Chest heaving, Matt stumbled up the sidewalk. Head swimming from exertion, he paused and caught his breath. Bile filled his mouth, and he spat. His stomach lurched, but he breathed deeply and caught himself. If only it was possible run away from his thoughts. With leaden feet, he climbed the tall steps of his porch and slipped inside the door.
“Matt,” a voice called, faint and far away. “Is that you?”
He looked up and realized it was his mother. He wandered over, listless, looking at the floor, tears dripping down his cheeks.
“What’s the matter?” she asked as soon as he passed through the curtains into her bedroom.
“The brush,” he choked out. “I lost it. I’m so sorry, Mom. I didn’t intend to lose it, I truly didn’t,” he blubbered.
His mother’s pain-hardened face softened. “Come here, honey,” she said, her good arm outstretched. He sat on the side of the bed and laid his head on her chest, listening to her heartbeat as she stroked his head and neck.
“It’s okay.” She turned his face up to meet hers. “A brush can be easily replaced.” But even as she said this, a veil of sadness crept into her tone. “I don’t really need it anyway.”
As he started to tear, she quickly wiped it away. “I love you. Always remember that. You are never alone as long as you love, and let others love you.” The words jumbled together, swirling with conflicting emotions. She kissed him lightly on the nose.
For some reason the burden of the day left his shoulders, replaced by a curious giddiness. How could that be, after all that had happened? Still, much as he would have liked an answer, he did not fight the feeling. Why did he get so worked up over a brush? How ridiculous was that? Despite everything, a smile broke out.
Mom cupped his chin. “Go get cleaned up and get ready for dinner. The Wilson’s will be bringing over something to eat tonight.”
Yay! No more rotten cooking courtesy of The Beast. He hugged Mom, and kissed her good hand. Then he slipped upstairs, a lightness in his heart, almost compensating for the pain in his nether-regions.
That night, after homework, dinner, and a warm bath, he lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. The events of the day swam through his mind, giving him little encouragement. Mom always told him to pray in times like that. Phooey! A lot of good that did. He was through praying to a silent God who ignored him. But as the black thoughts clouded his mind, an incessant voice needled him. Do it anyway. He clamped his eyes shut and whispered:
He opened his eyes and stared again at the blank ceiling. Worthless. Oh well. He lay back and rubbed his eyes. The wind tapped on the window panes, making the rafters creak and groan, almost as if the house was breathing. Such natural noises usually stirred up his nightmares, but for some reason, tonight, they did not. Instead, his limbs grew heavy, and his thoughts drifted. Tomorrow he would see his ghost of a father and new stepmother. An awkward situation, but at least he would be doing something – going somewhere and not be alone.
Matt had almost forgotten about that prayer, but certainly not the best worst day ever, though the memory, like a rotten piece of fruit, had rolled away into the dark corner of his mind. Still, the event had been a watershed, because soon after the creaky wheels of fate turned.
His sister graduated from high school, joined the Navy, and was swept off to calmer seas. Mom lost her fight against cancer; the house and everything of value disappeared in bank sanctioned theft. Like flotsam after the storm, Matt drifted onto the doorstep of his father and stepmother, for a second chance at childhood, in a new home, and in a new school.
Matt picked up Emma’s hairbrush and felt the silky strands of hair left by his young daughter. Wow, so long ago. A glance into the mirror above the sink revealed a head of gray-white hair, the redness long since gone. The taut, foolish boy’s face had morphed into a tired looking man with wrinkles. Yet he had survived, having gained more than he had lost.
Emma appeared behind him. “Shouldn’t we be going?” she asked.
He spotted her in the mirror and turned around, a smile arcing across his features.
“Why are you smiling?” she asked.
“Because, my dear, you are a beautiful answer to my prayer.”
She looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Say what?”
“Sometimes things don’t go the way we want or planned. Sometimes we don’t have any clue where life is going. But if we know that we are loved, and we love others, somehow we can get through everything thrown at us.” He reached up and kissed her on the forehead. “Always remember that I love you.”
Eyes glistening, a smile appeared on her face, and Emma pressed in against his chest. “I will, Dad. I will.”