Click-click-click-click-click. The noise signified the end of the tape. Blowing and wiping more dust from the device, Rolen removed the tape, blew on that as a cloud of dust forced a cough, and flipped it over to the other side. Just as he pushed play he heard his mother calling. “Rolen? Rolen?!”
Rolen’s heart jumped and he gasped with a frightening inhale. For an instant he had thought the voice was coming from the machine.
“I’m out here! In the workshop!”
His mother, an attractive woman with shoulder-length natural blonde hair, stood on the porch in her pajamas, eyes half closed. “Come to the door so I don’t have to shout!”
Rolen hated being pulled away from something he was immersed in, but he obliged.
“It’s late, Darlin’. Come in. We can dunk some Oreos before bed.”
The moment he was pulled away from the machine, Rolen realized just how exhausted he was. He calculated that he had had ten hours of sleep in the last four nights. “I’m coming,” he said turning of the switch to the shop and locking the door.
Rolen plopped into the chair at the table not even noticing the milk and cookies his mother had already laid out on the bar.
His mother grabbed his glass and Oreos and placed it in front of Rolen who despite his pure exhaustion had an internal, yet intense, look about him. His mom could tell it was more than tiredness. Her son was thinking about something. She practically could hear the gears running and whirring.
“What could your mind possibly have the energy to be thinking about this late at night?”
Rolen dropped two Oreos into his tall glass of milk and watched them slowly dissolve. Waiting for them to reach the perfect level of sogginess. “Just dad.”
“I know, Honey,” his mom said after inhaling sharply and exhaling with a sigh. She reached out and rubbed the top of his dirty blonde hair.
Within the last months, Rolen had heard –mostly overheard (spying was just second nature)- about how his father was dead. There was never a funeral, but cards were sent to the house – grievance cards saying they were sorry for the loss. Rolen didn’t understand why loss equaled death, but his instincts told him that that is what was meant by it. When people came to visit, their body language spoke volumes about how convinced they were that he was gone – meaning dead.
“Yes?” She had gotten up to put her glass in the sink, rinsing out the crumbs. Her pony-tail now unleashed.
“Do you…” He started, but couldn’t quite figure out either what he wanted to say or how to ask it. Do you think dad is dead? That’s what he wanted to ask, but considering the factors of time, fatigue and mom’s sensitivity to the subject, he improvised. “Do you think dad has…had…er, umm, has too much stuff?”
“I certainly gave him a hard time about it, didn’t I?” She softly chuckled. A half-smile in the corner of her lips. “He knew I was just playing with him. But, I told him, ‘You just keep that stuff out my kitchen and I’ll still love ya.’” Her smile remained in the corner of her mouth, but Rolen could tell she was lost in a memory. Like a curtain, whatever joy she felt in that moment reflecting on that particular memory, became covered with sadness. The twinkle aroused by the memory of her husband vanished.
Rolen’s clank of the glass in the sink startled her out of her reverie. “I will tell you this,” she continued. “If he would ever have to choose between us and all that junk out there,” she took a slight pause, “he’d burn that barn to the ground without a second thought and without regret.”
The thought of that sentiment brushed off the tiredness for a moment for Rolen to smile himself.
“Now off to bed, mister. And no more sleeping in the yard.”
“You know about that?
“Of course I do. I know everything,” her voice lowering to a lullaby-like whisper.
Then where’s dad? “How come you didn’t say anything or come and get me?
“Because you are just like your dad. And I’ve learned that sleeping in the yard is the farthest thing from out of the ordinary when it comes to your father.”