Turns out I did revisit Max and Charlie – this time digging a little deeper into their living conditions and into Momma and Uncle’s story. I also got to meet Sam the dog. Every kids story needs a dog to follow the action and Sam turned out to be only slightly interested in the children invading his home.
I like the dynamic between the two brothers. Max’s sense of responsibility feels a bit heartbreaking given the situation. Most days he’s the man of the house (and he knows it.) That’s tough on a little kid. Charlie just wants to be like his big brother (that feels healthy and true to me.)
I feel bad for these two kids. Thank God they have each other.
HIDE AND SEEK:
I found Charlie curled up in the linen closet under a spotty old blanket.
“No fair!” he shouted, and let out a big sigh, “You can count to ten faster than I can. It makes the game no fun.”
I told him the game wasn’t that much fun to begin with, but he didn’t really listen. Sam, my uncle’s old retriever, awoke from all the commotion and started up the stairs; his nails clacked against the wood. He wanted out of the farmhouse as much as we did, but with the rain, we were all prisoners for the afternoon. I was in charge: no one in, no one out.
“You hide now, Max,” said Charlie, “It’s my turn to seek.”
Hiding didn’t interest me, so we both just sort of searched for no one in particular. We had only been at Uncle’s a few months, so there was still a lot to explore. Sam tagged along.
Under the bed, Charlie found a dime and few pennies, excitement enough for him, but nothing to get me too worked up over. Sam chomped an old hog bone and spiraled down onto a hair-strewn quilt. Charlie petted him for a while, and counted his newly found treasures.
In uncle’s closet, I found neatly-folded dungarees and a pressed black suit. The cramped space smelled like sweat and mothballs, so I closed it back up and left the room. Mother was given the small guest bed; it looked like no one slept there at all. There were only a handful of dresses hanging on wire hangers, and two pairs of shoes. There wasn’t even dust under the bed. There was nothing, save for a bundle wrapped in brown paper. I fished in out and called for Charlie.
The package was named and addressed, but there was no postage. I didn’t recognize the street (or even the city), but I’d heard the name before: it was my father’s.
“Do you remember him at all?” Charlie asked.
I didn’t, but said that I did.
At the corners, the package was worn. It looked like one of Charlie’s presents on Christmas morning: opened and resealed. The tacky tape peeled back easy, and a pair of man’s bib overalls slid out. I held them up like a caught fish.
“He was big,” Charlie marveled.
I nodded and handed the pair to him. The pockets were empty.
“Do you think father misses his pants, Max?”
“He probably got some new ones and doesn’t even think about them.”
Charlie agreed that was mostly likely so, but he didn’t look happy about it. Once we were satisfied, we folded the overalls as best as we could, resealed the packaging, and placed it under the foot of the bed. Sam chewed his bone.
We lost our urge to explore, so all three of us padded back down stairs. When we reached the kitchen, I asked Charlie not to tell mother that we’d been snooping. He liked the idea of having a secret and swore to it.
The remainder of the day was no more exciting than a rerun.
When uncle got home, he let Sam out. The dog buried his bone in the wet soil near the walk path.
Mother got home late; Charlie was already asleep. She kissed me on the forehead and pulled the blanket tight. I told her Charlie found thirteen cents and that I had missed her.
For a second, she looked happy.