Friday, June 11, 2010
Short Story: The One He Left Behind
I know I said Sunday, but I woke up this morning with this story in my head. It had to be written. Then, once it was written, I wanted to share it. So. I'll be back on Sunday to talk to you about things that might have been if I'd been someone different.
Oh and P.S. Why would you believe me when I say Sunday anyway?
The One He Left Behind
Timmy watched his mother fussing about the tables next to the large window. She used her slender hip to shove a table for two up against its neighbor.
“Come here, Timmyluv.” It was her pet name for her seven year old son. She used her sweetest, softest voice.
Timmy let her position him at the little cloth-covered table that looked out onto Church Street. He searched her face for something. She’d been acting all funny. She’d been like that all morning while he lay on the rug and played with his tin soldiers and drew pictures. Later, when she went into her room to get dressed for work, he thought he heard her crying in there. The strangest thing was when she told him to dress in his nicest clothes.
Instead of leaving him with Mrs. Hatcher for the afternoon, she held his hand when he let her and they walked together to the tea room where she worked as a server. She’d never done that before.
“Bring your soldiers, Tim. You'll want to keep busy.” Her voice sounded shaky to him.
He gathered them up and put them carefully into the little metal box where he kept them safe. It was only as they were leaving that he noticed he’d missed an infantryman. Now he lay alone in the middle of the worn rug.
“Wait!” He tried to change directions. She nudged him out the door. “We can’t be late!”
He kept quiet about the soldier. Now he watched her from his seat by the window. His feet hung down, but didn’t quite touch the floor so he could swing them back and forth, back and forth. She looked toward the window and nodded at a lady and man who stood on the other side of the glass.
The man was tall and thin. He had dark hair and his hazel eyes crinkled up at the corners when he smiled at Tim through the window. Timmy looked at the lady next to him. She wore a red hat on her yellow hair and her dress matched. She looked like his mother when she got dressed up to be in Aunt Evelyn’s wedding.
Now his mother turned to him. “Fancy a bite to eat then?”
He nodded and opened the little box.
A few minutes later, his mother came back and put a small plate of biscuits on the table. She set a glass of milk next to the plate and stood back a little bit to look at him. Tim wanted to smile at her and say thank you, but he just kept on playing.
The tall man and the lady in the red hat were now sitting at the table squished up next to his. He cast them a sidelong glance.
The couple talked to each other, but Tim noticed they looked occasionally in his direction. Now he didn’t take his eyes off the battle scene in front of him. He didn’t even look up when his mother came up behind him and put her hands on his shoulders. They felt cold, even through his shirt and knit vest.
He tilted his head all the way back until he could see her pretty face. He wished for a moment that he could turn his head around on his neck like an owl. He'd read about owls in an old book at Mrs. Hatcher’s.
She smiled at him, but what? Perhaps because he was looking at her upside down her smile didn’t seem quite right. She nodded toward the couple. “Mr. and Mrs. Babcock would like to speak with you.”
Timmy snapped his head forward and took a cookie from the plate. He held it up to his mouth, but didn’t take a bite. His stomach felt full of stones. He could smell the scent of vanilla coming from the treat but the thought of putting it into his mouth and chewing made him feel sick.
Mr. Babcock cleared his throat. “So you have some pretty nice soldiers there, huh?”
Timmy looked at his face, but quickly looked away. He put the disc back on the plate and ran his finger alongside the glass of milk. The cold felt good on his shaking finger. Better than his mother's cold hands felt on his shoulders.
Now the woman spoke. “Do they have names? Your soldiers?” When Tim glanced at her, she flashed him a warm smile revealing deep dimples.
Timmy felt his mother’s icy grip squeeze his shoulders a little tighter. “He’s a little shy.” Her voice sounded as nervous as Tim’s stomach felt. Normally he would have wolfed down the biscuits and polished off the glass of milk and been scheming to get more, but right now he didn’t want to think about eating. Ever again.
The man took some paper from his jacket pocket then produced a fancy pen that had writing on it in gold letters with swirls and curlicues. “Do you ever draw, Tim?”
“Want to now?” The man extended his hand holding the pen toward him.
Timmy shook his head.
“Oookay. Any ideas what I should draw?” He’d pulled his hand back and put the pen to the paper.
Timmy looked at the man. “You’re a Yank.”
The lady gasped. His mother let go of his shoulders. “Timothy!”
“It’s okay, Sharon.” The man used Mum’s real name!
“My father was an American. But he died in the war.”
The man put the pen on top of the paper and exchanged a glance with the woman. “Yes. Your mother told us.”
Timmy pointed to the pen and paper. “Do you have a car back in America?”
The woman giggled. The man sat up straighter in his chair. “Why, yes. We have two cars actually.”
His mother cleared her throat and tapped him on the head. He got the message. “Please.”
He watched as the man drew. The lady left the table and his mother followed her. They stood across the room talking.
“How did you know my mother's name?” He asked as the man’s pen scratched out lines and shapes that had begun to look like two cars parked in front of a garage.
The man tilted his head to check his progress. “I knew your mother during the war.”
“So you knew my father then?” Tim took the drawing the man had handed him and held it up to look at in the light coming in through the window.
“I knew him. Yes.”
The women walked slowly toward them. They were still talking.
“What was he like?” Tim’s mother didn’t say much about his father anymore. She once spoke of him regularly, but about a year ago, she stopped. And Tim stopped asking questions about him because the one time he did, she seemed angry.
The man looked at the two women who were now taking their seats across from them. “Your father was a good man. A brave soldier.” He looked at Tim's mother and she nodded a little.
“Mummy, look!” Tim slid the paper across the table. She picked it up and examined it. “Yours?” she asked Mr. Babcock.
He nodded without smiling. Mrs. Babcock shifted in her seat.
“Do we still have the drawings my father did? They were in your…” he stopped and looked at Mr. Babcock.
His mother looked down at the table. The lady adjusted her red hat. Finally, the man spoke. “Sharon, we really should be going.”
Tim rattled the box with his soldiers in it. “Mum, I forgot a rifleman on the rug.”
His mother searched his face.
“Tim, we’re going home when I'm finished working.” She looked at Mr. Babcock. Tim saw something he didn't recognize until he got older. Defiance.
Mrs. Babcock let out a breath. Tim wondered why she’d been holding her breath, but then he noticed that he’d been holding his, too. She reached across the table and took the man’s hand. “Honey, we should go.”
Mr. Babcock nodded then turned to Tim who gave him a crooked, careful smile.
“It was lovely to see you again,” Tim’s mother scooted her chair back to stand. “Will the two of you please come again sometime?” She met Mr. Babcock’s gaze.
“Yes.” He seemed to have used up all his words.
Mrs. Babcock took his hand and led him away. He stopped in the middle of the tea room and turned “Tim?” His voice filled the room.
Tim tilted his head and waited. The woman tugged the man’s hand and he followed her out the door. Tim could still hear the tinkling of the little bell over the door as the man’s face appeared at the window. He watched as Mr. Babcock placed his palm against the glass. He smiled, but his eyes didn't crinkle up this time.
Tim gave him a little wave and then they were gone, swallowed up by the crowds on the sidewalk.
“I must get busy then. Finish up.” His mother retied her apron behind her as she watched him pick up his glass of milk and take a drink. She reached out and tousled his dark hair before she walked away.
Tim took another long drink of milk while he watched the people passing by outside. It had started to rain and many of them huddled under umbrellas on their way home from work.
He looked where the man had been sitting. The pen still lay on the table. Tim picked it up and placed it gently inside his little metal box.