Fiction Sad Drama

There’s a tap tapping at the door. Dad must be home! I already put nine by the door, and Dad said he will be back in five to ten.

I used to think five to ten meant five, two, ten; but then Dad told me that was too many.

I also used to think Dad was really called that. When Mom was still with us, that was the only name he ever had. Mom’s not here anymore, and now Dad said I need to call him Trav. In my head, though, where he can’t get me, he will always be Dad.

I wrap my hands around the yellow doorknob and twist the way Mom taught me to when she was here. Before I can open the door enough to let dad in, though, Tillop darts inside and disappears down the dark hall.

Tillop is a mostly good cat. He’s another of Mom’s leftovers, like me. He’s brown like mud with mud eyes and he’s missing three toes, but he’s soft and he lets me pet him sometimes. I like Tillop mostly, but I like Dad more.

Just to make sure, I open the door a Dad-size open. He’s still not here.

Since Dad isn’t here to watch TV with me, I run to my room. Mom taught me that, too, except that was cause we’re supposed to hide when Dad gets loud. Even though he can’t get loud cause he’s not here, I like knowing what to do next, and going to my room is a good something next. The TV’s broken, anyway.

Tillop’s all balled up on my Spiderman pillow. I would move him except he’s taking a bath, and he bites when you move him during his bath. Instead, I curl up on the end of my bed with my big stack of numbers.

When Mom was still here, she did my cards with me every day. I only have fuzzy pictures of Mom in my head, but I can hear her loud and clear.

One plus two is? Yes, Lije, three! And three minus two? One! That’s my smart boy.

Course, I know lots more than just one, two, three. But I guess Mom was gone before that.

My stack of cards doesn’t last long enough. Tillop hasn’t even finished his bath yet and I’m all out. My cards are only fun one time cause Mom only ever wanted to do them one time.

Dad never does cards with me. He taught me that he was not Mom, and that he would not mom me, and that that’s okay. The only problem with Dad is when he goes away, but he promised he would be back in five to ten.

Oh! It’s time to add one. I run to the pink wall by the door with my big black marker and draw crossy ten.

“One, two, three, four, crossy five, six, seven, eight, nine, crossy ten,” I count out loud.

That means Dad will be back. I just need to wait a little longer.

My stomach grumbles, which reminds me that I need to find food. I drag my chair into the kitchen and push it against the fridge, climbing up the way Mom taught me to. When I open the door, the fridge light doesn’t come on and there’s a funny smell.

I climb onto the counter and check the cupboards, too. I find a box of my crackers in one and a bag of little brownies in another. I hop down with the crackers and take them into the sitting room. Tillop hears the cracker bag crinkling and joins me on the couch, purring and meowing.

“I can’t give you these, they’re mine!”

He sits next to me, blinking his muddy eyes. Another meow and I know I have to share, so I crush up three and pile the crumbs in front of him. He licks them all up before I even finish another cracker, so I give him three more. Six crackers for Tillop, two crackers for Lije. Tillop eats three crackers for every one cracker Lije eats.

My stomach isn’t quiet til the crackers are all gone, but there are crumbs left in the bag that I can save for later. I set the box down and my eyes get heavy. The couch smells like Dad, so I tip over and let my eyes close right where I am.

I wake up to a crinkle sound. I would see what it is, except I can’t see at all. I know home, so I roll off the couch and crawl to the door wall. One, two, three seconds of crawling by the wall. Stand up, reach way up high with your hand. I find the switch, shut my eyes so the light won’t hurt them, and push it up.

There’s no light. Why is there no light? The switch must be broken, like the fridge and the TV. I don’t like the dark and I’m about to start crying when I remember what Mom told me.

Are you scared, little Lije? Your daddy can be scary sometimes. Here’s what you’re gonna do when you’re scared: count. Count your fingers, the teeth in your mouth, the Cheerios in your bowl, anything you can find. That’s called a distraction. It’s what you do when you don’t want to be where you are.

Since I can’t see, I can only distraction myself with counting what I don’t need to see. I count my teeth first, but it doesn’t take very long to count to fourteen and a half. I learned halfs from my cards, so I know how to do them, too. And after I count to fourteen and a half, I find something else to count.

Since fingers and toes still wiggle in the dark, I do those next. I count to twenty, but that doesn’t last long, either.

I hear a thud and then feet scurrying to me. Tillop! He’s covered in probably a hundred tiny hairs! I reach out for him and his cold, wet little nose finds my fingers. I grab him and hold him tight. I get up to thirty-eight when my heavy eyes come back and stop me.

The next time I open my eyes, it’s light. Dad will be home because it has been ten, and it’s light out.

My stomach yells at me again, and this time it hurts a little, too. Good thing there are crumbs from my crackers.

I walk to the couch because I can see now, and the box is where I left it. I reach in, but the bag with the crumbs isn’t there. I check the floor, and I find the bag halfway under the couch. But it’s empty.

I know I didn’t eat it all, and I know I put the bag back in the box. Maybe Dad is here already, and he finished the crumbs for me.

I’m walking down the hall when I hear a scritch scratching at the door.

Oh. Tillop. Tillop, who loved my cracker crumbs. Who spent the night with me. Who woke me up in the middle of the night crinkling the bag of crumbs as he licked it clean, just like he did the couch.

I open the door a Tillop-size open and push him out with my foot, closing it fast behind him. Crumb-stealing cats can stay outside.

I’m too mad to be hungry anymore, so I forget breakfast and get ready for Dad to come home because it has been ten.

First, I put the empty cracker box and bag in the trash. Dad gets loud when I don’t pick up. Then, I pour some stinky food into the cat’s bowl like I always forget to do, and I dump out his icky water, but I can’t get the sink to work to put more water in the dish, so I just put that back empty. Then, I go to my room and pull my secret box from under my bed.

I started the secret box after Mom went outside forever. Dad was very loud and mean that day, and I tried to make him happy by helping him to count, but that only made him more mad. He yelled at me to go find something ‘useful’ to do, and even though I didn’t know useful, I knew exactly what to do.

I found my special paper and my big black marker I got for my birthday, and I started making Dad special number cards. I made cards for the four times he was gone two, for the two times he was gone three, for the seven times he was gone eight, and the two times he was gone ten. And now, I make him another number card for the third time he’s been gone ten. I’ve kept this secret since Mom went away, and since Dad has been gone one hundred now and since that is the biggest number I know, I will give my something useful to him. Maybe that will keep him here for one hundred instead.

Once I finish Dad’s last card, my stomach reminds me that it’s empty. I put the cards in my secret box and bring it with me to the kitchen, where my chair already waits for me.

I look through all the cupboards, even getting on my tippiest toes to see the back of the top shelf, but nothing looks like food. At least, nothing but the little brownies. Mom once told me never to touch those, so I decide to try the fridge again.

Even though it smells rotten in there, I peek in every container looking for something good for food.

The stink follows my hands out of the fridge as I pull out an old McDonald’s bag. There are ten little fries and half a cheeseburger from the day before Dad left. Even though the food tastes a little like the stink of the fridge and it’s warm even though fridges are cold, it makes my stomach feel better. I save a little piece of meat for Tillop because it’s the same color as him and I think he would like that.

I’m still tired because I slept on the couch and the floor, so I go to my room and climb in bed for a nap. I will wake up when Dad comes home.

Dad doesn’t come home, though. Not when I wake up. Not when I let Tillop back in and feed him the mud meat. Not when I check Dad’s empty bedroom to make sure he isn’t just playing hide-and-go-seek with me. Not even when I grab my marker and put eleven by ten by the door.

Dad doesn’t come home for twelve, thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen, either. Even though I tried my hardest to be a good boy, I had to break some rules as I added more and more. Tillop and I got thirsty and the sinks were all broken, so we had to drink from one toilet and fill the other because it was broken and would not flush anymore. We were hungry and there really wasn’t any food left, so we both ate his metally kibble until there was no more of that, either, so we had to get into Dad’s brownies.

My head got fuzzy after the brownies. Lije was broken after the brownies.

Even my cotton candy brain remembered to add one each day and check for Dad. But there was no Dad, not even after the cotton candy was gone.

Tillop stopped coming back after five with no food. Or maybe I stopped getting the door for him—I was not working the way I should after Dad’s brownies. I ate them all and there was nothing left but my stomach wouldn’t believe me. It screamed and cried for more until it was biting me, and I was screaming and crying, too. But it is very hard to cry when you don’t have any water in you, and very hard to have water in you when the drinking toilet is empty and the sinks are broken.

I added crossy thirty yesterday. Dad has been gone for six whole crossies. I finally remember that I haven’t seen Tillop in seven, and since I might find food or water outside anyway, I crack the door a Lije-size open and step outside.

Home is in an outside hall, with lots of taller houses all the way down on both sides. I see no water, but there is a little grass by the green door to a stranger’s house. I pull up fifteen pieces and eat them as I look for Tillop.

I walk a long way from home. A much longer way than I ever have. At least thirty other homes and three streets, which Mom once told me never to walk on, but I had to find my friend.

As I walk back home with a grumbling Tillop in my arms, I lose track of how many times I count to one hundred. He scratches and bites me, but I can’t let him go.

When I finally open the door a Tillop-and-Lije-size open, there’s a nasty smell inside. It’s not the same nasty as the fridge; my nose knows that nasty now. This one makes my throat hate the air and want to send it right back out.

I hold my breath as I drop Tillop inside and grab my marker. When I look at the pink wall by the door, the marker clacks on the ground, leaving a black dot where it landed cause I had the cap off.

Where’s my thirty? I need to add thirty-one, but one to thirty are gone. I would only be putting one, and that’s wrong.

I’m tapping my head to see if the cotton candy’s back when I hear a scream from behind me. Since it isn’t a Tillop scream, it makes me scream.

“How did you get in here?” asks a stranger.

I turn around, and I remember the round lady with the orange hair. She is the Ground God; she’s in charge of home cause Mom and Dad can’t be in charge. She is called Em, and Dad says we hate her.

“Oh!” she cries when she looks at me. “Oh, honey… Elijah, is that you, son?”

I shake my head and almost fall down. “Lije. It’s me, Lije. And Tillop, the mud cat.”

Her eyes get all shiny the way they do when you’re sad. Maybe she knows we hate her.

“Is…is your dad here, uh, Lije?”

I point to the door wall and shake my head again. “He hasn’t been here in thirty. Or thirty-one.”

She drops a drippy paintbrush and shakes the house as she walks to me. Maybe she’s angry like Dad.

“Minutes, dear?”

My face scrunches. “I don’t know minute. I know numbers.”

She’s quiet for ten before she says, “Why did you come back from Denver?”

“I don’t know Denver, either. Less that’s where Tillop was hiding. I came back from there cause I found him, and we live here.”

She looks scared, and I’m about to tell her to count when she grabs me. I don’t know whether it’s a good grab or a bad grab, so I scream. She drops me and her eyes get big.

“I’m sorry, son, did I hurt you?”

I shake my head twice.

She sucks up a lot of the stinky air. “Okay. We need to leave, Lije.”

“Are we gonna go to Dad? He will be back. He said five to ten.”

Now she shakes her head and her big lips frown. “No, son. We’re not going to your dad.”

Em helps me put my things in boxes, then Tillop and I get to stay with her. At Em’s house, some Nice People visit me a lot and take some of my things like the cards I made for Dad. I know taking isn’t nice, but they give me a notebook and a pencil, so I forgive them.

After twenty with Em, the Nice People tell me Tillop and I are going to a new family. I don’t know family, but the Nice People tell me it’s the people who take care of you.

At new home, I don’t have a wall to count on anymore. But I have my notebook and pencil, and Tillop, and nineteen clothes in my new closet, and four new shoes, and five toys, and one new bed with one new Spiderman pillow.

I like my things, but family is even better. There’s new Dad, who always lets me call him Dad. He likes drawing with me and we throw a ball outside. I’m allowed to go outside now, and I like it very much.

There’s also new Mom, and I can call her Mom, too. She pets Tillop with me and she does my number cards with me as much as I want. She’s called a Math Teacher, and she loves numbers, just like me.

I miss other Mom and Dad sometimes, but new Mom and Dad always let me cry and tell me to talk about them as much as I want. And even when new Mom and Dad are sleeping and can’t hear me talk, Tillop listens to me instead.

And new Mom and Dad are here for always. I didn’t know always, but new Dad told me it means I don’t count when they’re gone because they won’t stay gone. I like always even more than real numbers. 

December 29, 2020 04:45

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