The night after the funeral, Tom sat in the backyard on his metal lawn chair under the maple tree. The windows of the house were open and the rooms were dark except for the yellow light over the stove in the kitchen. The apple slices he had left for Frank and Betty were gone and the dark leaves of the tree gently moved in the breeze.
In his hands he held the red, wire bound notebook.
He thought maybe he should pray. But he wasn’t sure what to pray about. He hadn’t prayed in so long, Well, not really prayed, he thought. Tom had on many occasions prayed for the numbers in his notebook. Prayed for the salvation that would come with those numbers, and the move he never discussed with Sylvia that those numbers would finance.
Sylvia called his notebook a “useless obsession”, but it never stopped him from walking to Franklin’s Drugstore on Saturdays. She would cluck her tongue, and say the doors needed oiling, and the furnace needed checking and that the faucet in the kitchen dripped no matter how tightly she twisted the knobs. But, she always let him go. And this had been their routine for some fifteen years after moving to Rome.
Tom thought about praying for Sylvia, but felt she could very well take care of herself no matter where she ended up and that, probably, he should pray for the “caretaker” of wherever she was now. He laughed a little himself and looked up into the warm night sky over the house. He traced the outline of the roof against the darkness, and the chimney which he should have had cleaned years ago.
Fifteen years had he been looking up at that roof. The roof that had protected him from rain and hail, from sun and snow, that balanced over his head as he fell asleep next to Sylvia. Fifteen years of living under a roof that he never tried to fix or improve or clean, and never felt thankful for once. He thought about praying to say he was sorry. Sorry for never appreciating what was there. Sorry for never fixing the front screen door. But he wasn’t sure who to be sorry to. He had once and only once tried to tell Sylvia what he felt before they moved to Rome.
“Don’t be silly,” she had said.
“Couldn’t we sell it?”
“Sell it? Why would I want to sell something we need?”
“It’s just that…”
“It doesn’t seem right to call someone else’s home our home.”
“Oh lord. How can you be jealous of a dead man. And he wasn’t just ‘someone’, he was my husband. And you can’t blame me for the foresight and generosity HE had. And don’t forget, I had no idea either that this would happen. Years go by and then a letter comes saying I need to pay taxes on a house in Rome I never even knew I owned.”
“I know but…you were only married for a month.”
“So what should we do, Tom? Tell me. Stay here. We’re behind on the rent. You can’t find work. My job barely pays enough for groceries. The fridge is broken again. It’s embarrassing.”
“Yes! It’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing for me to live like this.”
“I’ll find a way. Give me some time and I’ll find something”.
“Instead of fighting this you should be falling down on your knees to thank the man who left me this house.”
“What are we going to even do with a place that big?”
“Well, filling it with children is no longer an option.”
“No, Sylvia. Don’t say that.”
Tom sat in the backyard on his metal lawn chair under the maple tree. The windows of the house were open and the rooms were dark except for the small white light over the stove in the kitchen.
In his hands he held the small, red, wire bound notebook.
He fell asleep in the chair and dreamed of Franklin’s Drugstore. And in the dream he had found the nine year old girl who was missing, and he was crying out, “Joe! Joe! I’m ready. I’m ready.” But the store was closed and the doors were locked.