Everyone shifted to the kitchen, but Kyle, drink in hand, and Carrie behind him, continued on through the kitchen. Kyle held the door wide for Carrie who stood sideways eyeing the table as she lectured her brother on the finer points of letter writing. The table had been set with everyday dinnerware, except for Madeline’s heirloom cut glass bread plate and pressed glass butter dish. She had fixed Rodger a plate of roast beef, bread, and hot vegetables with cold sliced tomatoes.
Heather crammed meat and peas into her mouth, while Rachel separated the peas and corn into piles and lined the slices of meat up in a row. Rodger tensed, waiting for his mother to scold both girls for their breech of manners. Instead, she placed her hand on top of Rachel’s hand holding the fork and stilled her.
“Rachel, eat a bite of each vegetable and one slice of beef. Heather,” she smiled at Heather, “please drink your milk slowly so you won’t have an upset stomach later.”
Rodger ate in silence until Madeline began clearing the dishes. He looked up directly into her eyes and swallowed hard.
“Mother, I just want you to know that I really do appreciate all that you’ve done for Adele.”
Madeline took a step back and cocked her head before she stammered. “Really, Rodger, I’ve not done half as much as she has for me.”
She picked up another plate and stacked flatware. “Everyone has done a lot for me since your father died. I just want to keep myself together for Rachel and Heather.”
Rodger rose and went to stand beside her, adding a fork and spoon to the plate.
“I know it’s not easy, Mother,” he fumbled for words to fit his emotions, “but we’ll all get by day by day. That’s how any of us survive.”
Madeline heaved a wrenching sob, the flatware rattled on the dishes as she sat them upon the table. She waved Rodger away.
“Just give me a minute, please.”
Surprising himself, he reached for her and pulled her to him in an awkward one-armed hug. She pressed her forehead lightly against his shoulder and rested without speaking. After a few minutes, she took a step away and turned to address the girls.
“Rachel and Heather, you may go to my room and turn on the radio. Mind you, I don’t want to hear it down here.”
The girls scampered out of the kitchen, through the living room and up the stairs. Rodger sat again at his place at the table, bemused by his mother and her brother. Kyle stood against the back door and, with a wave of his drink, refused Madeline’s offer of food. Aunt Carrie had left Kyle outside to come sit at the table with Rodger, picking at the stray vegetables on his plate. Rodger slapped together a sandwich and ate, listening to those around him.
Aunt Carrie, her mouth full of tomato, begged Madeline, “You must talk some sense into your boy. Jonelle is a beautiful name, but you must give her a middle name. Why, that poor little thing’ll have a peck of troubles with no middle name. Just last week I was talking with a lady from Sommerset about her niece who named her baby—”
“Carrie!” barked Madeline. “That’s between husband and wife.”
“I personally like the name,” interjected Kyle, coming in the door and sitting across from Rodger at the table.
Rodger, chewing loudly to annoy his aunt, looked gratefully at his uncle.
“It’s not the name, it’s the principle!” huffed Carrie. Rodger cleared his throat. “It’s a silly issue for Rodger to be so stubborn about.”
Wearily, Madeline sat down at the head of the table.
“I think it’s very nice that he named her after John. And who else?” She looked off in the distance, tapping the table top. “I remember! Adele’s friend who was killed.”
“Well, if you ask me, it’s creepy, giving a baby that much of dead folks’ memories.”
Madeline laughed, the sound tinkling like icicles breaking in the wind. Rodger smiled at her, sipping on his drink.
“And what of family names, sister? Aren’t those in memory of ‘dead folks’?”
“That’s different,” Aunt Carrie grumbled. Her hands flagged the air. “Family traditions are important!”
Rodger swallowed the last of his sandwich.
“Couldn’t agree more! That’s why we’re starting our own traditions.” He pushed his plate closer to Aunt Carrie.
While she nibbled on the leftovers, Kyle set his glass down on the countertop then walked out of the kitchen. Rodger heard the front door whisper shut. He listened, interested. He could pick out the humming of a car engine. Madeline and Carrie talked on, their voices rolling over his head.
Rodger felt all of his energy drain from him like an oil leak. Unlike a mission completed, he felt no victory or sense of belonging here. He wondered about Kyle leaving; maybe he’d gone next door to see Ada. Could be something between them, could not be something between them. Maybe he should just go on home and not disturb them. He might sleep tonight. Without pain. Without nightmares. Sweet dreams.
He checked his watch. Before it was too late, he’d go by Ada’s house.
Rodger caught his mother watching him. He’d been surprised by how easy he felt around her. Then, in a lull of the conversation, she tilted her head to one side and leaned toward him.
“I’d like you to have something. I’ll be right back.” She rose, stately like a queen, turning at the doorway. “You might say good night to Rachel and Heather. They’re in their room.”
As Rodger stood, Carrie grabbed his right arm.
“You must see about a few of the details your mother hasn’t been able to tend to. Tomorrow.”
“Sure, Aunt Carrie. Why don’t you make me a list?” Rodger placed his hand on hers, lifted it off his arm, giving it a firm squeeze, then moved quickly away.
His aunt smiled smugly as she got up and plodded to where his mother kept stationery and pen. Suddenly, Rodger heard her groan.
“Aunt Carrie, are you all right?” Rodger paused from the bottom of the stairs and peered around the hall doorway.
“Oh, Rodgie, don’t worry yourself over me. Nothing but a touch of arthritis.” She beamed at him. “It’s so sweet of you to care.”
Rodger flashed a quick smile, then bolted up the stairs. I’m sure she’d remind me if I didn’t care, he thought. He poked his head into his sisters’ room. They scurried from the doorway and each hopped into a bed.
“Good night, rascals. Don’t forget our date tomorrow.”
They giggled. Heather, in a small voice, called out, “Please, Rodger, a kiss.”
Rodger hesitated, and then went in, standing between the two twin beds and bending to give each a quick peck on the forehead. “Say your prayers and go to sleep.”
“We will, Rodger,” whispered Rachel.
As Rodger walked down the hallway, he saw Madeline standing at the threshold of her bedroom. Rodger walked slowly over to her, stepping inside the room. She fumbled with something in her hands.
In the awkward silence between them, his mother stared at a gold watch and fob.
“Here,” she offered, “take it. Your father wanted you have it.”
The watch dangled in front of him. He didn’t move.
“I don’t want it, Mother, if you’d rather keep it,” he said gently.
“No, no,” she murmured. “I have enough memories and such.” Tears fell from her eyes sprinkling the bodice of her dress. “He wanted his grandson to have it.”
Rodger reached out and took the watch, unlacing the chain from her fingers.
“Thanks. I’ll save it for him.”
“You might want to,” she stammered, “to have it for yourself.” She wiped the tears away and looked directly into his eyes. “It doesn’t matter if it’s passed on or not. Grandsons, granddaughters.”
Rodger shrugged, not knowing what to reply.
“Can’t believe I’ve got a kid. It hasn’t sunk in yet.” He straightened, his back cracking. “I’m beat.”
He cleaned his teeth with his tongue.
“Where’d Uncle Kyle go?”
Madeline’s eyes narrowed. “He comes and goes. I don’t ask because it’s none of my business.”
“Right, we’ll leave that to Auntie.” Rodger rolled his eyes, eliciting a grin from Madeline. “You don’t mind my using your car? I’d like to go to Chicago. Get something special for Adele.” He smoothed the watch in the palm of his hand, and then slipped it into his pants pocket.
“I’ll have it late tomorrow afternoon.” Madeline’s forehead furrowed. “No, never mind. I’ll make other arrangements.”
Rodger blew air bubbles, which used to annoy his mother, but tonight she gave him a half-smile and shake of the head. “No, I don’t want to inconvenience you. I’ll be back around noon or little after.”
“Rodger,” Madeline stopped him with a tug at his arm, “please keep the car and use it. I don’t really want to drive.”
“Well, Aunt Carrie’s making me a list of things I should take care of.” Rodger waggled his eyebrows, “I’ll need to be here early, I’m sure.”
Madeline nodded, releasing him. “You need to go home and get some sleep.” She cast a quick glance at her big bed. “You’ve had a busy day.”
He felt sorry for her, after thirty‑two years, to be without her husband, but he couldn’t imagine his mother lonely for a man. It didn’t suit her.
“Good night, Mother. Call me, if you need anything.” He turned away from her and started for the stairs. “Anytime. I’m used to service hours.” He gave a parting wave.
As he stepped out onto the porch, he called, “’Night, Aunt Carrie. See you tomorrow.”
He quickly shut the door and leaped over the steps onto the walk. He took long strides, stretching his legs, swinging his arms loosely by his side until came to an abrupt stop at Ada’s gate. He checked his wristwatch; twenty‑two fifteen. Ada’s house was dark, except for the porch light. That meant only one thing. She was gone, out for the night.
Rodger rubbed the stubble on his chin. It just might be. Maybe. But an odd couple, the two of them.
Rodger looked up then down the sidewalk, remembering as a kid overhearing gossip in town about Ada and Sam. He’d thought it unlikely, then, because he knew Ada so well.
He went out to the car, welcoming the cool touch of the car’s upholstery against his strained muscles as he climbed in the driver’s seat. He glanced once more to Ada’s empty house. He might have jumped to conclusions. He turned over the engine. Would Adele know anything? Just how the hell could he ask her about Kyle and Ada? A chuckle rose in his throat and just as suddenly choked him. So many things he didn’t know for sure anymore.
A familiar ache returned as he entered his own house. The part of him that was hollow could never be filled with people. He gently placed his father’s watch on the bureau and undressed. God, it never changed for him, this relentless need to be free. He wished he could get the hell out of here and fly.
Weariness rolled over his entire body. He stretched out on top of the bed covers as sleep crashed down on him. A dreamless night, a reprieve.
In the morning, he awoke refreshed. He hummed to himself, anticipating a day in the city. He took a small box of loose Burmese rubies and a pure silver band that he had bought for Adele in China from beneath the socks in his dresser drawer and examined them, thinking that he would find a jeweler and have something made with them. As he shaved, he laid out the plans for his day.
A solo flight, there and back. Just a routine mission. At thirteen hundred hours, he’d be back in town. With presents in hand. Just an everyday hero, he thought sourly as he locked the front door behind him. He shielded his eyes from the glaring morning sun, plucking his sunglasses from his pocket and putting them on.
Everyday, six days a week, fair and foul weather, his father had walked to work. He shook free of the memories. He was only his father’s son. Not an imitation of the man. And at last, he thanked him for that.
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