The next day when I woke, the dream from the night before seemed so foggy and distant, and I felt foolish for how scared I had been. It was only a dream, after all. The sunlight splashed in through my open window and against the mustard-yellow walls of my bedroom, pushing away all of the shadows and fears of the night back to the corners and under the bed, where they belonged.
The AA batteries in my Gameboy had died during the night, and the screen was a dark, dead gray. I had no doubt lost most of the progress I had made last night, and, when I replaced the batteries, would have to start back at my last save point, but that was fine. I did not mind playing through those sections again, the details of which were still fuzzy, from playing them while I was half-asleep.
It was nine o’clock, and my mother had already gone, left for work hours before. I wanted to take a shower, but did not want to risk wetting the gauze and having it fall off, so instead I put on some clean clothes, and went to the kitchen to make myself a bowl of cereal.
My right hand, the injured one, was stiff and uncooperative, and hurt when I tried to grip the box of cereal. I set it down to hang uselessly by my side, and put my left hand to work by itself. I had never had to do anything without the full use of both of my hands before, and I did not like the challenge. It was hard, and frustrating, and little ‘o’s of oats spilled everywhere on the counter. I did not care one bit about being ambidextrous. I wanted my good hand back.
As I ate my cereal I thought about going next door to Ms. Cleary’s house so that she could take another look at my hand, and fix what damage my mother had caused. I was sure it was her fault: the return of the pain, added stiffness, and discoloration of the skin, and that if she had just left the leaf wrapper on to begin with, it would already have healed by now. I did not know this so much as I assumed and believed it.
I wanted so much to go to Ms. Cleary’s house then, but there was still a part of me that was afraid to disobey my mother. I was certain that she would know that I had been there, even if I kept on the gauze bandage, and did not change it. There was something intuitive and psychic about the minds of mothers, I knew. They could always tell when you were lying, and seemed to have some sense or notion of where you were and what you were doing at all times. I was frightened of that all-knowingness of my mother, and that was what kept me from walking over to see Ms. Cleary and Clara.
Instead, I ate my cereal, making careful bites with my left hand, so as not to spill any milk, and wondered where in the house my mother would have placed the AA batteries. She had grown wise, and kept them hidden from me so that she could monitor my gametime. There were, however, still several cardboard boxes laying in the garage that I knew of, that had yet to be unpacked since the move, and where my precious batteries may be hiding.
I set my dishes in the sink and crossed the kitchen to the side door, that connected the house to the garage. When I opened the door and went into the garage, it was like stepping into a dungeon room in Zelda, full of cardboard treasure chests, waiting to be opened and emptied of valuable items, essential for me to complete my quest.
The concrete floor was pleasantly cool on my barefeet, and I walked toward the pile of a dozen or so boxes. There was little else in the garage yet. We had thrown out most of the contents of our old garage, which had been used mainly for storage.
My father’s red toolbox sat on a shelf, next to my baseball bat, glove, and mitt. There were other balls too: a football, soccer ball, and basketball. My father had been big into sports, and encouraged me to try out as many as he could, convinced that I would find a fulfilling and fun one; one that spoke to the universal desire to be physically active, and the joys of teamwork. I never did. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy exercise, or running or playing. I did, but somehow when you added other kids also running around, trying to take the ball away from you on one side, while the others yelled at you for not playing the game right, the fun was lost. I did not enjoy competing with others, and I was told that it was because I was just bad, which I supposed must be true. I enjoyed games like tag, where there was really no winner or loser, everyone just played. My father tried to hide his disappointment when I told him this, but I could tell that I was not being quite the son he wanted, or expected.
When I opened up the first box, it was filled with last year’s winter clothes: mittens and hats and scarves, and big, marshmallowy coats that took up most of the space. Another box had in it several picture albums and old photos. I flipped through these for awhile, saw pictures of my father with a mustache, and a younger, thinner version of my mother, before setting them aside and continuing with my search.
I found the pack of AA batteries in a box with other miscellaneous things. It was nestled on top of an electric blanket, in between some unused candles and books. I opened the pack, grabbed two, which was all I needed, and closed the box back up.
The old batteries I threw away, wishing that my mother bought the rechargeable kind, so that I would not have to go searching for new ones every time I needed them.
The rest of the morning was spent in quiet isolation. I sat on the comfy gray couch in the living room, and played my Zelda game until I had reached the place where I had ended the night before. My hand still gave me some trouble, but I could move my thumb up and down, which was all I needed. I saved my progress and turned off my Gameboy. Then I went to my spare room to build with my legos.
Every year, for Christmas and my birthday, I would get a new box of legos. They would always have a theme to them, soccer, or cowboys and indians, or policemen or astronauts. I collected them indiscriminately, except for the few targeted to girls. I would first put them together the way they were supposed to go, following the paper instructions included to the letter, but eventually would grow tired of them, and take them apart again, to be combined with other sets. I had cowboys in space, flying on spaceships constructed from police cars and soccer fields, and forts and castles built from firetrucks and satellites. It was the best way to play, and I felt like a god, creating and destroying at will, and soon became lost in the world that I had built.
The rumbling of a diesel-engine truck brought me back to reality. I heard it faintly at first, then gradually louder as it came down the lane. I looked out the window of my playroom, and saw a green truck pull up to the curb. It was my uncle, here for lunch and who knew how much longer after that.
He wore a hat that covered his balding head, and walked up through the lawn in a red tie, and white collared shirt tucked into khaki slacks. When he knocked on the door it was loud, but not pounding.
My heart sunk. Reluctantly, I abandoned my legos and walked slowly to the door, taking my time, but making sure to reach it in enough time that he would not need to knock again. I didn’t need him to watch me. I was fine by myself, and unless he planned on offering to help me build a new treehouse in the backyard, I did not think we would get along.
When I opened the door he smiled at me, a big smile on his round, smooth face.
“Hey kiddo,” he said.
“Hungry? I’m starved. Your pick. I’m buying.” He looked relaxed, and kept his hands in his pockets. I made no move to invite him inside, and he seemed perfectly content to stay where he was.
I shrugged. “McDonald’s?” I said. I wanted to make him a liar again, and didn’t think he would say yes. My mother never took me out to eat, and only had awful things to say about fast food chains, which made me all the more eager for a greasy cheeseburger.
“Sounds great,” he said, and took a step back from the porch. “Come on then, let’s get a move on.”
I was surprised and impressed. Maybe he wasn’t as bad as I had originally thought. He at least got some points for an unauthorized McDonald’s trip. I put on my shoes and walked out with my Uncle Martin through the lawn and to his big green truck. He let me sit in the front, there was nowhere else to sit, and when my uncle stuck the key in the ignition the truck came to life with a great roar. It was a stick shift, and, as my uncle turned it around in our driveway and drove down and out of the lane to McDonald’s, it rumbled and jolted with the changing gears.