[Ongoing story, here early in the story: Merrill internal dialog after their mother leaves in the middle of the night. Only he saw her go. James is his older brother.]
I went back to bed but never back to sleep. I stayed up that night and lots of nights after that. The dark, it felt very big and solid. I never told James and I never told our father. He never talked about why she wasn’t with us any more as the weeks dragged on without her.
The loneliness was immense, more solid than the darkness at night. A void, a hole so big I thought I might get sucked through it. To what? I always wondered what would happen to me if I allowed that to happen. Which is why I stayed awake those nights. The light from the street lamps made it through my window, turning the darkness a sad yellow.
School was barren and the kids didn’t notice me. I knew who every one of them was, where they lived, whether they were stupid or smart, whether they had brothers and such. I knew them all because I followed them and watched them. It was easy to fill in the blanks and their lives took my mind off what I didn’t have. James didn’t notice me much either. But he was a big kid, not just older, but he had some volume he filled. Nobody didn’t notice him. Not like me. As pale and bleached as our neighborhood, left out too long in the sun. The palm trees that people said were left from better times had grown tall and no longer offered shade.
Once a teacher asked me to stay after class to talk to her. She wondered why I didn’t talk. I told her I had nothing to say. She assured me that I did and whatever that was was important. I didn’t believe her. I liked her after that and did the homework as much as I could. Reading I think. Books. Stories that had to do with people that lived a very long time ago who apparently could tell us something about ourselves. They said nothing to me even when I tried to hear them.
But they lived in mansions and longed to be married and had brothers who wanted to marry the girls chosen by their other brothers. Nothing for me there.
Empty in the streets around the school, I walked home every day that year she disappeared and worried I’d just float away. When I noticed my steps getting too slow, I stood up tall and purposely put down each foot so that I seemed strong and not lonely. At home I sat I the dark until James came home. We scrounged for dinner, sometimes laughing and having fun, sometimes running around the backyard with a football. A neighbor visited with food for us. I wonder who she was. Dad never knew about her as far I know.
But when you’re a kid, you have the ability to forget stuff, or stop noticing it.