The hours seem to slip from my grasp without hesitation or shame. I rose before dawn but 8:00 a.m. sneaked by on tender toes while my eyes gazed through the window, seeing not the fragile leaves of the Japanese maple but the fleeting images of children cavorting on the lawn. Now they dart out of sight, leaving me to wonder where they have gone.
Those children did not go to war, thank Heaven and all that stands holy. They went to Denver, and Chicago, and Lawrence; and to the inner workings of computers. One of the foursome left our circle by dint of divorce and death among his parents, birth and step. One went as far south and east as possible, then west to the mountains. One makes his life here. The final of the four musketeers, my son, marched east, and now writes and rides the train in Chicago, searching for images to digitize.
Funny how three of the four made careers of the computing which they all loved. Of the fourth, I have no knowledge. His father died after divorcing the stepmother who brought him to our village, the village of my son and me, and these families of yester-year. Patrick, Chris, Maher, and Sam. Sam drifted away, but the other three met in pre-school and remained inseparable until distracted by girls and the angst of teenage.
I felt that I had my brood, when three or four boys darted down the driveway, brandishing wooden swords or barreling past on bicycles. I hear their voices rising on the wind, echoing in the dusty, empty rooms of my waning middle-age.
I stand in the dim basement, summoning the courage to pull boxes from the shelf to start the sorting. I turn my face towards the filth of these low casement windows. Are those running feet, pounding the cracked asphalt? Do those shouts seek help or just the courage to catapult over the fence to the yard, where a dog darts back and forth hoping to catch the boys at play?
I peel yellowed tape from the back of the door to the upstairs room. Here we hung the house rules. We called them the “Do Be’s”. Do be kind, Do be careful with the possessions of others, Do put away your toys. At night we invoked the “whisper rule”. You could stay awake as long as you liked, provided that Corinne could not hear you from the first floor. Their heads lolled against the pillows, propped on walls in the bunk beds. One or two camped on sleeping bags in the large floor space. They whispered; and sorted their Pokemon cards; and the surrounding silence lulled them to sleep, one at a time, first Chris, then Patrick. Maher always stayed awake the longest, arranging the Z-bots for battle, or rapidly working the keys of a GameBoy.
It was Maher who heard the whines of our rescue dog Little Girl, the night that my son’s Beagle, Chocolate, tragically died. I carry the guilt of that still. I left them both outside. I fell asleep, with Chocolate on his lead. He struggled; and we found Little Girl huddled next to his cold body, well before sunrise. He’s buried in our side-yard pet cemetery, with Tiger Tasmania and the little black cat whom my son secretly raised upstairs. I strain to recall his name. He lived less than a year. A terrible virus claimed him. We all cried. Oh, what was that sweet kitten’s name?
And Sprinkles lies in the same graveyard. She died of old age, beneath my hands, lying in the driveway. I sobbed as the light left her eyes, remembering when we got her. I had taken three-year-old Patrick to McDonald’s so friends could install the swing-set that I’d purchased for a birthday surprise. I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. He stood on two little Ninja-Turtle-sneaker-shod feet and banged tiny fists on the table, crying out for everyone in the place to hear: I want a father and a brother and a sister and a cat and a dog!
I got him the kitten the next day, from a pet shop in Overland Park. He named her “Sprinkles” for the black spots dancing across her white fur. A client who bred and sold Beagles from his farm in Chillicothe gave us a puppy the next spring. Chocolate.
Get it, Mommy? Chocolate Sprinkles! I get it, Buddy.
When he left for college, he made me promise that none of the remaining pets would die before he graduated. Sprinkles made it to the fall of his senior year. Pablo, our boy Tuxedo cat which Patrick bought from Waldo Pets in our Mayo Clinic summer, lasted until the spring of 2016, seven long, eventful years as an unneutered male cavorting around the neighborhood. He’s out there somewhere still, perhaps; and I see his offspring now and then. Don’t judge me; Patrick decreed that his boycat would not be “fixed”.
Little Girl still rules the roost. I feed her grain-free food and make sure to refill her Phenobarb on time. God forbid that another pet should die on my watch, much less by my neglectful hands.
Those Z-bots occupy a box in the basement, inside a larger container filled with Hot Wheels. On the highest shelf, I pray, another crate holds the wooden Brio train set. I cannot bear the thought of parting with any of it. But time draws to its fullest point; the future presents itself as a long slow slide to rest. I need to travel light. I have so much left to do, and so much less time than I realized in which to do it. I face forward. The whistle blows — the train lurches forward — I draw in a full breath of the sweetest air imaginable, close my eyes, and grin. A wild ride awaits.