My uniform shoes were making a clicking noise as I walked down the hot sidewalk heated up from the spring air. The warm sunshine squeezed its way through the tall buildings of Manhattan, with its shadow making a second roof over the small neighborhood. The sweet smell of flowers filled my lungs and cleaned the dread of the newspaper that arrived just last week. Manhattan wasn't the only shadow that cast over our neighborhood. It was the newspapers that went around telling young boys to go fight in the Vietnam war. Grandpa always used to say that in time of peace, prepare for war. It was so peaceful when the mail boy rang his little bell on his bicycle, even before the sun had a chance to warm up the birds wings for them to fly. My brother would get up early to catch the paper before it hit the door so I wouldn´t wake up.
The red roses bloomed in front of my tiny brick house. Mama would then cut them down and make a sweet jam from the petals. We would spread on a thick piece of white bread fresh from the oven. The door creaked with only a slight push. Silence filled the air, the empty cabinets that used to be filled with my brother’s collection of baseball cards and my grandpa’s World War Two medals. My brother was leaving tomorrow.
My mother didn't want him to leave, but Papa always said to die with dignity is the most a person can do for his family. But what Papa didn't explain is how my brother’s dignity could fill the empty cabinets.
I shut the door slowly behind me and kicked off my shoes, which then made a hollow bang against the wall. Just like my heart, beating in my hollow chest as my brother will be leaving me tomorrow. The smell of fresh chicken and mashed potatoes filled the air. My brother’s favorite meal. I see from the foyer, Papa's shadow looking out to our small backyard. He would pick us up on his shoulders and run all over the yard until we ended up on the grass with stains on our clothes, waiting for the evening to come. Mama would come home from work and would be too tired to scold us for having dirty clothes. Suddenly, Mama walks into Papa’s arms and her quivering shoulders match the labored breathing as her tears sock into Papa’s shirt. Tears bloom in my own eyes, and I dash them away and slowly make my way up the old oak stairs my grandpa placed step by step. On the top of the stairs, the dust seems to be flowing out from the small crack of my brothers bedroom. I hear the boxes shifting and sliding against the floors. I tap gently on his door only to hear a soft response of his gentle voice telling me to come in. He turned around to see me open-eyed, looking at the many boxes lying on the floor and climbing up the walls.
“Hey Chipmunk, how was school?”, he turned around grinning. His smile would warm up the room, and I resisted the urge to jump into his hands and for him to spin me around until we would end up on the floor laughing. “Old man is going to be proud of me, egh? ”, he says sweeping with his arms towards all the packed boxes scattered on the floor. ¨ Bus is picking me up at 6am tomorrow. You want me to wake you up?”
“Don't go,” I whisper looking into his gentle green eyes. “Stay. They don't need you out there. There are many other men and sons fighting please...” Before he cuts me off, I realize that I am standing only a few feet away from him.
“Jenny, I am sorry but I have to go. Whether they need me or not, I must stand my ground for my country. This war could happen to another country. I have to go. Take care of my stuff okay. I can only take that suitcase.” I turn slowly and see an old ugly brown suitcase leaning against the door. He reaches his hand to brush the piece of hair that fell on my face. “Here, I have something for you.”
He turns around. with just enough time for me to wipe the tear that slipped from my eye. He reaches for something deep in the wall of boxes. He pulls out a big one which sends all the small boxes tumbling down.
“Here, take these. Keep them in your room. I can't take these to the base. I think all the boys there would think I am a weakling.” He lets out a short laugh and pushes the heavy box into my hands. As he turns around, I take that as my que to get out and into the freedom of my room.
I walk in. The sun patches dance around on my walls and my bed. The trees outside seem to be doing a perfect pax de du with the sunshine. I flip over the box. Stuffed animals and favorite snack wrappers fall to the floor. I toss the box into the corner, and it makes a sudden clunking noise against the cabinet, knocking over some of my school awards to the floor. I walk slowly and peek inside the box to find this small rectangle piece wrapped in brown packing paper. I reach inside and grasp it. I move towards my bed unwrapping into a memory. The photo was an orange/brown color. Me and my brother argued for this photo way back before grandma on put her walking shoes and went to see the lord in heaven. It was a picture of me, Mama and my brother. My Mama, her long dark hair fell down and wrapped itself against the antique chair embroidered with silver flowers. On her lap, my brother, only six years old, holds a tiny bundle. His small hands fit perfectly inside Mamas as she places his hands on his around the tiny buddle. I slowly take the photo from the frame and flip it over for the date. June 6th, 1933. Flipping the photo over, a tear falls and crawls its way down the photo onto the floor. I suddenly hear Mama calling from the stairs, probably still in her apron, calling us down for dinner. I hear my brother’s footsteps make their way to my closed door. I hear his breathing for a moment before his hand rubs down the staircase rail heading down the stairs. Not a moment later, I find myself at the bottom of the stairs making my way into the kitchen. As I enter, Papa is sitting there with his newspaper and only raising his hand to move the pipe to his mouth. I make my way to the seat. Mama gives me a smile as she puts down the thick white bread in front of my brother. She kisses me on the forehead before snatching the news paper out of Papa's hands and sitting down herself next to my brother.
“Let's say a prayer, Shall we?” she says grasping my fathers and brothers hand. Papas pipe rests gently on the tray, and he too takes my hand. My brother’s hand extended towards mine. I look at his gentle hands and cannot imagine a rifle in them. I can see Mama peeking from the corner as I take my brother’s hand and close my eyes. “ May god have blessing on the meal and our lives. May my son...” I tune her out as my brothers hand gently squeezes mine. And suddenly, since that letter came paperclipped to the newspaper, asking my brother to go to war, I felt the sensation of happiness fill me. ¨ Amen. ”
“ Amen” we all say as we dig into the luscious meal that Mama made.
After that quiet dinner, I send myself to bed. I hear the soft shuffling of Mama and my brother talking in a hushed voice just below my bedroom.
I woke up the next morning at 7 from the loud bang. The mail boy came along to throw the newspaper at the door. My brother was not there to catch it that morning.
And he never did again.