A short story by Corinne Hatton
I feel the slow and steady rise and fall of Roman’s chest as he peacefully slumbers. I brush my hand through his soft curly hair and try to memorize every curl, every strand of his hair by touch alone. His belly button peeks through his too-small shirt; his pants don’t even reach his ankles anymore. My baby is becoming a big boy and I’m not keeping up very well.
I turn my gaze to the darkness peering through the slightly opened blinds. The rhythmic stridulating of crickets adds a calmness to the night. A calmness that was not easily reached. Roman is uncomfortable sleeping alone. He often fidgets and nervously watches doorways as if something awful will walk through them. Tonight, as many nights have gone, I sang a lullaby I made for him as a baby and I promised him I’d be right next to him as he drifted off to sleep.
The crickets lull me to sleep.
I dream I’m in a once familiar kitchen. Roman is watching a cartoon on television. He’s laughing like he used to, clapping his hands to the tune of the show, like he used to. I feel the smile on my face, the sunlight beaming down on me from the kitchen window as I slice pickles.
I look up at Roman, but he’s not there. From another room, I hear him scream; my chest constricts. I drop the knife and run towards the sound. I open door, after door, after door, but they’re all empty. Finally, I see a door at the end of the hall that wasn’t there before. I run to it and push it open.
Connor is standing over Roman with his foot on his chest, screaming incoherently. Roman stares up at him, eyes wide with terror.
I try to push Connor off of Roman, but my arms are no stronger than wet spaghetti. Connor rams his foot harder into his chest. Roman whimpers in pain.
I wake up crying; my cheeks are damp. Instinctively, I reach for Roman, but the other half of the bed is empty. I jump up from the bed, momentarily lightheaded from the motion. I continue forward, stumbling at first, out of the room.
The adjacent bathroom is empty, as well as the surrounding bedrooms.
Maybe he’s downstairs.
Just my niece remains in the house, leisurely watching television. “Susie, you know where Roman is?”
“He’s outside with Dad, I think they’re washing the car.”
My brother-in-law. Worry bubbles up inside of me. Roman has been distrustful of men for a while, since…
I rush out through the front door to find Roman and Arthur washing Arthur’s truck. Roman is scrubbing the left headlight; Arthur wipes the boot. Arthur smiles over at him. Roman’s scrubbing is as disorderly as it is adorable, but he seems determined. His face is scrunched in that tentative expression I’ve noticed over the past few months.
Arthur stops washing the truck and bends down to the bucket with overflowing suds. He gets a handful, and shoots glances in Roman’s direction to make sure he isn’t looking. He walks behind the truck and starts dabbing suds onto his upper lip and eyebrows. When his sud make-up is ready he walks from behind the truck towards Roman.
“Roman, looky here,” Arthur teases.
Roman stops, squints at Arthur, and tilts his head to the side; his expression is no longer tentative but quizzical.
“Hello young man,” Arthur says, deepening his voice to sound like a crotchety old man. “I need a tissue, do you by chance have a tissue?”
Roman hesitantly shakes his head.
“Well, that’s unfortunate because I-I-” Arthur fake-sneezes into his hands spraying suds all over Roman.
Roman recoils. He looks at the suds as they slowly glide downwards around him.
He reaches a hand out to the closest falling froth to him, touches it, and giggles.
My heart flutters. That’s the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard.
“Young man, I really do need a tiss-” Arthur does a longer, more exaggerated sneeze causing the remaining suds in his hands and on his face to fly into the air.
Roman grips his chest as he bellows with laughter. He smiles so broadly, it nearly takes up half his face.
I start to cry. I thought I’d never hear that laugh again.
I sit on the front porch and watch as Roman and Arthur start playing by throwing fistfuls of suds at each other.
Arthur catches my eye and smiles. I mouth, “thank you.” He nods in reply then returns his attention to Roman.
I bask in the soft giggles of my little boy, and close my eyes to let the sounds of his pure joy wash over me.
Corrine Hatton has been writing since she was a child, but only recently decided to make writing more than a hobby. She hopes to make a career out of it, but for the time being is enjoying submitting works where she can and writing screenplays and novellas for fun.