His Big Adventure
Janell Cress

The two mastiffs who lived in the pen by the house at the end of lane were the only ones outside to see the father off on his big adventure. It was early in the morning, before the sun rose, when shapes were malleable and a person in a dim circle of porch light looked especially alone. If it'd been anyone else, the dogs would've woken up the neighborhood with their barking. As it was they only let out fierce whines and prodded parts of themselves, paw pads, noses, through the chain link of their pen.

Inside, at the window in his upstairs room, the little boy hopped back and forth lightly on the hardwood, trying to get warm. His breath puffed out in blooms of fog, clouding the window. Then he stilled, swabbed the pane with the flannel sleeve of his pajama top. Something important was happening.

Down in the driveway the car sputtered and roared. Exhaust drifted up in the cold still air. The headlights came on. The boy held his breath. Let it out when his father climbed from the driver's side with the ice scraper, then chipped and scraped at the frost caked on the windshield.

Meanwhile the chain link rattled and rang like a rogue wind chime in the still of pre-dawn. The boy imagined the cold wetness of the dogs' noses, the rank heat of their shit-smelling breath. He'd been close to them before. His fingers within snapping distance of their jaws, jagged white teeth and red snarling lips. Those knot-taut muscles straining forward. Such fury. All because of him just standing there.

His father's boots crunched from the front of the car to the back. More chipping and scraping. Then he got back in the car. The engine revved, the tires spun briefly against the snow. He backed out of the driveway, he rolled down the street. He made a turn. He disappeared.

Then, steps in the hallway outside his closed bedroom door. A pause. A knock.

Time to get up, little man.

His mother knocked again and came inside, stood quiet over his bed. He was under the covers by then, just his face exposed. His eyes were closed.

It's a new day.

The little boy blinked and yawned. Yes, Mama.

Were you asleep?

Yes, Mama.

You're telling a story.

I'm not.

His mother made him pancakes and sausage. His favorite. The boy ate his breakfast and his mother sipped her coffee. The house was so quiet, without his father there. As his mother washed the dishes at the sink, her breath caught, the sting of soap in those cuts on her hands. The boy knew better than to ask. There was nothing to ask, besides. It was all very clear.

So it was, once the dishes were stacked steaming in the rack, and his mother was off to work, and it was all so quiet in the house, and she'd said nothing about his father, and he was supposed to be leaving for school, and he should have run outside, earlier in that pre-dawn darkness, should have kicked and railed, should've woken up the neighborhood, but it was too late now, with the sun creeping into the bare black trees, and no one in the whole wide world really knowing much of anything that might befall someone else, that he strode outside and unlatched the gate and walked into the pen with the big dogs, just to see exactly what would happen.

Janell S. Cress lives in Texas and is working on a collection of short fiction.

To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/200809hba.htm

Photo detail on main page courtesy of This Year's Love.

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