It was December first of 1992 when he died, just a few days before Christmas. We were wracked with a huge snowstorm that year, this little town, biggest we’d ever had they said at the time. Snow was piled on the streets; plows had enough to make entire mountains of snow. A light drizzle afterward to make things slick is all it takes for a car to lose its traction and go sliding into someone. Into a teenager walking over to his friend’s house to go sledding, for instance. Knocks them out of this world, yellow ski jacket and Detroit Lions knit cap and all, yes sir, that’s about all it takes.
I guess as deaths go it might have been more hurtful than most just ‘cause of the time of year. I think just because he was my only child was enough reason for all of the gloom. I was at sea when he was born, Cold War was still very powerful and Watergate had eroded our trust in government just a few years before. I read the message when we got a transmission from shore; Margaret said he was a beauty. He was like a blessing for us, the doctor said we’d never have kids, but he was wrong that time. He was dead right when he said he was gone for good.
There had been a newspaper headline that popped into my head just after he was gone; I remembered it at the time. Funny what you remember when bad things happen, things that have no business even being in your head when you should be grieving. All manner of strange memories, and it’s all jumbled with the routine and mundane, like the groceries you know you need from the market, and the stop at the butcher for that special cut he makes for you while he puts his thumb on the scale. I never could understand why my mind couldn’t simply focus on the loss, to try not to lose anything of what he had been.
The headline said God is Dead, and right then I believed them. Some may say that isn’t right, some may say that God works in mysterious ways and that you have to believe that God needed him in heaven more than we needed him here. I say that any God that allows little boys to die, isn’t much of a God. As Gods go, if there was one, he should have been thrown out on his all-powerful ass a long time ago. Maybe God was all done too, just like my Alexander.
He was fifteen that year, 1992, and he was well on his way to discovering life and the wonderful things that can happen to a body. He wanted to play second base, be like the guys that flew those spaceships on Star Trek, and be ruler of the free world if he got the time. He flipped his lid when he saw the Space Shuttle; his eyes would light up, and after he brushed that too long blond hair out of the way, you could see those green eyes sparkling like small gemstones, and he’d talk about aliens and death rays till your ears bled. He was special, my boy. Named him Alexander after his grandfather, we did, just before he passed, but we called him Lex for short.
Many times, later on, I wondered if that had been bad luck, naming for a man who was on his deathbed. I wonder a lot of stupid things, wonder if there was any way Margaret or I could have made a difference, to stop what had happened. If I’d have just said no to his going out, if I’d have been on the ball and told him that it was too slick and he might get hurt. But most of all, I think about the death rays and aliens, so that maybe somewhere Lex can hear me and know that his Pop remembers him. Always.
My wife and I divorced less than a year after Lex died; things just weren’t the same anymore between us. We squabbled and fought over petty things, things we wouldn’t have thought of twice before. I admit I was responsible sometimes, these things are never one-sided. Eventually we cried and mourned for so many lost things, I think we didn’t know what to do with each other anymore without Lex around to take to practice, to check his homework, or listen to stories about aliens and death rays. Margaret wanted to go back to school, and I took a job at the Post Office. It was easier for me to get in due to my prior military service, and I didn’t have to think too much while I was there, just walking around bringing mail to people.
My route kept me clear of schools, seeing them hurt sometimes. I would often wonder if Lex could have made it to the moon and back, or if he might have been a second baseman. Maybe he’d have been a submariner like his old man. Heh. Old is how I feel these days. Winter is coming on and my little Jeep rocks on its springs as the wind hits it. I climb out and shoulder my bag as I begin my first block of the afternoon.
"Rollie! Got my check in there today?" Mrs. Bester calls out from her stoop as she makes her way down to meet me at the mailbox. She knows damn well her check comes the first and fifteenth of the month. Why would she think I had it on the tenth?
"No, Ginnie. A few more days and it’ll be here," I reply, instead of voicing my sarcastic thoughts.
"I wish it would hurry, my arthritis is paining me something fierce!" she grumbled.
"Well, you probably shouldn’t be out in the cold wind either, you know," I remarked, which drew a sour sniff from her. She was a good enough sort, but with no one else there to see to her, she tended to make what she needed a priority, and by default, she meant it to be everyone else’s priority too.
"Rollie, when you get old you’ll understand, these government people…" her words were lost to the wind, and she huddled in her housecoat and trundled back into her house, slamming the faded door. I chuckled and shook my head as I continued down the street. I delivered to the Andersens, the Coulsons, the O’Donnells, and the Meads. I stopped at the Pharmacy on the end of the block and delivered the mail to Frank, an aging pharmacist with failing eyesight and more grandkids than should be humanly possible. He was a passable chess player though, so we tended to hang about together one night a week and play a game after closing.
"Looks like we’ll have to postpone that game tonight, Rollie." he remarked as I handed him his bundle of correspondence.
"Yeah, the heating company is supposed to come out to fill the tank tonight, and I have an appointment. Tomorrow’s better if it works for you," I replied, resettling my bag on my shoulder.
"All right, I’ll make sure Eleanor hasn’t scheduled me for anything else. You’d think after forty years she could give me some notice on upcoming events she’s committed me to," he grumped.
"After forty years you’d think you’d know better than to say such things!" I laughed.
And so the day went, as they did each day for the past ten years since Lex died. I think of him a little each day, and I miss him a little each day. And, I guess, I get a little closer to him each day, in a morbid way.
The predicted storm had firmly installed itself before I could finish my route that day. Old Man Winter was blustering with cold breath and dropping snow by the bucketful. My old Jeep trundled through the drifts that were already forming, white swirls obscuring the view, and I continued on my rounds, albeit slower as the wind slowly turned the whole town into a whiteout situation. Almost got stuck a couple of times, but the Jeep always seemed to pull through. I made my last delivery and felt relieved to be heading back to the garage; wouldn’t be too much longer before you couldn’t drive around town.
I was the last to reach the Post Office that evening. Paul, the head mechanic, was waiting for me.
"Good thing I put those snow tires on, eh, Rollie?" he chuckled, cigarette dangling from his mouth. His sons, Michael and Simon, were away at school in California on scholarships. I don’t know where their brains came from, Paul wasn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, and how smart could the woman be that married him? I guess I have to take that back, mechanically he was sound but morally he was reprehensible.
"Yes, Paul, very glad you did. It’s getting deep out there and I have to stop at the store on the way home tonight," I replied as I stomped the snow off my boots and kept my opinion of him to myself.
"There will be accidents tonight! Bet you some morons like the Rathsteins didn’t get their snows on yet, old bastard! They didn’t prepare, they’ll be people-cicles come morning!" He laughed uproariously at his own joke. I smiled wanly and headed back towards the door. The Rathsteins were a favorite target of Paul’s, since they were Jewish. Tonight his diatribe was mild, thankfully, and mercifully short. I made my way out to the parking lot to unearth my Land Rover Discovery, or at least make it possible to see from the windows.
I started the vehicle, switching on the fan to warm it while I worked, and then set to clearing it off, using efficient practiced strokes to remove the powder. At least I had a chance here. In the street, the plow always seemed to come by after you had cleared your car, and buried the bastard lickety-split. Lex used to think that was funny, until once I told him if it was so damn funny he could go shovel it out again. My feet grew colder, and some snow spilled into the inside of my boot. Damn! I hate that more than just about anything to do with winter. I swear, I grumbled to myself, if you took the time to tuck your pants into your boots and get gloves and properly outfitted, it was no use. Probably just have to take it all off again, on account it took so long to put on, you have to pee now. So you don’t take the time and you get snow in your boots. You just can’t win.
A lone figure trudged through the snow outside the hurricane fence, almost invisible in the snow. Damn fool, should be inside instead of fooling about in the snow like that, it’s dangerous. Who would be out on a night like this anyway? Not me, unless it was an emergency, that’s for sure! I climbed into my vehicle, thinking I would never have sent Lex out in this mess when it occurred to me that the person probably hadn’t wanted to go out in this mess either. I sighed as the heat seeped into my skin and decided I should offer to help them, but as I turned on the windshield wipers, the figure was lost to view. Damn! They might have turned the corner on State Street, mayhap even turned into a house. Or, maybe some kid going to a friend’s house for the night; maybe planning to go sledding in the morning.
I started the vehicle and was thankful for the four wheel drive that was always present and backed out of my designated parking slot. I headed for the gate slowly, snow swirling about and making the end of the parking lot difficult to see, and the headlamps seemed to make things worse as they reflected off the swirling snow. The accumulation could be heard crunching under the big tires, surefooted in their tread.
I edged forward and slowly made my way to the gate, the arc lamps twenty feet in the air my only beacons in this white nightmare. I edged ever closer, and out of nowhere the figure stood, dead in front of my bumper and as I hit the brake I knew there was not enough time, that the incline that led down to the street would not let me stop as I slid on the soft white powder. The head turned, the eyes widened in shock and for a brief moment I saw bright green eyes set in a pale face, and then the vehicle lurched to a stop.
The figure stood in front of the vehicle, breath pluming out of his mouth and hands on the hood, almost like Superman if he was trying to not get run over. For a moment I just sat there, and he looked at me through the glass, each hardly daring to believe our good fortune. I waved him towards me, my hand shaking a bit, and he moved towards the driver’s side door, cautiously choosing his footing on the rapidly slickening surface. I powered the window down as he drew even with the door.
"You ok? That was too damn close!" I exclaimed, "What are you doing out in this mess?" I asked.
"Um, just passing through, looking for work," he mumbled before coughing and turning to spit a large wad of phlegm.
"You’ll not find much work, or travel far in this weather," I commented, eyeing the young face, the soft features and large green eyes. His cheeks were reddened by the wind and his nose was running and red from the cold.
He shrugged, a defeated sag to his shoulders. "I’ll hafta find work somewhere; maybe shoveling tomorrow," he, stated before turning from me.
"Wait! Where will you go?" I asked, not sure why, but feeling a tugging at the back of my memory. Some call it conscience, but I think it’s Lex, reminding me of what’s right. I often think that way, that the really good things I think to do must be powered by Lex, wherever he is. The kid shrugged and I sighed.
"I’ll trade you a hot meal and a soft bed for some snow shoveling tomorrow, how’s that sound?" I asked. He bit his lower lip as he looked at me anxiously, almost suspiciously. Finally, after another vicious wind kicked up, he nodded and walked to the passenger side front door. I powered up my window as he climbed in, closed the door and removed his gloves before placing his bare hands in front of the heater vent.
"Seatbelt, please," I said, as I put the Rover back into first and once more nosed slowly towards the street. The wipers beat a steady rhythm as I drove slowly through the deserted streets, snow accumulating at a ridiculous pace. This was easily the worst snowstorm the region had ever seen, at least as bad as the one that had claimed Lex.. I headed down to the intersection and turned right. This road ran between open fields on either side, and the wind whistled and moaned as it swept over the road, unimpeded, and rocked the Rover on its springs. I decided to forgo the stop at the store, they were probably closed anyway.
After almost forty minutes to make what was normally a fifteen-minute trip, I pulled in front of my home, a small Tudor style dwelling with attached garage. I pressed the button for the garage door opener and slowly glided into the garage. Exiting, the vehicle, I headed for the door that led into my kitchen, pausing to hit the button that would close the garage door and pulled my boots off.
"You can leave your boots here…" I trailed off as I saw he was wearing old sneakers, broken in the front and laden with snow. He sat down silently and removed the tattered shoes, no more than a bit of plastic and sole at this point, and placed them next to mine. We entered the house, moving to the closet in the hallway where I hung my coat, hat, and scarf. He too hung his coat, worn in many places and dingy beyond words. The scarf was no more than a rag, tossed aside by its original owner, surely. This boy had obviously been living rough, and I think I may have actually saved his life since he most likely had nowhere to go tonight. The bigger towns, they have homeless shelters, places runaways can heal for a few days and whatnot, but not here.
"You’ll want to clean up, but first let’s have a look at those feet, they could be frostbitten," I stated. He nodded silently again and I sat in the kitchen while he pulled off his socks.
"I wear tube socks, bunched up at the toes since my shoes aren’t the best," he said quietly. Indeed, he seemed to be right. His grubby feet showed none of the telltale signs of white, almost dead looking skin or blistering, instead a nice rosy red glow from just being cold was on them.
"Ok, well, you’ll want to clean up as I said, feet look ok," I commented.
I headed for the bedroom to grab some sweats and nearly walked into him standing in the hallway. His green eyes sparkled like emerald pools, almost big enough to swim in. He regarded me for a minute, a ragged boy if there ever was one, hooded sweatshirt clinging tightly to the edges of his face as the drawstring was snuggled tight at the bottom of his chin.
"Ah, here are some clothes for you to put on after your shower," I said. He nodded mutely and followed me to the bathroom.
"This cupboard has towels and washcloths, and there is a new toothbrush in the medicine cabinet. We can eat dinner when you’re done," I said briskly, "Put your dirty clothes down the laundry chute, and we’ll get them cleaned up."
I left him in the bathroom, closing the door and heading to the spare bedroom. When I bought this house, my sensible self argued for the extra bedroom in case I had visitors, but I had none for many years, and now this room would at last have an occupant. This might sound crazy, but I always thought if Lex had lived, maybe this would have been his room if he came home from college for the holidays or something like that.
Of course that was nonsense, if Lex were still alive, Margaret and I wouldn’t have come apart at the seams, and this house would not be mine.
I pulled clean sheets from the linen closet and spread them over the bed, tucking them in firmly, then placing a light blanket and then a down comforter over the top. Lastly, I added two fresh pillowcases to the never used pillows at the head of the bed. Satisfied, I headed for the kitchen and took out the chicken I had left to marinate in the fridge. Mixed vegetables were selected from the cans of vegetables at hand and a bag of egg noodles set aside for starch. After placing the chicken in the oven, I began to cook the veggies and noodles and found myself humming quietly while the pots gurgled. I felt a presence in the kitchen and turned to find my guest.
Too long blond hair, and large green eyes sparkling like small gemstones.
"Lex?" I breathed.
"What?" he asked. I reached slowly towards him before the absurdity swept over me and I pulled my hand to my cheek.
"Ah, have a seat, and we’ll double check those feet, ok?" How could I have thought he was Lex? The very idea was fantastic, too fantastic to even lend a moment’s credence to.
He sat uncertainly in one of the chairs from the old dinette set I keep in the kitchen. It was a yard sale special, one of those fifties tube metal and plastic seat jobbers that any older party might have. I sat across from him and beckoned for him to give me his foot, which he did again, hesitantly. I was struck again by the similarity, and had to stave it off as I had an unbidden image of Lex, ankle swollen and sweat standing on his brow as I checked the swelling in the ankle, deciding we should go see the doc to be sure it wasn’t more than a sprain. Lex kept off of skateboards after that.
"Mister? You ok?" This nervous voice reached my ears, pulling me from the past.
"Yes, yes, sorry about that. I was gathering wool," I responded before bending down to take a look at the foot in my hand. The nails were clean, though in need of a trim, and I have a feeling the nails had special attention paid them while cleaning. The toes were red, but other than that the initial assessment stood up just fine. I released his foot and checked the other just to be sure.
"Ok, well, they seem fine. In the back bedroom there are some wool socks in the upper left hand drawer, and on top of the dresser is a pair of nail clippers," I said while standing and twisting my back to ease the kinks in it. He stood and headed back in the house and I turned back to the food, trying to clear my head of his resemblance to Lex, but it was hard. It was uncanny in some ways, but of course he was not Lex, not really that close at all. It was the light, the hair and eye color. Lex had been taller, smiled often, and laughed in a rich sound to make rooms light.
The chicken was just about done and I poured the pasta into the colander to drain off the water, and then poured the pasta into a bowl, adding a half stick of margarine. Margaret had always chided me when I did that, but it was one of my few vices, and besides she wasn’t here to bitch at me now, was she? I rinsed the colander and poured the vegetables in as well, shaking the colander to remove the excess water.
After pouring the vegetables in a bowl and setting them out on the counter I stirred the melting margarine into the noodles. I heard the whisper of stockinged feet enter the room, that small swishing sound audible on the linoleum.
"That drawer there has silverware, would you please set the table for us?" I asked without looking.
"Sure," he replied and opened the drawer while I finished stirring the pasta. He stood outside the kitchen for a moment, then spotted the dining room, and struck off in that direction. I picked up some hot pads and removed the chicken from the oven, placing it on the stove.
"Smells good," he said on his return as he grasped napkins from the small dinette.
"Well, frankly, it smells good to me too, but I am starved!" I said exuberantly. I felt bad for saying that, who knows when he’d eaten last? He seemed to not notice, or maybe he wasn’t used to having anyone pay attention to what he thought. Glancing at the chicken, I realized it was not quite done, and replaced it in the oven. I then placed lids over the pasta and vegetables as my visitor re-entered the room.
"Chicken needs a few more minutes, ah, you want to see where you’ll sleep? Then you can wander in there whenever you feel like it," I asked by way of conversation.
"Yeah, we can get it over with if you want," he said huskily, large tears standing out in his eyes, "Mister, could I just please work this off? I really don’t want to …" he trailed off, "I was just really cold, if you could please not hurt me," he said while holding his hands out plaintively.
"Hurt you?" I questioned, stopped dead in my tracks mentally and physically. "No one is going to hurt you, I was just going to show you where your room is."
"You … you mean you’re not going to…sleep with me?" he asked, relief and hope held in that voice. So soft it was painful to hear.
"Sleep with you? You look a little old to have someone sleep with you," I commented before the full meaning of his words hit me, "Oh my god, you thought I was bringing you here for sex?" I whispered. He nodded slowly, large drops standing in his eyes, making the green shimmer. My jaw snapped shut and I felt outraged that someone could judge me like that, and then doubly outraged at the fact that this must have happened before in order for him to have thought that was the arrangement.
"Sit down," I commanded as I fell into a chair. He sat hesitantly across from me, arms clenched about his chest. "I am not going to sleep with you, I merely felt as though you shouldn’t be out of doors on a night like tonight. We have an arrangement, a soft bed and a hot meal in exchange for some shoveling, yes?" I raised my eyebrows at him. He nodded at me slightly, almost unbelieving.
"Instead of your room, how about I show you where the laundry is? We should start your clothes," I stated as I stood quickly and trusted him to follow me. We went down the hall to the front of the house and to the basement door, down the flight to the concrete floor and to the corner where his ragged clothes sat in a forlorn heap under the bottom of the laundry chute.
"Do you know how to wash clothes in the machine?" I asked.
"Yes, I know all about it," he replied in his eerily hollow voice.
"Detergent is over there, go ahead and get your stuff going in there then," I replied as I watched him, so like Lex in his lithe movements, as he picked up the rags and placed them in the washer, a two year old Whirlpool, and poured a capful of detergent on top before closing the lid and starting the machine. Before he turned back to me I headed up the stairs to take the chicken out, surely it was done now.
I set the chicken back on the stove and used a fork to place the portions on a platter, hearing the sounds of stockinged feet whisper behind me again. "Would you please take two plates out of that cupboard and place them on the table as well?" I asked, and he murmured assent as he removed the plates and moved to place them on the table. I grabbed the veggies and the pasta and carried one in each hand out to the table. He followed me back into the kitchen where I asked him to bring the chicken into the dining room, and asked what he wanted to drink, and then I set the coffee pot to brewing.
Finally seated at the table, and hearing his stomach gurgle loudly, we dug in. The poor boy must not have eaten in days; Lex ate a lot as a teen, but never like this. Although obviously hungry, he still ate with some manners and didn’t simply shovel the food in, which was nice.
"So," I began, full from dinner and a hot cup of coffee in front of me. We had adjourned to the living room to relax. "What’s your name? Or shall I call you mystery boy?"
"Mystery boy has a nice ring to it," he said softly from the overstuffed chair across from me.
"Well, I think I’d rather work with something a little more personal, bub," I stated with a smirk. He smiled back, tentatively and regarded me.
"Tyler," he offered, "my name is Tyler Marshall." He bit his lower lip, almost as if he should not have spoken, and then his eyes met mine again.
"I’m Rollie," I said, shaking his hand.
I must be losing my mind, I’d swear Lex was sitting across from me, shaking my hand and smiling that sly little grin that meant he was either up to something or was formulating a real whopper in that twisted little mind of his and, god help me, my heart leapt at the sight of it.
The question startled me; it was no longer Lex in front of me, just this scraggly boy with the too long blond hair that had framed another face, and green eyes that were as like chips of emeralds. Lex’s eyes, but the boy wasn’t Lex.
"Lex?" I said, shifting a bit in my chair.
"Yeah, that’s the second time you called me that tonight," he said.
"Oh, I see, well," I hesitated. Had I just spoken? "Lex was my son. He died many years ago. Ten as a matter of fact. Ten years ago today," I said, hollow sounding even to myself.
"I’m sorry," he hesitated," I guess you must miss him a lot, huh?" he asked, probably making conversation. I smiled softly.
"I miss him a little every day," I replied.
"What was he like?" came a gentle voice from this poor, ragged kid in front of me.
"Lex? Well, he was a good boy, athletic. He had a great sense of humor and a big heart," I commented, vision suddenly a bit blurred, "Christmas was always his favorite time of year, I never really understood why. ‘It’s a season of giving, Dad’, he always used to say to me. He made all kinds of gifts in December; he made a birdhouse one time. One year he took a model of a ’67 VW Bus and wired it to have headlights and glowing taillights.
"He was always about giving in December. It hit him like some strange syndrome where you feel like you have to give. He did it almost like he wasn’t going to have that many Christmases, almost like he knew." I trailed off, "He said he wished it could be December forever."
"I’m sorry I asked," he said softly.
"It’s ok, Tyler. Those are good memories, the Lex that Margaret and I loved," I replied.
"Is she your wife?" he asked.
"She was, but we went our separate ways a long time ago. We just couldn’t pull it off without Lex anymore. He was our glue, and we never knew it," I finished in a near whisper.
"So, ah, where are you from?" I asked, not really expecting an answer, or at least not an honest one.
"Camden Falls," he replied.
"Where is that?" I asked.
"It’s near Fiore, outside of Renssealaer," he replied easily. He seemed to have settled into his chair, seeming as though he belonged there.
"Rensselaer? Why that’s about four states away! How long you been on the road?"
"A month, walking mostly, stopping in small hick towns so I could get work," he replied easily, his previous unease with me forgotten, in fact it almost seemed as though I had passed some unknown test and been allowed into his confidence.
"Why are you on the road, son?" I asked, settling my forearms on the armrests, coffee cup on the end table and my gaze fixed on him.
"My family doesn’t want me," he replied as if discussing the weather.
"How is that?" I ask.
"Because," he paused, inhaling and then seeming to steel himself from within, "I’m gay."
Now, I’m not stupid. I know he didn’t mean happy, and I wasn’t going to make a joke about it and say just that thing. What do you say to a kid that tells you that? So I did the sensible thing, and took a swig of my coffee.
"How do you know? You’re what, fourteen?" I asked.
"Fifteen, and I know," he said.
"But how? Did you just wake up one day and crave the boy next door?" I asked, a bit frustrated. Even that being the case, how could a family just not want their child? He had to be pulling my leg in there somewhere, but he looked so sincere that I’ll be damned if I could say for sure.
"How did you know you were straight?" he countered, more than a trace of nerves in his voice. Damn! The boy just dropped the bomb here that got him tossed out of his house, now why did he do that? I think if I had done that, not that it was smart to do, but I think I’d have been making brown spots in my trousers about now.
I sighed, "Well, I won’t judge you," I said.
"I knew you wouldn’t," he said hesitantly as he drew his knees up to his chest.
"Oh, you did? What makes you say that?" I asked as I reclined into my chair. He squirmed a bit before replying.
"This is going to sound stupid," he said as he looked at the floor and his cheeks burned, but he started his story.
"I was in Beacon tonight about four o’clock when this guy stopped and gave me a ride. He had his own wife and son in the front of his pickup, but he told me I could ride in the back for a spell, so I hopped in. There was this other guy in the back, lying down to stay out of the wind. He had one of those yellow jackets, the puffy ones that swish when you move in them.
"He was real nice, talked to me for a while. He said he was giving his daddy a Christmas gift, only he couldn’t do it in person on account of he was running out of time. I think he said something about expecting me sooner, but that was crazy talk so’s I must not have heard him right."
I sat stock still as he recited his tale thus far, thinking of another boy who long ago wore a yellow ski jacket. I used to tease him and say he looked like a great big bumble bee with it on. He just laughed at me, and said it was warm.
"So he starts telling me how he is going to surprise his daddy ‘cause he hasn’t seen him in a long time, and said he couldn’t find his way back home anymore. I asked him how that was, how you forgot where home was. He told me that home isn’t a building or a place, he says to me it’s a feeling and he can’t find it any place anymore. So I asked him how he was gonna give his daddy a gift if he couldn’t find home anymore, and he said someone was going to help him.
"I must a heard things wrong again right then ‘cause I thought he said that I was supposed to help him, but that couldn’t have been right, plus the way the wind was whipping about in the back there was something fierce. He told me he knew I was running, and he knew what I was running from. I don’t know how he knew that, or why he said that. Maybe the cold had got to his head, I dunno how though, he had on this knitted hat with a lion or something on it on it, I think, only it was hard to tell ‘cause there was something kinda messing up the writing, like maybe grease or oil."
Or blood I thought. What are you, crazy? You think that was Lex? You’re losing your mind! Pretty soon you’ll need a shrink, someone to tell you how unhealthy it is to remember and love your son so vividly and then charge you sixty dollars an hour to boot!
"So then he tells me about this town, says I need to find his daddy, that he’d help me out. Mister Rollie, he got out same place I did but I swear he was gone in seconds flat an’ I couldn’t see where he went ‘cause the snow was flying. To be honest, I was kinda worried about this loco running around looking for his daddy in the snowstorm. He told me to go by the post office on Campbell Avenue to find him, so I asked directions at a convenience store and headed over there to see if I could find him.
"Instead I almost ran into you. I wasn’t going to get in the truck cause I was still looking for him, but, mister, he was gone and I never did see him in the whole walk I made over there."
I was breathing heavily, yellow ski jacket? Detroit knit cap, Lions part obscured by blood? I saw it myself, Margaret couldn’t go identify Lex. I had been in the coroner’s office looking down on his face, pale and at peace and yet somehow not at peace. I stood, shaking on my legs and wobbled into the kitchen and poured a cup of coffee and promptly sloshed it on myself. I dropped the cup, hissing in pain as the burning sensation covered my hand.
I stood leaning against the counter, sweat standing on my forehead, was I losing my mind? Mourning your child is one thing, but this was surely something worse? Good lord, after ten years, why couldn’t I move on? Why did the pain not get any less as time went by?
"Rollie, this is him! The guy from the truck!" came out from the living room. Now what? I headed back to the living room, and there above the cold fireplace was a picture of Lex, and Tyler’s hand pointing at it.
I carried Tyler to bed at ten thirty, he had passed out and I was finally coming to grips with what I had learned, what my mind fought, but my heart knew to be true. The house wasn’t a home, only because I wasn’t letting it be. Without my boy, to watch him grow and love and make his own life, I had lost that ability. I felt warmth in the house that hadn’t previously been there, a feeling as though some wrong had been nudged back in the right direction. I stood in the doorway looking down at Tyler, Tyler Marshall, and suddenly I knew what he was. He was a gift from Lex, someone who needed me as much as I needed him. He was Lex’s ultimate gift, showing me that my son was remembering me and loving me just like I did him each and every day.
Tyler’s too long blond hair lay gently shimmering in the moonlight shining through the window, the snow having stopped about an hour before. I knew beneath those lids there were green eyes that would sparkle in the light. I walked to the window to draw the drapes so the early sun didn’t wake Tyler and I saw a lone figure in the snow, a yellow ski jacket on and a Detroit Lions knit cap on his head. He smiled at me, and I knew he’d found his way home at last. I placed my fingers on the glass, drinking in Lex as he stood, smiling. He said ‘I love you, Dad’ and I heard it as if he were standing next to me, then he was smirking that grin like he was up to something and said ‘Now love him, love Tyler’.
"I love you too, Lex. And I will," I replied to the glass, through my tears, to Lex out in front of the house. He nodded, and then I saw him scoop snow and pack it into a snowball.
‘Goodnight, Dad. Merry Christmas’
Then he threw the snowball into the snow-laden branches of the tree in front of the house. The snow came down to obscure my view, torrents of white falling in front of my eyes, and when the snow finished falling from the branches he was gone. I looked at Tyler once more.
No, he’s not really gone. He’s home.