Neil, Dora Finley’s brother, has returned after nearly two decades. Could he be the replacement that the Center Circle needs to heal it?
“Yes, the way Mama fixed it. Me, I’d have burnt it to a crisp.”
“Thanks, Peanut. This is great!”
“I’m Lucy, not Peanut!”
“Oh, sorry Lima Bean!”
She stamped her foot, pretending to pout, but the giggle escaped her. “You’re silly, Uncle Neil.”
“I got it from Mommy. She made me silly before we were born.” He stood slowly, rubbing the kinks from his thighs.
“You were twins!”
“Yep, we still are. Me first, Mommy five minutes later.”
She gave him a hug around his knees and ran in the yard after her sister.
“Come in and have a bite,” their mother said, after hugging and kissing him ardently.
“Mama, I could sure use a shower first.”
“Of course! Daddy’s inside. It’s hard for him to get around these days. His C.O.P.D. is real bad, Sugarbean.”
Neil followed his mother, shuffling his feet. It was hard enough coming home after all these years, but to see his formidable, robust father reduced to a tired, old man, was almost more than he could bear. His father sat in his comfortable, blue recliner, feet up, watching TV top volume. He looked up and grinned at his son. Releasing the lever, he lowered his feet and stood.
Neil held his father gently, afraid he’d bruise him, or worse. His father’s embrace was a shadow of what it had been, but the strength was there—briefly.
“Damn good to see you, son. Been too long since you were home.”
“Way too long, Daddy. I’m sorry….”
“Nonsense. You did what you had to. But you’re home now. By God, boy, you stink!”
“My air went out around Memphis.”
“No wonder, evil old place, Memphis.” He winked. A native of Tennessee, he enjoyed poking fun. No one else had better do it in his hearing, though. In his younger days, he’d been in more than one fight because of it. “Let this boy have a shower, Mama,” he said to his wife. “He reeks to hell and back.”
“That I do.”
“Go on up. You’re in the guest room. The girls are sharing your old room. Chase is in the basement.”
“There’s two rooms down there, you in both, boy?”
“I’d as soon be down there, Mom. Suits me to be underground.”
“Whatever you want, Sugar. There’s fresh towels and sheets on the bed.”
He gave her a kiss. Chase showed him to the basement. It looked much as it had in his youth. It was freshly painted and the pattern of the bedspread had changed, but the overall feel of it said home to him. He’d always liked the basement rooms. Built into the side of a steep hill, the back of the house was exposed, with a beautiful view of the woods. As a child, he’d spent as much time here as he could, reading, working on his school projects and daydreaming about his life to come. On cool days, he’d fling the French doors open to the outside, lie on his belly and watch the trees move, their leaves singing in the breeze.
“Takes me back a piece,” he told Chase. “Which you in?”
Chase pointed to the left. Neil nodded, heading to the room on the right. He put his bags in the floor and headed directly to the small, interconnecting bathroom. His shower was long and as hot as he could get it. It felt so good to get the road grit and sweat off his body, he indulged himself. Once he felt cleaner, he made sure to shave before getting dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. His mother insisted that they go without shoes in the house, to save the carpets. He didn’t mind, preferring going barefoot to wearing socks and shoes. His dirty clothing, accumulated over the last few days, went in the washer and he started a load. His mother might object, but his clothing reeked of sweat. He hardly wanted to touch it himself, let alone make his delicate mother do it.
Waiting in the sitting area, he found Chase. His nephew looked old beyond his years, care worn and down trodden. The emotions radiating off him were enough to make Neil gasp and take a step back. He’d always been empathic, but now—something was new here. Something had changed. Or maybe it was he who had changed? He didn’t know. Crossing the room, he sat by the boy, putting his arms around him as he drew him close.
“Let it out, son. If you can’t cry in front of me, who can you? I’ve been in your shoes, boy. Let it out.”
Chase sobbed, his body shaking with the horrendous emotions he’d tried so hard to contain. He wept for his father, and for his mother having to go on without him. He cried for himself, missing his father so much it hurt, and for his sisters, who would grow up without their daddy. He also wept for his grandparents, who missed their son.
© 2017 Dellani Oakes
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