This is the first part of a series. Refer to the Blog Index if you wish to read them in order.
The boys were watching entirely too much television. He knew this. It was his fault. He needed the break. They needed the break. Ever since their mom passed a little over a year ago (one year, two months, and six days, but who was counting), they just needed so much, so much. It was all he could do every day and sometimes it wasn’t enough. They’d all end up in front of the tv. But they all needed the break.
He’d had two choices: do everything himself, or do as much as he could and farm out the rest. The first three months he’d done nothing himself except care for the boys. He’d taken every single offer he’d received for meals and cleaning assistance. Every offer. He spent 24 hours a day with the boys and even though they all needed that time together, even though they all gained from the time together, it was rough.
There’d been so much shouting, about nothing, nothing! Just the grief needing an outlet. There’d been so much crying. And that was so much worse for him. The crying. Having to explain again and again that dead meant never coming back, “like that dog we had four years ago, you remember? He didn’t come back and he won’t ever come back.” All the tears. It’d gotten so by the end of the day, when the boys were finally asleep, he’d be so exhausted that he’d just lay there, unable to sleep but unable to move.
He’d started watching tv at night. Any spaghetti western that was on. Any one would do, any one except True Grit. That was her movie. She always said it was the only western that did any kind of justice to women and even that was only cause it was a girl. She said if they’d had the character be any older the movie would never have been made and would certainly never have become so popular. Men don’t like strong women, she’d said.
“I love you, and you’re strong,” he’d replied.
“You’re the exception to every rule, it’s why I married you,” she’d say and kiss him.
Occasionally he’d try to have some fun with her, arguing for the merits of this western or that.
“What about High Noon or McClintock?”
“Women were just background in those,” she’d argued.
“What about Big Jake, the wife ran the whole ranch without him?”
“Bah, she ran it into trouble that she couldn’t handle without a man.”
“Ha! What about Two Mules for Sister Sara? You cannot argue that Sara isn’t the strongest depiction of a woman,” he’d said.
“Okay, yes, but she only gets away with it because for the entirety of the film you think she’s a nun and therefore untouchable and therefor allowed to be independent because she’s actually still married to a man, even if that man is God,” she’d refuted.
Jesus, he couldn’t believe he missed arguing with her. Who misses arguing? But he did.
One night while he was zombied out in front of something, For a Few Dollars More if he remembered rightly, the youngest boy had wandered out and found him, something about a bad dream. Both boys were doing more of that these days. He’d let him stay and watch tv with him for awhile. When the movie was over he turned the tv off, picked up the now sleeping boy and carried him back to bed. He laid him down and started pulling the covers up over him.
“Stay with me,” the boy nearly whispered.
“Okay, buddy, okay.”
He laid down next to him, careful as could be not to rock the bunk bed too much and wake up the older boy. He stretched out meaning to lay there for just a little while til the boy fell asleep but ended up sleeping himself. It was the first real sleep he could remember getting since she died. And he was afraid of making it a habit.
The next night the youngest came out again, and again he let him stay. This time it was The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Before it was near halfway through the older boy came out, too. The three of them watched it. Then all three went to bed. This time in dad’s bed. All three in a row in the king bed. Mom should have been the bookend on the other side, but she wasn’t coming back. Like the dog. He found himself telling himself that as much as the boys.
It quickly became a routine, their own way of coping, of defragmenting at the end of another day without mom. They’d make ready for bed but instead of going to their beds they’d head towards the couch and watch another western, whatever was playing, but not True Grit.
After those first three months he figured there wasn’t a western those boys hadn’t seen except True Grit, but he just wasn’t ready. And anyway it was about this time that the problems started. While he still received random offers for assistance, and mostly now only food, the offers were fewer and further between. He’d started taking up the slack. He created a schedule and gave the boys chores. The business he’d built had been running on its own for years and the three months he’d needed to be with the boys had shown him that he wasn’t really much more than a figurehead now. He officially retired. He now had the time and the ability to do all the things and be everywhere he needed to be.
He also needed a break.
The boys had always been homeschooled and he’d always thought they were better off that way. They were far too rambunctious and self-assured for a classroom that required constant sitting and no interruptions and questions held til the end. He found all the stuff his wife had kept about online class options and things and made an appointment with the local charter school to see about enrolling there for additional funding. In the meantime he told the boys to go build a fort.
They’d always wanted a fort or a treehouse, had always asked for one, and he hadn’t had the time, really he just didn’t think they’d use it for more than a week making it not worth the effort. They were old enough now at six and nine that they could build it themselves, he figured. They already knew how to use tools, he’d supervise all the cutting stuff, but they could do the rest on their own. It would be good for them. He announced his decision at breakfast the next morning.
“Boys it’s time you had a fort.”
“Like in the movies?” the youngest asked.
“Like a treehouse?” the eldest asked.
“Whichever you’d prefer. Draw out what you want and we’ll build it,” he said.
The drawing of the forts kept the boys busy for hours. He’d hardly expected that. They’d draw one fort and then want to make changes and start all over. Or they’d see what the other one was drawing and want to add to it. They started by drawing their own versions but by the time they brought him the finished product of what they wanted they’d been working together on one piece of paper. It astounded him.
“Now we gotta put in measurements and make a list of what we’ll need from the hardware store,” he said, “but that can wait until tomorrow. It’s time to make dinner.”
Dinner was a new routine with just the three of them. The youngest set the table. The eldest helped measuring ingredients and washing veggies. Dad did most of the cooking, occasionally letting the other two stir something or add something to the pot. He’d promised that at ten years old they’d be able to start handling the oven and stove bits as well, and now that it was something you could only do when you were older they both relished the idea of cooking.
Dishes were done as a team as well. The youngest cleared the table. The eldest pre-scrubbed the dishes. Dad and the youngest loaded the dishwasher. The youngest and oldest would unload the dry dishes in the morning while dad made coffee for himself and hot cocoa for them. It worked. It wasn’t the same. But it worked.
~~~That’s one hour~~~