in the air of a little boy who was held and comforted and loved and punished fairly. He stayed until little Brian fell asleep and began to dream. At first the dream was of the corridors of a house, of legs too short, of a man chasing a boy. Of a woman screaming and a shoulder charged through a brown door. Of bruises on a small face. But as the grown-up Brian continued to rub the little boy’s back and knit a narrative of joy in the room the dreams turned to dinosaurs and robots and friends and flying through the air. The dreams filled with navy boats and rockets to Mars and guns that make noises like a synthesizer. And little Brian lay softer on the bed and his limbs opened and splayed across the large mattress and, asleep, he feared nothing.
Brian stood and left the room. He kissed his mother on the head in the kitchen. He glared watchfully at the freeze-frame of his stepfather driving away down the street.
Brian returned to his own time knowing that he’d keep going back. As many times as he needed to.