Hero of War (Part 12)

I left in almost the same way– in the middle of the night with a note on the table.

After Steven’s death, I knew my parents would never let me go. They were still discussing plans for moving to Canada during dinner the night before.

I’d sat between my mother and father on the couch with my plate in my lap. We no longer sat at the table because of the perpetually vacant chair that stared at us, even when Steven had still been alive somewhere beyond our reach.

This caused a bit of tension between my parents, tension that was usually alleviated by my presence between them. Tension that was usually drowned by some meaningless comedy skit on the television.

But that night there was no television. Only the distant hum of traffic and the occasional clink of our silverware on porcelain plates reminded us that sound existed.

I had turned eighteen only a few days prior to that night and that scared them because they knew that, like Steven, they no longer had any control over me. They couldn’t keep me from leaving if I was really inclined to.

And I was. I was absolutely determined. Even just the three days I had already waited seemed like a lifetime. The two months I had been forced to endure without Sophie had been treacherous enough. Each day on top of that was agonizing.

“I phoned my cousin in Ontario the other day.” my mother said, staring straight ahead at the black screen. She paused for a long time before continuing. “She said money’s a bit tight but she’d be more than happy to have us if we can take care of little Jimmy while she’s at work. Said it’ll save her money on babysitters and daycare.”

“Is that so?” my father said. That had become his main response these days, as though he had become nothing more than a broken record since Steven had disappeared.

Silence fell over them again and I knew they were both mulling things over. I could almost see the gears grinding in their brains, creating countless different scenarios before finally reaching a conclusion.

“I’ve heard Ontario’s quite nice this time of year.” my father said, cinching the decision.

I didn’t bother listening to the rest of their small talk. I made it look as though I was by looking at each of them when they talked but really I was trying to imprint the images of their faces in my memory. I wanted to ensure that I wouldn’t forget the deep-set brown eyes my father had given me of the soft lines of my mother’s tired face. I wanted to take with me the sharp edges of my mother’s nose and the slight upwards curvature of my father’s lips that make him always appear smiling, even when he’s angry.

No matter how long I was gone, I wanted to be able to recall the subtle lisp my father had and the traces of a Polish accent prominent in my mother’s voice when she shouted.

By the end of the night, it had been decided that we would leave the for Canada that Friday, immediately after breakfast. It would take us seven hours to reach her cousin’s house. Along the way, we’d stop for a bite to eat. Where? Probably some small diner off the side of the highway of something.

The plans were hastily made and my parents went off to start packing and planning finance-wise. They each kissed me goodnight and told me that everything would be fine– that’ I’d love Canada if I just gave it a try.

I had agreed with them for no other purpose than to placate their worries one last time. As they turned away from me and walked out of the room, I couldn’t help wondering if I’d ever see them again. The memory of Steven exiting the house flashed in my mind. His back was the last I’d seen of him– strong and broad, a back that seemed sturdy enough to carry the weight of the world.

A back that would now be pressed against the bottom of a mahogany coffin.

If he couldn’t make it out alive, how could I?

I ascended the stairs to my bedroom, passing by Steven’s without even casting a glance at the closed door. His bedroom has remained the same since the morning he departed. Neither my parents nor I could bear to go in there, especially after we received the letter.

The majority of my bags were already packed and stowed away in the back of my closet. I merely had to grab a few keepsakes and all the money I had saved and wait for the cab to arrive at four the following morning.

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