By David Blome
“Thomas, come here.”
“You’re gonna stay with Aunt Maureen and Uncle Frank for a little while.
“Is Mommy sick again?”
“How long am I staying this time?”
“Just during the week until she gets better. I’ll pick you up on Friday. Now go get your glove and bat. Uncle Frank’ll be here any minute.”
Thomas ran to the back porch, retrieved his glove and bat, and hurried up to his room. He put on a hat and stuffed an extra shirt into his glove because the ones at his aunt and uncle’s house were too small.
“Daddy, can I bring my marbles?”
“Bring whatever you want, son.”
Thomas had grown accustomed to this routine, but he didn’t understand his mother’s illness. She never looked sick, but every so often Daddy had to take her to the hospital.
“Something’s wrong with her heart,” his father used to say.
From inside his room, Thomas heard Uncle Frank’s trademark call: a long honk followed by two in quick succession. He ran to the front door in time to see his father peeking through the curtains.
“Is Uncle Frank here?”
“He is. You have your things?” his father said, opening the front door.
Thomas looked at his hands and nodded. He could see his uncle walking toward the door. He wanted to run outside but he knew his father wasn’t done saying goodbye. Frank stepped onto the porch.
“How are you, Curt?”
Curt pursed his lips and nodded. He knelt down and gripped his son’s shoulders.
“Thomas, you be a good boy,” he said in a low voice.
“I will, Daddy.”
“And if you need anything just tell Aunt Maureen or Uncle Frank, okay?”
Curt gave Thomas a final squeeze then tapped the child’s nose with his thumb. Thomas smiled. Curt opened the front door, stepped outside, and shook hands with his brother-in-law. Frank leaned forward.
“You need anything, bud?”
“No, you’re doing enough,” Curt said.
“Uncle Frank, can we play baseball?”
“We most certainly can. Should we go straight to the field or run errands first?”
“Go straight to the field!”
“Okay then let’s go.”
Frank and Thomas walked to the car. Curt stood in the door and watched his son climb into the back seat. The car started and backed into the road. Curt waved. Frank honked once and drove off. That night, as was her custom, Maureen knelt down to pray with her nephew before bed. Midway through, Thomas interrupted her.
“Aunt Reen, who is Maria?”
“Yeah, you always pray for her but I don’t know who she is.”
“Maria was your sister, dear.”
“Where is she?”
“Far from here.”
“Can you go to heaven?”
“You mean to visit?”
“No, you can’t visit. Once you go you have to stay.”
“So Maria can’t come back?”
“No, she can’t come back.”
“Did she die?”
“So if you die you go to heaven?”
“Was I born when she died?”
“You were alive, yes.”
“How old was I?”
“How old was she?”
“So we’re the same age?”
“In a way, yes.”
“Should we finish praying, dear?”
Thomas closed his eyes and thought about the picture in his parents’ room. He waited for his aunt to finish.
“Is the picture in Mommy and Daddy’s room Maria?”
Thomas nodded. He gazed at the ceiling. Maureen studied the child’s face and put her hand on his chest. Her breathing had quickened. She leaned forward and kissed his forehead.
“Good night, dear.”
The following Friday Curt picked up his son to take him home. While Thomas was gathering his things, Curt and Frank spoke in the front yard. Maureen walked outside still wearing an apron and handed Curt a plate of muffins.
“These are for you. Careful, they’re hot.”
“Thank you,” Curt said, “how was Thomas?”
Curt smiled. “Of course he was.”
Just then Thomas ran outside, hugged his aunt and uncle, and climbed into the car. He rolled down the back window and started waving.
“Bye, Aunt Reen! Bye, Uncle Frank!”
“Bye, dear! You help your father now.”
“I guess it’s time to go,” Curt said. He shook hands with Frank and walked to the car.
The drive home was silent until Thomas leaned forward and tapped his father’s shoulder.
“Daddy, is Mommy back from the hospital?”
“She is but she still needs to rest.”
“Is she still sick?”
“She just needs to rest, so you have to be quiet when we get home, okay?”
“Do you have other pictures of Maria?”
Curt’s eyes stayed on the road. About ten seconds passed.
“Can I see them?”
“Okay.” Thomas sat back. They were almost home.
Inside, Thomas crept up the stairs and put away his things trying not to make a sound. On his way to the backyard, he paused outside of his parents’ room. The door was open. His mother was sleeping. From the hallway, he watched the rise and fall of her chest and said a prayer. Dear God, I hope Mommy gets better. Amen.
At the dinner table a few days later Thomas interrupted the silence.
“Did Maria have a middle name?”
Christine’s eyes dropped to her plate. Curt stopped chewing.
“Thomas, that’s enough, son.” Curt’s tone was surprisingly gentle.
Christine looked at her husband. “It’s okay,” she said. She placed her hand on top of Thomas’ and took a breath.
“Her middle name was Ann.”
“Oh,” Thomas said. He could tell the conversation had ended. The next morning he took a piece of paper from his father’s desk and wrote his sister a note. It said, Dear Maria, I hope you are happy in heven. I miss you. I wish we cud play. Love, Thomas (your brother). He folded the note, wrote “Maria” on the top, and waited for his mother to step outside for the paper.
When she did he rushed upstairs and put the note behind his sister’s picture. Curt found it that evening. With pursed lips and tears in his eyes, he tore it to shreds.
The following summer, the school year began on a hot and humid Tuesday.
In the afternoon Thomas ran home excited to tell his mother about the first day of fourth grade. He swung upon the front door and called for her. No response. He walked into the kitchen and found his father drinking coffee at the table. Daddy was never home this early from work.
“She’s at the hospital, son.”
Thomas scratched the back of his head. “Am I staying with Aunt Reen and Uncle Frank?”
“Yes, get your things ready. Uncle Frank’ll pick you up when he’s done at work.”
Thomas nodded and headed for his room.
During his stay, after relentless questioning, Maureen told her nephew the story of his sister’s death. But she did so on one condition.
“You are not to speak of this at home, do you understand me?”
“Okay. Is it like a secret?”
“Yes, it’s like a secret. Now sit down.”
Thomas hopped into her lap.
“Maria was running an errand for your mother when a car hit her.”
“What’s an errand?”
“It’s a little job that you do for someone. Your sister was trying to pay the man who delivers the newspaper.”
“And that’s when the car hit her?”
“Is that why I’m not allowed to play in the front yard?”
“Why don’t Mommy and Daddy never talk about her?”
“Only Mommy and Daddy can answer that question.”
“Does it feel better to know?”
As time passed, the silence about Maria bothered Thomas but he couldn’t explain why. In school, when asked about his family, he felt obligated to defend his sister’s existence.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” a teacher would ask.
“Yes, I have a sister, but she’s in heaven.”
Adults would respond with a nod or an “I see.” But most of Thomas’ peers lacked this perception. Once, the topic of siblings came up at the lunch table.
“Thomas, you don’t have any brothers or sisters, right?”
“I have a sister.”
“No you don’t.”
“Yes I do.”
“Does she go to school here?”
“Where does she go to school then?”
“She doesn’t go to school. She’s in heaven.”
“In heaven? If she’s in heaven then you don’t have a sister.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Okay. Do you have any brothers or sisters who are alive?”
“She’s alive. My aunt says people are alive in heaven.”
“Alive on earth, I mean.”
Thomas had nothing to say in response. He was also on the verge of tears.
That evening he had no luck trying to talk to his father.
“We can talk about your sister, just not right now.”
“But that’s what you always say.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
“Is Mom upstairs?”
“Can I talk to her?”
“No, son, not about that.”
“Is that why Mommy’s always sad? Because of Maria?”
Curt looked away. “Listen,” he said, “let’s throw the ball around out back. Go get your glove.”
Thomas sighed. His brow furrowed, he walked upstairs to find his glove. On his way to the backyard, he stopped beside his parents’ room. The door was open. His mother was sleeping. From the hallway, he watched the rise and fall of her chest. He stepped into the room and studied her face. She looks sad, he thought. Will she always be sad? Thomas glanced at the picture of Maria. He looked back at his mother. The frustration left his face. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead.
“Goodnight, dear,” he said. Then he turned and left.
Category: Short Story