"ALWAYS HOME" — © 1987 - 1999 by Charles Dobie


Charles Dobie

Jeramiah awoke slowly, snuggling deeply into the warm flannel sheets. There was something he had to remember. He kept his eyes shut tightly against the sunlight as he listened to the tick-thunk of the grandfather clock in the hallway. What was it he had to remember? Something about cats . . . tick-thunk . . . eight cats . . . tick-thunk . . . always home . . . tick-thunk . . . eight cats . . .

He carefully stretched his thin, old body. The crackling of his joints reminded him of ice pellets rattling against a window, and he caught a brief image of a white pattern of frost. He fumbled for his spectacles and peered at the electric clock on the side table: six a.m., right on the dot, same as every morning. He grunted as he depressed the button; hadn't overslept once in all these years, but still, you could never tell.

Now, what was it? Something about cats. Yes. Instinctively he winced as he slapped his feet onto the bedroom floor, very quickly, side by side.

Then he was Jerry and ten years old, dancing like a madman as he tried to pull on his pants and keep his feet off the freezing farmhouse floor. A giggle escaped from the lower bunk where Ralphie pretended to be asleep.

"Oh, think it's funny do ya?" He thrust a bare, frozen foot under Ralphie's covers. Bullseye! With a shriek, Ralphie dove out of the wrong side of his bed, and became helplessly wedged against the wall.

The bedroom door swung open, iron hinges protesting. The gush of warm air smelled of lye soap, pipe tobacco, diapers and soda biscuits. "You got time for foolishness, you got time for work," their father said. "Near to four foot of drift to clear before we can even get the horses out, so move your idle bones, you two." He snorted at Ralphie's flailing legs.

"Mildred, Papa. Did she have her kittens yet? How many? Have you seen them?"

"Started at ten, along with the snow. All black. Witches' cats. Six more mouths to feed, praise the Lord. Get movin' you two. Now!"

Jerry hopped to the window, trying to put on his stockings. Frost crusted the four panes of glass with an infinite maze of white crystals. He chuffed his breath and blew imaginary smoke rings. Moving closer, he kissed the window as he blew, making a clear lens of ice; a spy hole the shape of his mouth. He put his eye to the hole and looked out.

"Let me see," Ralphie said.

Jeramiah turned to speak but the words didn't happen. What was it? Something about the window. He turned to look out again, but there were only those ugly grey apartment buildings staring back as they always did, with a thousand rectangular eyes. Ralphie. Poor, dear little Ralphie, gone all these years. He shivered and hugged himself. Never could get used to cold floors.


"ALWAYS HOME" — © 1987 - 1999 by Charles Dobie