"Marry James?" Kenny looked around the room, dazed, feeling nasty. As he waited for an answer his mother seemed to stumble for something to say. He noticed her hands rise in confusion, something she always did when she was nervous.
It was just the other day he reminded her, dad had left three years ago. He often thought of mom getting married again, but not to James?
What would she say now that her little secret plans were out in the open? Would she even answer him? He kept his eyes steady, a little sad at his mother's discomfort. Maybe this wasn't the right time to ask why. But, he had to know. "MOMMM," an impatient whine dragged on his tongue.
"Well Kenny, you know James has been coming around more often lately...and yes, it has been seriously discussed..."
"I knew it! I just knew it!" he exploded. "You didn't even ask how I might feel?" Without giving his mother a chance to respond Kenny grabbed his schoolbooks and rushed out of the room heading upstairs. A steady drumming of foot-thuds pounded each wooden step with an adolescent message. "I'm upset!" they seemed to say.
Soon echoes of his feet attack on the stairwell faded away. How could she think about marrying again? What's wrong with her? "Gee whiz, mom."
Slumping on his bed, he thought of his missing dad who had been gone since the winter Kenny turned nine.
"My leaving has nothing to do with you. I'll always love you," dad said at the time. Then he stepped out of the boy's life, like a fading ghost. There were times Kenny cried like a baby over losing the dad he once loved.
He kicked off his sneakers and bent to peel off his socks. Lying on his back, arms tucked under his head, he scanned the room carefully. His eyes took in the pennant from Halifax and pictures of he and mom. And there was one of him and his buddy Troy from Boy Scout Summer Camp last year. They all stared at him like sunlight reflecting from a rocky bluff.
Kenny suddenly sat up, placed his feet on the cool floor then walked slowly to the window. He was sure this had to be the best view in Sheldon, a village of 200 people near Truro, Nova Scotia. His two-story white vinyl sided house sat high on a hill overlooking the highway. From here he felt like an eagle settled in his nest watching the world move along.
A collection of old homes were interspersed with newly designed brick ones, with camping trailers and newly painted houses forming a trail of civilization straddling both sides of Highway 104. They were like salt and pepper flakes sprinkled at random.
Soon the stars seemed brighter, luminous eyes keeping the boy company. Shielding his eyes helped pinpoint the Big Dipper, or 'Ursa Major' as he learned in school. "Tough growing up," Kenny suddenly said aloud. He figured he was acting silly but things seemed much simpler when he was younger.
He enjoyed staring out the window at night, elbows on the windowsill, chin cradled in his hands. There was a time when he dreamt of being an astronomer or 'star-gazer' as chums at school teased. Everything seemed so peaceful up there.
Now his brow furrowed in thought, remembering his neighbor Larry who took him fishing last Saturday. Now he would make a great dad. Too bad he's already married with grown up kids of his own.
"So I'll probably end up getting stuck with someone like James," Kenny sighed. It wouldn't be so bad if James didn't have to work all the time. He was too busy to take him anywhere. Besides, he's so strict. Kenny continued to look out the window as his mind raced along on a merry-go-round of memories.
Tiredly he made his way back to bed and flung himself down. He was too sleepy to even climb under the sheets and pull up his covers. His mind re-lived events from last Saturday when Larry took him fishing. It had been a perfect day. "This is really neat," Kenny remembering saying, eyes dancing with excitement. Kenny really liked Larry.
The first time they had met was last year when Kenny began his paper route. Kenny had marched up the front steps, bold as a Knight of the Round Table.
"Would you like to take the Truro Daily News? he had asked. "I guarantee good service. How about it?"
"Call me Larry," the man answered, "unless your parents object."
"That's cool. My mom won't mind. She's divorced and she lets me make lots of decisions," Kenny answered boldly.
Since then he met Larry's wife and had a tour of their big old house that used to be a Church Manse. Imagine the place was over 140 years old. Then he learned to play chess with Larry and came over to the house a number of times to help pile wood and mow the grass. Soon it was like a second home.
Larry didn't pay money for chores. "Instead I'll be glad to take you hiking or even go on a fishing trip," he said. That suited Kenny just fine.
Now his dreaming relived that awesome trip last weekend to Economy Lake, ten miles north of Bass River village. His sleepy eyes gave in to the comfortable images. His body settled back in bed.
"Do you remember what I told you Kenny?" Larry had said. "About the different parts of the canoe?"
"Yes, the sides are called gunnels."
"And the front?"
"And the back?"
"Right." Kenny knew Larry was proud of him. He really appreciated it when someone took time to teach him things.
Fishing rods were loaded, food packs carefully placed in the center of the canoe, life jackets worn. They had waded barefoot from the shore, and carried the boat to a depth of several feet, trying not to unnecessarily scratch its fiberglass hull.
Kenny stretched then turned on his side. His memories were like a movie reel, the best part yet to come.
While Larry held the canoe, Kenny gingerly placed his cold feet inside, one at a time then sat down in the bow. As Larry seated himself in the stern, Kenny said quickly, "OK dad, let's go." He quickly glanced back to see if Larry noticed what slipped from his tongue.
His adult friend must have missed it. Kenny hadn't said it on purpose. It sort of sneaked out. "OK dad," he repeated under his breath. Sounded really nice, he thought to himself. He turned around from the bow and looked back. He noticed Larry's peaked hat, with the perch fish on its front. Red vest, blue shirt, worn jeans and bare feet completed the picture.
Larry's paddle was ready for action. His eyes seemed at peace and they were always full of laughter. Kenny wished James were more like Larry.
"What's up Kenny? Why are you looking so seriously?" Larry said, chuckling.
Kenny remembered turning away quickly, heart pounding. "Nothing. I'm ready...that's all." But it wasn't all. He missed having a dad, and he was glad his face was turned away as moisture gathered on his cheeks. He wasn't crying, not really. He felt like a traitor for even pretending Larry was his dad. But then it must be okay, the sky didn't explode or anything.
To himself he did say softly once again, "OK dad, I'm ready now. Let's go." And he felt good inside as his paddle dipped into the water...
Kenny jerked awake in his room as he heard his squeaky doorknob turn. Through half-closed eyelids he watched his mom step in. Kenny pretended to be asleep, one arm flung out. His fingers were open as if waiting for a handshake from someone.
As his mom crossed the creaking floor, he carefully controlled his breathing. He felt her eyes travel from his toes, lanky legs, and thinly stretched frame to his blond head. She puffed air softly on his closed eyelids, testing to see if he was really asleep. It tickled, but somehow he calmed his reflexes. He wanted to reach out and hug her because he was so mean a while before.
He could hear her retrieving a blanket from the closet then placing it over him. Somehow he was able to breathe silently allowing some of his tension to escape. The muted sound drifted into the night as if heading for a faraway planet.
Before falling asleep Kenny made two promises. Somehow find a way to like James better. And tomorrow tell mom how much he loves her.
* * *
Richard & Esther Provencher 2003
My wife, Esther and I really enjoy writing. It is an excellent salve, in addition to prayers, a great wife and family during my continuing recovery from a stroke/aneurysm. You can contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org re comments on our work. We live in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. Pray for others.