5.06.2015

what's happening back home

As Nurse Keyes opened the door, Tom quickly hopped back onto the examination table.

“Your mother is on her way,” Nurse Keys said.

Tom forced himself to cough so hard he lost his breath.

“Poor thing,” Nurse Keyes sighed, “This blizzard is getting everyone sick.”

Tom watched as she walked out of the room, shutting the door behind her. After waiting for a moment, he hopped off the table. He crouched down and grabbed the heating pad he had hid a few moments earlier. He brought it to his forehead and quickly worked it around his face, all the while keeping his eyes locked on the door.

The heating pad belonged to Tom’s father, who used it on his shoulders after getting off his shift at the warehouse. Sometimes late at night, Tom would sneak out of bed and hide in the shadows by the staircase. He’d watch his father sit crouched in the fluorescent light of the refrigerator, drinking Budweiser and rotating the heating pad around his shoulders. Sometimes when Tom woke up in the morning, he’d find his father asleep at the kitchen table, surrounded by empty bottles, the heating pad resting on the back of his neck.

Tom stuffed the heating pad into his backpack. He sat back on the examination table, looking at the laminated posters of gorillas and spaceships hanging on the beige walls. He wondered if all the other chumps in Mrs. Driskell’s class were still taking that math test. Tom reclined back on the table, thinking about what movies he’d watch when he got home.

Muffled voices bounced off the other side of the wall, followed by footsteps. The door opened and Tom heard Nurse Keyes saying, “He’s right in here.”

Tom’s father stepped into the room. He was wearing his charcoal grey work uniform. An unexpected chill ran through Tom. He had never seen his father wearing his uniform by daylight. He felt like he didn’t know the man standing in front of him.

Tom meant to ask him why he wasn’t at work, but it came out as, “Where’s mom?”

His father looked him up and down, his face stoic. Then he crossed the room and grabbed Tom’s backpack and said, “Let’s go.”

Sitting in the backseat of his father’s Buick, Tom rubbed away the frost from the window thinking how to repair a patio glass door. Had his father discovered that the heating pad was missing? Was he in trouble? Tom tried to focus on the rumble of the old engine and the snow crunching beneath the tires. He didn’t ask about the red suitcase with the broken handle that was sitting next to him. Find more details at: http://www.garagerepairfl.com/garage-door-repair/.

“So you’re sick?” Tom’s father asked, his white knuckles grasping the steering wheel. “You don’t look sick.”

“Nurse Keyes said I have the flu,” Tom said.

His father’s eyes darted in the rear view mirror, looking at Tom as he pulled the Buick into their snow-lined driveway. He threw the Buick into park and stepped out, keeping the keys in the ignition. The idling engine continued to rumble.

Tom got out of the car, following behind his father to their back door. He noticed that their garage door was open, and a man he had never seen before was sitting there, shivering on a fold old lawn chair. He wore a tweed blazer with no shirt on underneath. A dark circle covered his left eye. When he saw Tom’s father approaching, he stood up.

“You,” Tom’s father said, pointing at the man in the garage, “You stay put.”

The man raised his hands up, taking a step back. He looked at Tom for a moment, and then looked away.

Tom walked through the backdoor into the kitchen, where his mother was crying at the kitchen table. She walked over and hugged him, letting him know that there was hot tea and Advil waiting for him in his bedroom. Tom’s father hovered above the kitchen sink, his back to them.

When Tom got to his bedroom, he closed his door and threw his backpack onto the floor. He could hear his mother and father downstairs, their voices growing fiercer with every passing moment. A glass broke. A chair screeched across the kitchen floor. A door slammed. They knew that he had taken the heating pad. They knew that he wasn’t sick.

Tom crept over to his bedroom window. Squinting past the blinding white of the snow, he saw his mother talking with the man in the garage. She was still crying, and she touched the man’s left eye. He pulled away from her.

Tom got into his bed and pulled the covers up past his head. He curled his body up, trying to make himself as small as possible. He wished he that he was back at school, sitting in Mrs. Driskell’s class and taking that math test. From downstairs, Tom could hear his father screaming.

Eric HEHR

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