“Oh, my! Would you look at that?” Mary Thompson said, looking at the line she had just drawn on the door frame where the top of her son’s head had reached, putting her hands on her hips as if taking in a truly magnificent sight. “Look how much you've grown!"
“I thought I felt bigger." Adam turned around to look for himself, "And I think I’m getting stronger, too. Look at this.” He pulled up the sleeve of his St. Louis Cardinals t-shirt and flexed his 10-year-old bicep.
“Wow!” Mary looked impressed as she felt the muscle, “Big and strong. I can’t believe how fast you’re growing! You know I would keep you my little baby forever, if I could.”
“Aww, don’t start that.” he said, “You cry when you talk about that stuff.”
“I know, I know. I’m just so proud of you.” she hugged him. “Now, take this and put it back in the drawer it goes in.” she said, holding out the pencil. “After that you can go out and play until dinner is ready,”
“Okay.” He took the pencil and hurried off into the kitchen.
Mary stood looking at the lines on the door frame - over a dozen now, between the three kids - and realized she had forgotten to write the date of the newest marking.
“Adam,” she called into the kitchen.
“Bring the pencil back in here for a second.”
“Okay.” Soon he returned, holding out the pencil.
“Thank you, sweety.”
“Welcome.” he said, and added “What’s for dinner?”
She took the pencil and wrote the date just below the freshly marked line. “Hamburger Helper.”
“Aww. Not pizza?”
“You had pizza last night. You can’t have pizza every night,”
“Yes, I can!” He protested, “I would never get tired of pizza in my whole life!” stating this as an undeniable fact. “Besides, it's only two nights in a row!”
“Well,” she said, “when you get to be an adult, in your own house, you can have pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If that’s what your heart desires, you go ahead and do that. But for now, you live in my house, and I say you’re having Hamburger Helper.” She handed him the pencil.
Resigned to his current fate of having pizza only once a week, he took the pencil and again went to put it in its drawer.
Mary stood looking at the lines for a moment longer. It just never stops, she thought. Time just never stops.
40 years later... (2022)
Off the main road of a small Missouri town, not far from the Mississippi river, there is a dead-end street. On this dead-end street there is a set of 8 duplex apartments. Four on one side of the street and four on the other. It is from one of these apartments, #3 to be exact, that Maddy Jameson stepped out of to have a cigarette when she noticed a big Cadillac idling at the curb two doors down from her. It looked shiny and new.
It was an unusual sight as such nice vehicles are not known to frequent this area, let alone this street.
Not wanting to stare, she looked straight ahead and put a cigarette between her lips. When she took a lighter from her front pocket to light her cigarette, the lighter only sparked. She shook it next to her ear and did not hear any fluid. “Shit.”
Just then the Cadillac pulled forward, stopping in front of her. The driver rolled down the window.
“Excuse me. I was wondering if you could answer a question for me.” the driver asked. He looked to be a man of about fifty, with a friendly expression on his face.
“I suppose you could ask, but I can’t promise to know the answer.” she said, putting the empty lighter back into her pocket.
“Fair enough. Do you happen to know who lives there?” he asked, pointing to the duplex directly across the street from them.
“As far as I know, nobody is living there. It's in the middle of being fixed up.”
“I thought it looked like it has new siding and roofing on it.”
“Yeah. I don’t think they've gotten very far on the inside, though.”
Just then a thin, old man with a shaggy head of grey hair stepped out of the apartment next door. He was holding some papers in one hand and a set of keys in the other.
“Speaking of the owner.” Maddy said, gesturing to the man coming out of the apartment, “That’s him now.”
At first the grey-haired man didn't notice them and seemed to be talking to himself. Then he looked up, saw them, and began to approach after locking the door behind him.
“Hey there, Maddy. Where’s those boys of yours?” the property owner asked, seeming to be very friendly with her.
“Oh, watching TV.” she said, “You know stepping out here is the only chance I get at a little peace and quiet.”
“I believe that. Who’s your friend there?” he asked, giving the Cadillac and its driver a good look over.
“Never met him before. He was asking about #7 over there. If I knew who lives there.”
The old man approached the car, giving the driver a smile. “That so? Say, I’m not being sued, am I? This looks like a lawyer’s car to me.”
“No, no. I’m no lawyer. I’m just a guy taking a little trip down memory lane.” the driver said, returning his own smile.
“Is that right?”
“I used to live here, when I was a kid.”
“You don’t say. And when abouts would that have been?” the man asked, squinting his eyes as if in concentration.
“Well, this is where we lived when I was born in 1971, and we left, I’d say, right about 1982.”
“Your moms name was Mary. She had you and two other little ones. Another boy and a girl.” The man said almost instantly.
“That’s right! How did you know that?”
“I’ve owned this property for over 50 years. And I remember everybody that comes through here, from the first one in 1969, to this one here,” he said, pointing to Maddy.
“That is incredible. I can’t believe you remembered us from that long ago.”
“That’s really incredible.”
“So, what brings you here?” the old man asked, “Out for a drive and decided to come take a look at the old home place? Is that it?”
“You could say that.”
“It always looks smaller, doesn’t it? When you see a place you haven’t seen since you were young?”
“Tell you what. I need to get to an appointment, but you can take a look inside the place if you want. I trust Maddy here to keep an eye on you. Just lock the door when you leave.”
“You’d really let me go inside?”
“Sure. Go in and have a look around. It’s not like anybody’s living there.”
“I’d really appreciate that.”
“Not a problem. Come with me.”
The property owner unlocked the door to apartment #7, told the driver that it was nice to meet him, and left for his appointment.
As Maddy and the man from the Cadillac stood in front of the open door, a voice called out from behind them. “Mom!” They look to see a boy standing in the doorway that Maddy had come out of.
“What?” she called back.
“Can we go to the gas station for sodas?”
“You don’t need soda! If you’re thirsty get some water from the sink!”
The boy made a disgusted face. “Sink water tastes weird!”
Maddy sighed, turning back to the man. “You don’t happen to have a lighter, do you?”
“Sorry,” He said, shaking his head.
“Damn.” She looked to the boy again, then back to the man. “I guess I’m gonna take these boys up to the store. And get me a lighter. It won’t take long. The gas station is just a couple blocks away. You can go ahead and look around, ill be back soon to lock it up when you’re done.”
Before the man could respond, the boy yelled again. “We’re hungry, too!”
“You can wait until dinner!” She yelled back. Then, quieter, “Damn, I need a cigarette.”
“Hang on a second.” The man said and went into his car. He came out holding a candy bar. “If its alright with you,” he held it up and nodded his head towards the boy in the doorway, “I picked up two of these on my way here. I loved these things when I was a kid. I thought id better get two because they’re so good, one just wouldn’t be enough. But I was wrong about that because one was plenty.”
“That’s awful nice of you. I guess that would be ok.”
“It’s all yours.” He said to the boy, showing him the candy bar.
A big smile came across the boy’s face and he ran to the man.
“But you gotta split it with your brother.” Maddy said, as the chocolate treat changed hands. The boy’s smile lessoned, but didn’t disappear entirely.
“You and your brother enjoy that.” The man said.
“We will. Thanks.” The boy scurried back into the doorway. Then a second later popped his head back out. “But can we get sodas?”
“Go see how much change is on my dresser. If there’s enough, we’ll go up there.” Maddy said.
“Yes!” the boy exclaimed, already knowing there was enough change on the dresser.
The boys soon came out, and the three of them prepared to start walking. Maddy turned to the man. “I don’t think I got your name.”
“Okay, Adam. We’ll be back soon.
He held up his hand to say, ‘I’ll be here’.
Maddy and the two boys begin walking up the street.
Adam turned to the open door, took a few steps forward, and peered inside.
After a few moments he looked to see the three figures nearly at the end of the street, where they would soon turn the corner and be out of sight.
There was a change of plan now. But in a way he felt better about this – to be in the house rather than sitting in the car.
The friendly expression Adam had been wearing, since he first rolled his window down to ask the woman his question, fell away. His eyes became vacant, and his mouth creased downward.
Once he was sure that they were out of sight, he went to his car, and takes out a small black bag. He tossed his keys onto the front seat and shut the door, making sure it was unlocked. With the black bag, he went into apartment #7.
When they got to the gas station, the boys made a dash to the soda fountain, grab their Styrofoam cups and start filling them up. While Maddy went to the display on the counter and got a lighter.
“Who was that guy that gave us the candy bar?” The older boy asked his mom as they got in line with their sodas.
“He said he used to live across the street from our apartment when he was a kid."
“Oh.” The boy said. “It was nice of him to give us that candy bar.”
“Yes, it was. I want you to tell him thanks again when we get back.”
“What if I get him a piece of candy? We have enough change for a bubble gum or something.”
“I don’t think he’s gonna want any bubble gum. Just tell him thanks again. That’ll be enough.”
“Please, mom? I really want to.”
Maddy gave the boy a look that said she couldn't think of a reason to say no. “Fine. Go ahead.”
“Alright!” He grabbed a piece of bubble gum from the container on the counter. “I think he’ll like this kind. It blows good bubbles.”
Adam Thompson stood in the living room of his childhood home. It was empty and silent, but somehow, he felt that he was not alone. He made his way toward the kitchen but was stopped upon seeing the door in the hallway. He opened it.
Leaning down he could see, very faintly, the lines that his mother had drawn to mark the height of him and his siblings all those years ago on its door frame. He ran his fingers over the faded pencil lines and closed his eyes. After a moment he opened them, remembering that the woman and her boys would not be gone long. Letting his hand fall away from the door frame, he walked down the hallway, through the kitchen, and up the stairs.
He stood in front of the window of his old second floor bedroom, the window he had stood before so many times as a child looking out onto the street below, and was suddenly certain - this is the place it will happen. This is the place he will die.
Setting the black bag down on the floor next to his feet he took a silver flask from his pocket. Removing its lid, he tipped the flask to his mouth and took two big swallows. He exhaled, feeling the liquor’s heat in his throat, and set the flask on the windowsill. The alcohols effects soon began to wash over him.
He picked up the bag from the floor, unzipped it and pulled out a loaded Smith & Wesson 45 Caliber revolver.
The plan had been to kill himself in his car. Come back to see his old childhood home for the first, and last, time since he had left it at the age of 11. Reminisce with a few sips of whiskey, then BANG, shut the lights off for good. But, when he saw the woman come out to smoke her cigarette, he had decided to approach her. He supposed now, if she had come out a few minutes later than she had, he would be dead already.
The liquor began to relax him, and he took another drink. Then the thought comes to his mind with a cold clarity – It needs to be now. This is it.
Adam stood up straight, squared his shoulders and held his chin up high. As he began to raise the revolver to his head, there was a noise behind him.
“Is that a gun?” A child’s voice asked, interrupting what would have been Adam's final act in this world.
He shoved the gun into his pocket, by pure luck not blowing his balls off as his finger had still been on the trigger and turned around.
Adam had left the front door open, and a boy from the neighborhood had wandered in off the street. The boy was now standing in the doorway and looking at Adam with wide eyes.
“My dad has a gun.” the boy said casually, “But it looks a little different than that one. He lets me hold it sometimes when it’s not loaded.”
“It’s not a real gun,” Adam says with a shaky voice. He tries to steady it. “It's just a toy.”
“Oh.” the boy said, “It looks really real.”
“I hope so. It’s a birthday present for my nephew.” Adam said, beginning to sweat.
“Well, I better go. I probably shouldn’t be in here, but I saw the door open…”
“Right, I don’t think anybody is supposed to be in here,”
“But you’re in here,” the boy said.
“Yes, but I have permission.”
“Oh, okay. Well, bye!” the boy waved, turning without a look back.
Adam stood shocked, unable to move. Then he looked out the window and saw the boy coming out of the apartment and making his way down the street. As he watched the boy walk away, Adam thanked God that he had not had time to get the gun to his head.
The realization that he had almost blown his brains out in front of a kid made him feel disgusted. For a moment he fought the urge to vomit. And all at once he was certain that he would not be using the gun.
He began to gain his compose. Then he saw three figures at the end of the street coming toward him. He quickly put the gun into the bag, slipped the flask into his pocket and hurried down the stairs. He had just enough time to put the bag back into his car before the boys or Maddy could see it.
“Hey, mister!” The older boy yelled as they approached, “I got something for you!” He handed Adam the piece of bubble gum.
The simple act of innocent kindness made Adam want to cry, but he held back the urge, and took the gum. “You didn’t have to do that young man. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” The boy said, then the brothers ran to their apartment.
Adam thanked Maddy for helping him, said goodbye, and got back into his car. Before driving away, he unwrapped the piece of bubble gum, and put it in his mouth. As he began to chew, a smile grew across his face.