Friday, August 12, 2005

Looking for Something

Tony missed his brother so much.

Tony still remembered standing on the verandah, sniffling, as Mom gave Gary a last, tearful hug before he went away, smart as ever in his blue uniform. He had been five then, smaller than Rikki, their terrier. Mom had hugged him too, tightly, and tried hard to hide her tears. When he saw those tears he felt sad, but when Mom explained that it was alright, that Gary was only going to be away for awhile, and he would come back and bring them lots of presents, he accepted it as calmly as only a child can, gazing at his mother with innocent blue eyes.

Three years later, Gary was still gone. At night sometimes, after lights-out, Tony would imagine his brother on the big ships he'd said he would captain, sailing all over the world. He would imagine standing next to his brother as Gary ruffled his hair in the way he'd always liked, and told his men to set a course for Wonderland. Surely with a ship like that they'd be able to reach it, and there Tony would, in his mind, explore and relish the figures of his childhood, when Gary or his mother would read Alice to him as he drowsed and follwed the girl heroine on her adventures into that mystical place.

At breakfast sometimes Mom would get mail from Gary, and as she read she woud declare proudly to Tony how Gary was having a great time, how he enjoyed the navy so very much. Once Tony asked her whether Gary would come and take him on a trip across the world. Mother always smiled at his comments and ruffled his hair, but didn't say anything.

But Tony knew that Gary's trip was almost over. He'd overheard the grownups talking about how the big war was ending and how the good guys were winning. In the stories Tony always liked it when the good guys won, but sometimes, in an idle reflection, he wondered whether it would be more interesting if the bad guys won for once and took over the world. The grownups would come together and discuss while Tony listened from up the stairs. "War's ending," they'd say, "Hitler's forces are retreating to Berlin,". And then Mother would get that dreamy look of relief, and the ladies would gush that the war was almost at an end and their boys would be coming home before long.

The night after he'd heard that, his heart was leaping for joy all the way through dinner, and when he got into bed he asked his mom whether Gary would come back soon, with his presents. Smiling, her mellow brown eyes twinkling, she nodded and said, "Yes, Tony, he's coming back," and mother and son embraced. Tony didn't sleep, thinking happy thoughts of Gary and the stories and smile he would bring back, to him greater than any present in the world. And he waited patiently, as the war drew to an end, for his return.

It was a clear blue morning of 1945, when Mother came up into his bedroom and gently shook him awake, smiling at his bleary eyes. "Come on, Tony. It's eight o'clock. Rise and shine!" She pulled Tony up and went off to prepare breakfast as Tony sat by the edge of his bed, yawning. "Remember to brush at the edges," she said as she went down.

Tony hated brushing, but mom always said the tooth fairy didn't leave coins for children who didn't brush their teeth, so he did so vigorously, brushing till his gums ached. He splashed his face with water, then dried himself up using his thick woollen towel, staining the front of his pajamas in the process, then changed into fresh clothes. Leaping out of his room he bounded down the stairs in a flash, taking two steps at a time, before he remembered that mom didn't like him to do that, always saying he'd trip and fall and break his nose. And then he'd turn into a Rudolph, she'd say, chiding.

The dining room was quiet. Dishes were already set, neatly on the table, cups and cutlery. Tony felt mystified. He walked, more slowly this time, into the kitchen. "Mom?" he called.

Then he saw her, slumped on a chair by the fireplace. She was sobbing in great heaves, hand clutching a piece of paper torn at the sides by the force of her grip. On the table, there was a single opened envelope. Tony was horrified. Breathless and shocked, he ran up to her. "Mom? Mom, what is it?" his fluting voice grew perceptibly more desperate.

Tony's mother raised her face to him, ravaged by the running streaks of shedding tears. She was still crying as she held Tony tight in a shaking embrace, hands folding protectively over his body, stammering, "He's gone, he's gone, he'll never come back..."

The world seemed to turn upside-down for Tony. He didn't know, but he knew, knew beyond knowing, who Mother was referring to. He stared at the paper in her hand.

"No, he can't be gone. He promised me he'd come back! Mom, where'd he go? Where is he? Why isn't he coming back?" There was no answer save that of his mother's crying.

Tony cried too.

That day was the hardest Tony had ever spent, alone, while Mother locked herself up in the bedroom for hours at a time, brooding and crying. He could hear her. Gary was gone. he wouldn't come back. The words shocked him; he wondered how this could be true. He couldn't understand why his brother would never come back. He couldn't understand why his mother said so. Gary was a hero, he'd fight his way out of anything, like Superman did. That night Mother didn't cook, distractedly, she apologized to Tony about it while fingering the piece of paper she had been carrying all day.

When it was finally time for bed, Mother came up to Tony's room and tucked him in. She had regained her composure somewhat, and smiled sadly at Tony as he settled in.

"I'm sorry, Tony..." she began. "I'm sorry I had to lose it like that during breakfast. Its just that I..." she trailed off, not knowing how to continue. She reached out with a hand and stroked his head. "Tony, I know this must be hard on you...but Gary...he died. He died a hero." She tried to smile again but her lips were trembling. "He died helping to save the world, Tony, and you should be proud of him for that."

Tony looked up at her with those soulful eyes that had come from his father. She sighed sadly, thinking of him. Tony took after his father, imaginative, otherworldly, sweet by nature, and their blue eyes were the same. Gary...Gary was more like her, brown-eyed and cheerful-but tears threatened to invade her again at the thought of him. Almost savagely, she held them back. "Will he come back?" Tony asked, stubborn. "Will he come back one day?"

Mother's composure almost broke. She sighed heavily. "No, Tony. He won't." She rose from the bed, Tony's gaze still fixed upon her face, his blue eyes filling with tears. And before she herself broke down she hurried away, choking out
a half-hearted 'good night' before turning off the tablelamp and rushing out of the room, shutting the door. From inside Tony thought he could hear her muffled sobs.

He cried until he fell asleep.

The clock struck midnight. It was the 7th of August.

And Wonderland bloomed with flowers, bright, orange-yellow ones that seemed to be made of flame, so big that they soared into the bleak sky. And in the morning, the sun dawned bright and glowing, and the wind was gentle, and birds were chirping. And men declared with silver trumpets and grand cannoning that men's troubles were over forever, and the world would rejoice in splendour. Tony saw Humpty Dumpty together again, solid and in the glow of health, laughing that it was all a little joke. And Gary came in a golden ship adorned with ribbons, sailing his way back home, and stood before the verandah, hollering that he was home, like he always did, that his hands were full of presents and someone should help him at least if he wanted a share. And Mother came out, joyful and happy, and embraced Gary while all the presents dropped to the floor. And after dinner Gary told him of all his wonderful adventures on his Golden Ship while Tony sat by the big sofa and Gary by the rickety one by the fire, and Mother on the other side reading and listening with a smile on her face. It was all the same again, the same as before, and it would be that way forever and Gary wouldn't have to go anywhere, not for the rest of his life. And finally, Tony was truly happy.

Then Tony woke, and the morning was bright and sunny, and the wind blew gently, and the birds chirped.

It had only been a dream.

Tried from a child's perspective. Bah, bah, bah.

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