"It's so sad he can't seem to cry," was a loud voice from downstairs. "All Robert said was, "I want to go upstairs and read my Bible."
"Don't they think I can hear?" Robert muttered. The doorjamb pressed tightly against his ear as he listened.
"You know," another voice continued, "a seven year old without a father..."
But, he no longer wished to hear. Those words were like dark clouds. They wounded as arrows. He sat cross-legged on his bedroom floor and stared at his fingers.
Early this morning there were a lot more people crying. He wasn't one of them. Robert's older sister was, as well as his mother and grandmother. Even lots more, but he lost count.
He looked at a picture mommy took of himself and his father. It was leaning against a neat souvenir rock they found on the beach at Caribou Island. Robert searched the room and found his softball.
"I wonder if anyone wants to play ball with me, like daddy did?" he asked out loud.
He knew God was listening.
Looking from his window on the second floor, Robert felt like an eagle. One day, daddy took him even higher, up on the roof.
"We can almost reach the clouds," his father said, holding his son really close.
"What if I fall into the sky?" Robert had asked. "Then you'll have to fly like a pilot." Daddy knew it was Robert's dream, to be a pilot like his grandfather.
"Hey," Robert's sister Janet is in the backyard. Maybe she'll play baseball. His feet moved quickly as a runaway train as they "thudded" downstairs.
He didn't mind everyone staring. Like Spiderman he bounced around the group. And passed swiftly through the kitchen, not even glancing at trays of food. He was more like a kid-cyclone banging through the screen door.
"Hey! Wanna play ball?" he yelled at his sister.
She did. Janet tried hard to hide her worried face. But it didn't bother Robert. He just wanted to feel the smack of the ball against his glove. Pitching back and forth helped chase away some of his sadness.
"Lunch!" mommy called a short while later.
"Wow, grilled cheese sandwiches!" both children shouted as they surveyed the plate set on a corner table. They didn't mind the quietness as adults held their voices. Besides, this plateful was Robert's favorite treat.
The Pastor came forward and placed a hand on Robert's shoulder.
After grandma drove over in the car, she gathered up Robert in her special hug. And kissed his cheek. She did the same for his sister.
"Why are your eyes so red, Grammy?" leaped suddenly from his tongue. Unable to answer, she just looked away.
The afternoon hurried along like a canoe in a river current. Then mommy made Robert a neat snack before bedtime. Later he heard creaking on the stairs. If only it was daddy coming to say goodnight.
After nighttime prayers, he always had a story for his son. This time it was mommy, instead. That was ok, too.
"Robert, I have something for you," she said.
His pajamas felt warm and cozy, the bed so comfortable. Droopy eyes waited. Teddy was patient beside him, waiting for sleepy-time.
"It's a gift from your father," mommy said. "He asked me to wrap it up for your birthday, before he ---"
Her words sounded fuzzy. Robert didn't know what to say.
Then mommy wrapped her arms around him. Tomorrow was his birthday. And he would be eight years old. Mommy was cuddly like his teddy bear. He watched as she opened the box and took out a leather jacket.
"It's a bomber jacket," she said. "For a pilot. It belonged to your grandfather."
"Í know," Robert whispered, his eyes getting wider. "Daddy promised one day it would be mine."
Then she placed it beside her son on the bed. As mommy kissed his forehead, Robert saw tears climb down her cheeks. Lying on the bed, he watched the jacket as if it would start walking by itself. It was brown with faded badges on each arm.
"For a pilot," his mommy had said. The boy thought about his daddy's gift. At this moment he loved him even more. He knew the jacket was special, a gift from daddy's own father. And now it belonged to him.
Robert closed his eyes afraid he might bawl.
Instead, a smile managed to crawl across his face. He was sure he heard daddy's laughter in his ears. His silly jokes were so funny.
"Ha. Ha. Ha." The same sounds escaped Robert's lips. Just the way daddy used to do it. Remembering fun times they had together made him sleepy.
Robert could not cry at the funeral this morning. He couldn't believe his daddy had really gone away, especially before his birthday. He had prayed for God to send his daddy back to his little boy.
Suddenly the boys' feet seemed to have a mind of their own. As if in a trance they pulled him out of bed and tap-tapped over to the window.
The moon was wearing a huge smile. It was as if the man on that barren looking sphere was calling him.
Fingers found the bomber jacket, put it on and zipped up. The leather smelled like daddy, oil and grease, from working in the garage.
The jacket covered him like a blanket of skin. Now the boy wished he had a plane. If he did he was sure he could find his daddy. His father didn't really die --- God has him hiding somewhere.
Robert climbed back into bed and squeezed his eyes really tight.
In his mind the bed became a plane. And teddy was his co-pilot. Now Robert studied his make-believe instruments. He pulled a switch and the plane took off. It moved across town, high above the buildings.
Then turned and twisted into the inky night sky, climbing to the stars. A young son began a journey to look for his daddy. He must be out there somewhere.
He had to be.
Is he amongst the clouds? Robert flew and checked. Nope. Or is daddy hiding behind that mountain? He checked that out too.
What about the lake? Is he under the water? Robert flew low over the waves, trying desperately to find his father.
He couldn't find him. Robert looked everywhere.
Where was his daddy?
Finally the boy collapsed into a deep sleep. His head was full of airplane noises and wind. He was like a log drifting on the ocean. Robert kept seeing faces. Mom, his sister and daddy smiled back at him.
During his dream Robert held teddy tightly against his chest. His voice whispered a prayer for his daddy.
When Robert awoke next morning, it was sunshiny outside. Mom was calling.
He dressed quickly and went downstairs, wearing his bomber jacket. Breakfast was bacon, one egg, juice and a glass of milk. The same as daddy had every morning before rushing off to work.
"I think you're ready now," mommy said quietly. Robert's tummy felt tight. "We have to settle some things," she said. Mommy was right. The hurt had to come out.
Robert remembered last night, about flying toward the stars. He knew now why he could not find his daddy. Robert closed his eyes and saw that smiling face again.
And heard a loud "Ha-Ha-Ha."
He went with mommy to the cemetery. Robert came to say goodbye. His Bible was in his knapsack.
It was now time to cry.
* * *
Richard & Esther Provencher 2007
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: email@example.com re comments on our work. We live in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. Pray for others.