Ramshackle Memories

Snow blew in through the open window and Mathew watched the saturated flakes pile onto the hardwood floor. He didn’t move. Something in him refused to. He knew he would have to clean it all up before long or the wood would warp or stain or become imperfect in some way, but he couldn’t stop thinking that it wasn’t the end of the world if the floor became flawed. Whatever happened to it would be his responsibility. He was the man of the house now. His inheritance was everything his father “would take care of tomorrow.” The loose step out front, the broken microwave handle, the run-down tractor sitting in the barn that was meant for “tomorrow” a few thousand yesterdays ago.

“Mathew!” His mother walked across the snow-covered floor to shut the window. “What are you doing?” She stepped carefully through the slush to where he sat against the wall. She stood in front of him still wearing her black dress. “Mathew, honey, you must be cold.”

He didn’t say anything.

“It’s freezing in here,” she said, shivering. She stared at him for few seconds before walking to the closet and grabbing a blanket. She came back, placed it over his curled-up figure, and tucked in the edges. “We’ll get through this dear,” she said softly, “Everything will be okay.”

He didn’t move. He only stared at the snow in the room.

She stood. “Dinner will be ready at five. Aunt Mindy is making it for us. Be sure you thank her before you eat.” She shut the door behind her.

He watched the white snow gradually turn translucent and transmogrify into a grey lake. He could see his reflection on the surface. He wished himself as small as he felt so he could take the folded gum wrapper in the corner and make it a canoe and row out onto the lake inside his room. He would weave through snowflakes like icebergs and spend the afternoon making his way to the other side where he would land at the foot of the bed. The oak leg a sequoia he would climb until he reached the duvet he imagined would feel like burlap clouds.

He dreamt of his escape as the blanket trapped what little heat remained in his body. He grew warm but the numbness never fully went away.

“It’s five o’clock,” his mother’s voice reached him from downstairs. Dinner was always at five. Even when his father’s heart stopped, the routine refused to budge. Nothing would change. That’s why nothing was fixed. There was never time because every day was the same. His father would wake up, work in the field, come back for lunch, feed the animals, go back to the field, check on the cattle, eat dinner at five o’clock, maybe run to town, get things ready for the next day, then fall asleep in his chair trying to catch a bit of news just after the sunlight faded from the window.

“Tomorrow” was always a dreamland where there was time for anything and everything. Time enough to fix the tractor or the microwave or the loose step out front. Time enough to play catch. To teach a boy how to shave. To help with homework. To go to the doctor so they could find the clogged arteries.

He didn’t want to go downstairs. He wasn’t hungry, but he also wasn’t two inches tall sailing across the puddle on his bedroom floor.

Mathew decided right then not to replace the floor even if it did get damaged. Even if mold started growing beneath the floorboards, he wouldn’t be around long enough to deal with the constant swollen eyes and coughing. He wouldn’t fix a damn thing in this house, because you fix what you intend to keep.

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