Fast forward three weeks. Zoom in on the sticky notes I am pulling from my writing desk. I pop one off the top and add check mark number twenty-one. I took it upon myself to document the days since Dad’s last appearance. Mom, on the cusp of a rapidly growing wine habit, had given up. To her, he was not going to return. She snapped if I asked her about updates from the police, so I chose to quietly conduct my own investigation.
During my searches, I found comfort in the desolate nature of my new city. Its small town atmosphere was a great compliment to how I felt: lonely. Three weeks without a father and I had gone so long without meeting any kids my age that I didn’t know what I was going to do when school started in a few days. Hell, the only people I’d interacted with besides my parents were the Dream Chasers and they weren’t exactly great company. Mom had the suspicion they were responsible for Dad’s disappearance.
This morning, I planned to take up my detective work at the local bookstore. I put on an old pair of jeans, a Batman t-shirt, and grabbed my book bag. It was filled to capacity with fliers I had printed out the day before. The fliers featured a rare picture of the three of us smiling. It was one of those planned photographs, but I figured I could cultivate more interest if my family appeared likeable. After the last few years, we were a hard sell.
Luckily, the store stood only a few blocks from my house, allowing me to take my new bicycle, a pity gift Mom had bought for me. It had a red finish, eighteen speeds, and flame decals. I realize I’m almost high school age, but I still thought it was pretty cool. It wasn’t like I had anyone I needed to impress.
It was a good thing that I had it too. Mom was busy banging away on the keys of her newly purchased Yamaha Grand Piano. She was in the middle of singing All I Ask of You to a half empty bottle of Chardonnay and it was barely eight thirty. I’d like to pretend her singing drained the bottle of its contents, but I knew I’d be wrong. There was no hope for her to drive me.
I left my room. The walls were different. Mom had redecorated the hallway while I slept, apparently. A few family photos that were placed lovingly the day we moved in had been replaced by performance photographs of famous theatre actors. I rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn’t seeing things but it looked like Mom stayed up all night photo-shopping herself into the pictures. Each one had a Maggie Quinn cameo in the background. To me, her attitude about all of it came off as childish and unfair, but I can’t say that I didn’t understand.
Hoping Mom wouldn’t notice me leaving, I tiptoed around the back of the piano, but Peaches the dog, a new family addition, saw me and blew my cover. She was a rescue golden retriever devoid of empathy for a teenage attempting to sneak out of his house. Peaches’ rough barks stopped Mom during a big number. Mom flipped around. Her hair, unwashed and tangled, was matted over her left eye. Her other eye locked on to mine, sentencing me to death. She said, “What’s in the bag, Alan?”
I tried to hold eye contact, but that was always difficult when encountering a Momfrontation. I said, “Oh, some books. I’m going to check out Victor’s down the street.” I knew for sure that I had blown it. I’ve never been a particularly good liar.
Her tactic shifted to oddly playful, “Who is Victor and why does he have my son’s attention? If you stick around, I might just play you some Sondheim.”
I cleared my throat, “While that does sound lovely, Victor’s is the book shop on Main Street. I won’t be gone for long.”
Mom moved the hair that had fallen over her eye back in place. Her blue eyes were normally gentle to gaze into, but I felt like I could almost see a red tint in them today. She turned back to the piano, “Fine. Have fun, Alan.” My heart ached with her response. I knew she was having a hard time, but it wasn’t helping to stay cooped inside all day.
I was almost home free and out the door when she called out with the force of Hades, “One other thing. If I see any more pictures of your deadbeat father around this town, you’re grounded. Am I clear? You don’t see him come over here to see us. Why should I be forced to see him every day?”
I stopped before my quick temper could get ahead of me. I wanted to yell at her for giving up on Dad, but I could hear the soft sobs under her breath. She missed him just as much as I did. It always bothered me that I hadn’t seen them happy together since Australia, but part of me knew there was a reason they had ever gotten together in the first place. I let it go.
I said, “I won’t,” and went on my way.
Thomas William Shaw is an author and stage actor from Birmingham, AL. He lives with his wife, Lauren, their children, and their cats in a quiet place. Occasionally he will post about it.