For just a moment they watched their son run down the steps of the porch outside.
Exuberantly he ran down the steps of the porch stuffed ‘Don’ monster flying behind then forward with the fling of tight-clutched hand that never let go.Then Ben turned to look at his wife while she plucked her mask off the wall. He reached for his own hung beside it and they both paused just inside the door for that short conversation before their voices would be muffled.
“Do you think that you’ll be able to stay up till I break for lunch?” Donna smiled sympathetically. She didn’t think that she would ever not feel bad that Ben’s shifts had him at home during the day. Especially now that Martin was resisting naps with a vengeance. But yet she still called every day on her lunch break and right before she headed home.
“Don’t worry” he smiled with a nod toward the door, porch and yard beyond. “Our boy’s noisy enough to keep a whole horde of insomniacs awake.”
“I think you mean narcoleptics” she laughed sure he’d mixed them up on purpose because he knew she found his sense of humor just as sexy as any other part of him. Laugh planted itself against his lips where she tastes his morning coffee over the faint remains of toothpaste’s earlier mint, sharp and sweet under the fresh bitterness of coffee.
“Those too” he smirked.“You’re gonna make me late” after a quick glance at the clock over her shoulder drew a sigh from her lips. She shook her head while she stepped closer to kiss him goodbye for the day. “One of us has to get a raise and then we could afford daycare or a real babysitter. Then you could switch to days and we might be home at the same time more than an hour or two at a time.” Her tone was as wistful as her smile. “Maybe when Martin starts school next year you could switch shifts” she suggested.
Though it was a closely related subject to his worries it wasn’t the suggestion to switch shifts that made him frown. “I’ve been thinking about that, Martin starting school. Maybe we should home school him?” Immediately he shook his head and smiled “just a thought. We can talk about later. You’re gonna be late for work” he pointed out while she blinked and frowned.
She almost jumped to look at the time again and agreed with a muttered “crap I’ll miss the bus if I don’t run!” Hand slapped mask over her face almost before she was done giving him another quick kiss.
Ben followed her out the door as he put his own on. He stopped at the porch and adjusted his mask then leaned on the railing. He watched Donna hurry across the yard to give Martin an ill-received hug. Her mask prevented the kiss that usually went with the hugs.
“Mommy! You’re smooshing Don!” Martin complained as his mother lifted and hugged him.
“Sorry” her voice echoed behind the mask covering her mouth and nose as she set him down again. “I gotta go to work, be good. I love you” she said.
Without the impediment of a mask of his own he still already at his young age understood that he shouldn’t push anyone’s mask aside even for hugs and kisses. Especially not while outside. Instead he planted a childish kiss on the side of hers instead of the farthest cheek where it had been aimed. Then she stood and hurried to disappear around the corner to reach the bus stop at the end of another street entirely before the bus would come and go.
“Bye Mommy have fun at work!” he called after her holding Don up over his head to flop around in a way. Though the instant she was out of sight he went right back to the very same game of make pretend that she had interrupted.
His father watched from the porch on whose rail he leaned. Martin jumped as high as he could while flinging the stuffed toy upward. Over and over again yet no matter how hard he tried the childish leaps fell short. He just couldn’t jump high enough. He wanted to imagine that they could fly just like that big ugly bird that had been outside his window this morning. It had stared a large unblinking eye at him. That eye only blinked when he had crawled out of bed to drag Don over to the window to see. When he had put the stuffed animal up to the window more smooshed against the glass than his mother’s hug it blinked and flew up into the sky.
Now he wanted to fly just like that but couldn’t keep his feet off the ground. He decided that jumping was almost as stupid as his hat. He tried to run. He tried to spin. He raced from one side of the yard to the other. Only now and again he forgot how stupid jumping was and hopped and leapt. The stuffed monster flung this way and that and dragged flopping behind.
Classic rock filtered from kitchen radio to porch and into Ben’s ear as he smiled, shook his head to watch his son’s antics. Both they and the sound of Boston’s ‘More Than a Feeling’ reminded him of his own youth. He remembered being a kid outside allergies or no. He used to run around though he used to have more friends. They used to imagine things to play at and there had always been a radio somewhere whose songs had colored the soundtrack of his childhood. Later on those same songs and others carried the beat right into his teenage years. That was when people had started to show the strain of all the accumulated allergies and collective cancers and moved every mask-free thing indoors. Ben smiled to think that his son wouldn’t have to suffer that inconvenience.
Then he frowned over his shoulder with a glance back toward the door. The song had faded out its end and the DJ had begun chattering but a few half-ignored words had chilled Ben’s attention. He turned and opened the door as his frown deepened to hear a few more sentences. Martin had gone from running back and forth to spinning with eyes shut tightly but Ben was no longer watching and didn’t notice.
Inside he stopped near the radio. Mask moved down from over his mouth as he hunched over the news of a new D-baby case. One that centered around an arrest and a name that sent a chill down his spine.
For a moment he almost called Donna but only ended up with phone unused and squeezed in tight-clenched hand. It went back into his pocket as he flicked the radio off. For many longer moments he just wanted to pretend he hadn’t heard. His mind groped for reasons to tell himself that they wouldn’t get dragged into any of it. He looked out the window needing to see Martin in all his happy play and only found a bad view of the Martin-less side of the yard. Back out the door to the porch he felt a quick chill to see the entire yard held that same horrible view.
“Martin!” he called and again shouted as legs carried him off the porch with no thought even for the mask useless around his neck. They took him into a run that lead around to the other side of the house where he shouted again.
“MARTIN!” he hollered in a voice equal parts anger and fear. Hands fumbled one for mask as a wheeze entered the equation while the other brought phone in front of his face. Feet still carried him in a circle around the house that ended in a skidding sudden stop. Hand dropped to his side as he scolded “Martin Rollinsmith! Where were you?!”
“We were just flying Daddy” Martin said as he swung the stuffed monster upward in several arm-waving arcs. The large smile on his face did little to sooth his father’s ire.
“You can’t leave the yard, you know better than that!”
“We didn’t we were just up”
“Come on inside now and where’s your hat? Didn’t I just tell you to keep it on?”
“We didn’t. I don’t know” Martin lifted a hand to feel out the fact that he was in fact hatless. “It just fell off” he guessed and asked “can’t we play outside just a little bit longer?” as his father herded him back into the house.
“No. It’s lunchtime and you need a bath. What did you get into?” Ben shook his head as he picked a feather out of the back of Martin’s t-shirt. He didn’t want to know what he might have fallen in or had fallen on him, or what his mother would say if he got lice from playing with feathers.
The missing hat fell from the corner eave above the porch just behind their backs as they stepped through the door and back inside.