Adele Howard lay awake listening to her baby brother’s screams. It was two o’clock on a Tuesday morning and there was no sign of Tommy calming down.
Douglas must be frantic she thought.
She decided to get up and investigate. The light was on in the nursery and Douglas was pacing the small room with 14-month-old Tommy in his arms. He hadn’t even changed or washed from work yet, and he had streaks of rust and oil across his cheeks. Adele knew that meant he’d been working in the salvage yard again. He hated the salvage yard job, but he was only needed in the garage when it got busy. He looked tired and hadn’t got home till after ten, so Adele knew he hadn’t eaten either.
“What’s up?” she asked.
“I don’t know!” replied Douglas in a frantic sort of tone.
“I’ve changed him and fed him. But he just won’t stop”.
“Maybe he’s sick or something”.
Douglas shook his head.
“I checked all that! He replied. “He took his bottle okay and he’s not running a temperature. He just screams when I try to put him down and don’ even stop when I pick him up again”.
“Then maybe he jus’ wants some company! Suggested Adele. “Give him here before he wakes the others and maybe you can get washed and get something to eat.”
“I’m not hungry! I just need to figure out what’s wrong with Tommy”.
“He senses you’re upset too! Give him here Douglas”.
“No I can deal with it; I need to figure it out.”
“You’re tired Douglas and you look like hell”.
“Gee thanks a lot Del! Go to bed. I’ll just take him in with me for the night”.
“You can’t keep taking him into your bed every time he cries. You’ll never get him settled that way”.
“Leave it out Adele! Since when did you know so much about babies?”
Adele knew he had not meant to snap at her. He raked a hand through his hair and looked at her apologetically.
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to snap at you. Go to bed Del it’s late”.
“You want me to make you some supper?”
“Positive! Now go to bed”.
Adele kissed him on the cheek and kissed Tommy on the head. He had calmed a little but he was still whimpering. Adele watched Douglas disappear to the bathroom with Tommy. She sighed and went back to bed. She lay on her bed staring at the ceiling. She closed her eyes tightly and gulped back the lump in her throat.
It should be their Mum or Dad pacing the nursery with Tommy not her 22-year-old brother. But since the accident Douglas had took on the role of guardian for his brother’s and sister’s. Adele knew his job at the garage didn’t pay much and he’d been doing some extra hours and skipping out on meals sometimes just to be sure, they were well cared for. But with 17-year-old Zachary and 10-year-old twins Hayley and Samuel causing more problems than he could handle, it made people doubt Douglas as the right person to be taking care of everything. But little Tommy needed most of his attention and then there was 6 year old Scott old enough to know that Mummy and Daddy weren’t around anymore but still too young to understand why. He was scared and withdrawn and needed Douglas’ full attention too.
It had been almost a year since the accident that rocked and saddened the small town somewhere near Kentucky! Douglas Howard Snr. and his wife Jane were well known and respected in the small town! Douglas was an architect and his wife Jane an assistant teacher in the kindergarten class at the local school, had been on their way home from a shopping trip when Doug Snr. had lost control of the car when it skidded on some ice before crashing into a tree and killing both their parents instantly and Douglas Jnr. who had been all prepared to move out and have a place of his own, now found himself working as many hours as he could without the chance of sometime to himself.
He hadn’t even had the chance to grieve properly, he had been the one who had to tell his brother’s and sister’s about the accident and he’d been there for all of them. The strong, dependable shoulder to cry on, always there when they needed him. But Adele knew he needed to grieve. There was going to be one day pretty soon when he’d just crack and Adele knew only to look at him that day wasn’t far off. Adele knew when that happened there would be no one to pick up the pieces for him.
Douglas had a shower and settled into bed with Tommy cuddled up close. His eyes stung with tiredness and his back was throbbing. Just as he was about to try and get some sleep, he thought he heard someone.
The voice was whiny.
“Can I come in with you?”
“No go back to bed Scott”.
“I said bed!”
“Don’ make me get up to you!” he said in his best stern voice.
He hated to get angry with the little guy but sometimes things just got too much and they just drove him to distraction.
Just then, Scott began to cry. Douglas groaned and laid his arm over his eyes.
“What’s the matter with you now?”
“I wet my bed again”, he sobbed.
Douglas sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He did not need this, it was now almost three, and he had to get up in about three hours. He got out of bed and walked over to where his little brother stood in his soaked pyjamas still clutching his bear. Scott gasped and cowered when Douglas towered over him.
“What’s the matter?”
“Are you gonna hit me?”
“Course not! When have I ever hit you? It was an accident, I know that! Said Douglas thinking had he looked that angry. “C’mon let’s get you cleaned up”.
Scott took his hand and he took him to his room first to get him clean pyjamas that’s if he had any to spare since this had been the third night in a row he’d wet his bed. He had been doing it on and off since the accident. Douglas took out his last pair off clean pyjamas and took him to the bathroom. Scott put his arms around his neck while he stripped off his pyjamas.
“I’m sorry”, he sobbed.
“It’s okay! I know you’re just frightened. I’m sorry too for shouting”
“It’s okay. I’m not frightened any more.”
Douglas cleaned him up and put on his clean pyjamas.
“C’mon sport let’s get to bed”
Scott jumped on his back and he took him to his room.
“Do you miss Mummy and Daddy?”
“I miss ’em every second of the day mate”
“Me too! Why’d they havta’ leave us!”
Douglas gulped and closed his eyes.
‘Don’t cry Scott please!’ Douglas thought to himself.
He got into bed and beckoned him over. Scott crawled up on his chest and popped his thumb in his mouth. Douglas took a breath and gulped back the lump in his throat, he didn’t know how long he could do this, didn’t know how long he could keep protecting them before he broke down too he just couldn’t stand to see his brother’s and sister’s cry any more.
“I wish I could see ’em just one more time”
“I know mate I do too. But you know they’ll always be with us in here and in here” replied Douglas pointing to his head then his heart.
“It ain’t the same though.”
“I know sport but it just happened. But you know they’re in a better place an’ they’re watching over you, watching you grow.”
“Yea with god. I’ll tell you what we’ll look for ’em together close your eyes a moment”.
“Jus’ close ‘em and I guarantee you’ll see Mommy an’ Daddy one more time”.
“Jus’ close your eyes like I say.”
“All right good. Now keep thinkin’ till you can see ‘em an’ tell me what they’re up to”
“Sure you can think of something’ real special that we all used to do together”.
“Okay I can see ’em Doug!”
“Good what they doing?”
“Okay Mommy’s sitting on the garden swing with Del’ an’ Hayley braiding they’re hair and rocking Tommy in his cradle with her foot and Daddy’s playing basketball in the driveway with his boys and you an’ Zach an’ Sam are tellin’ him he’s cheating cos’ he’s lifting me up to score the goals”
“There see told you an every time you get frightened or you miss ‘em real bad you jus’ gotta close your eyes and look for ’em okay”
“’Kay! Is that what you do when you miss ’em?”
“Then how come you don’ ever cry like we do”.
Douglas closed his eyes and gulped, he pinched the bridge of his nose again.
“Douglas you okay”
“You ain’t gonna cry are you?”
“No I ain’t gonna cry. I gotta be the strong one and protect everyone! ”.
“Adele says it’s okay to cry”
“That’s cos’ Adele’s a girl. Boy’s don’ cry much not like girls do.”
“Then I ain’t gonna cry neither.”
“Well I suppose its okay for a little guy like you to cry though!”
“Sure it is! Now go to sleep or you’ll never get up for school”
“What is it now Scott? Douglas groaned. “I told you its really late! An’ got work in the morning!”
“But I wanted to ask you something!”
“I’m tired Scotty and you should be too!”
“But Doug do you remember the song what Daddy used to sing me when I couldn’t’ sleep?”
“I reckon so!” replied Doug, he didn’t like where this was heading and he hoped he wasn’t going to ask him to sing it to him!
“Doug? Can you sing it me?”
“Ah jeez Scotty I ain’t very good at singing in fact, I’m plain awful!”
“Please Doug! I won’t care!”
“Well alright I’ll try! But don’t say I didn’t warn you!”
’There he sits with a pen and a yellow pad!
What a handsome lad! That’s my boy!
PRLFQ spells mom and dad,
Well that ain’t too bad, cos that’s
Well you can have you TV’s and you night clubs
And you can have your drive in picture shows,
I’ll stay here with my little man near, we’ll listen to the radio.
Biding my time watching Scotty grow,
Makin’ a castle out of building blocks and a cardboard box,
That’s my boy!
Mickey Mouse says it’s thirteen o’clock!
Well that’s quite a shock!
But that’s my boy!
In 4 short years ’ave gone from rags to riches
And what I did before that I don’t know
But let it rain on my window pane
I’ve got my own rainbow,
And we’re stittin’ here shinning watching Scotty grow!
Riding on daddy’s shoulders off to bed!
Ol’ sleepy head, that’s my boy!
Gotta have a drinking of water and a story read
A teddy bear named Fred! That’s my boy!
What’s that you say mama come on and keep your
Feet warm! Well save me a place I’ll be there in a
Minute or so! I think I’ll stay right here and say a little prayer before
I go! I’m just sitting here shinning watching Scotty grow!
Me and god are watching Scotty grow!
When Doug looked down after singing the song to him, Scott was curled up on his chest and sound asleep. Douglas smiled to himself.
’Maybe I’m not such a bad singer after all! ’He thought to himself.
Douglas put his arms behind his head and lay thinking. He had given up on going to sleep now.
Adele woke with the sunlight shinning into her room. She rubbed her eyes and looked at the clock, it was almost eight. She got up and checked in the downstairs room where Douglas slept. She shook him and he groaned.
“Douglas it’s almost eight”.
“Douglas we’re late!”
“I said its 7:45”
“Oh jeez! Adele I’m in trouble.”
“Better go make breakfast and I’ll get everyone up.”
Douglas got dressed and went to make up their lunches and breakfast.
Sam sat down and stared at his bowl. He spooned up some oatmeal and watched the thick goop stay on the spoon and not drop back into the bowl. He stuck his spoon into the bowl and watched it stand upright.
“Doug? He grumbled. “Why can’t we have better breakfast somethin’ like fruit loops or Chocó puffs or cap n’ crunch!”
“Because they’re full of Sugar. Oatmeal is better for you! Now eat it quick we’re late.”
“But I hate oatmeal, specially yours it’s like cement, he grumbled. “ Can’t I jus’ ’ave toast?”
The rest of them sniggered except for Adele instead she felt for him, Douglas was trying hard.
“No!” replied Douglas firmly.
“Aww! How come Doug please!”
“I said no Sam! And besides I ain’t got time to make you it!”
“I can make it myself!” Replied Sam standing up to do just that.
“I said sit Samuel! “ Douglas yelled so loud that he made them all jump.
Sam sat down again quickly, Douglas never yelled at him and he had called him Samuel, he never called him Samuel.
Douglas didn’t lose his temper very often, so when he did it usually made them all stand up and take notice.
“Jeez all’s I wanted was some toast! “Replied Sam.
“And I said you’re to eat your oatmeal so eat it or go to school hungry it’s your choice Samuel!”
Sam sighed and ate his oatmeal with force.
That wasn’t the end of the complaints.
“Hey Doug when are you goin’ to get me those new cleats?” asked Zachary.
“I don’t know mate. Scotty needs new boots and Tommy’s growing outta all his clothes.”
“But they’re wrecked! And coach says I gotta get new un’s if wanna play in a match,” moaned Zachary.
“Not half as wrecked my boots are,” replied Douglas.
He took off one of his boots for inspection. The only shoes he had were a pair of steel toe caped work boots, the laces were snapped too short to tie properly, the leather at the toes was worn through to the steel caps and he bent the sole a little to show them the cracks across the sole.
“That’s what wrecked boots look like an’ I can’t do nuthin’ but live with ‘em like that even though they soak my socks when it rains. Cos’ every time I got a little money in my wallet I gotta pay a bill or get somethin’ for one of you! So you can tell coach I can’t afford to fork out a hundred an’ thirty dollars on new cleats! When I can’t even pay our electrics bill”
“Does that mean I can’t get my new shin pads neither?” asked Hayley
Douglas sighed. Didn’t they listen to anything he said?
“What’s the matter with the ones you got?”
“They kinda got too small on me! Coach says I’ve grown a good few inches since last season!”
“Mine too! Sam piped in. “And we need new cleats too!”
Adele watched him rake a hand through his hair.
“Douglas you all right?” she asked.
“Fine. You ain’t got any demands for me ’ave you? Don’t need any money for schoolbooks or something?”
She smiled and gave him a hug. Did he think that’s all she did was study?
“I’m all right got everything I need for now.”
“Well thank goodness for that. Least that’s one less to worry about.”
Adele watched him grab a quick spoonful of his oatmeal and make up their lunches at the same time. Adele noticed that his boots weren’t the only things that were worn out; most of his clothes were too! For instance the dark blue and hunter green checked shirt he wore was faded and tattered just like the dark blue work style chinos he wore, even his baseball cap and denim jacket were tattered not to mention covered in oil. But Adele knew that no matter how hard he worked, he never had the money to get himself anything.
“Oh Doug we forgot we need you to sign a consent form for our field trip and we need 12 dollars” said Hayley.
Adele watched him suck in his breath like he was stopping himself from blowing his temper on them.
“When for?” he asked.
“Um needs to be in today!” replied Sam.
“Damn it what’s with you two, why didn’t you give it me when you got it? There’s two of you an’ you still forget! What if I don’t got 12 dollars?”
“Then we don’t get to go! Please Doug everyone else handed theirs in!”
“I know what I should do! I know what Dad would do!” He replied checking his wallet.
Sam and Hayley looked horrified, they knew too.
“You ain’t gonna make us miss out!”
Douglas sighed, he didn’t have his father’s strict discipline and no nonsense approach, and he had more of his mother’s softer side.
“Doug?” Hayley asked him.
“Are you gonna let us go!”
“Well reckon I ain’t like Dad, got more of mom’s patient temperament. Suppose I’ll jus’ ’ave to give you my last twelve dollars!”
He signed their consent form and handed Hayley the form and the money.
“Next time you give it me right away or I might just make y’all miss out you hear?”
“Thanks Doug we will promise!” replied Sam.
Doulas sighed he was beginning to sound like his Dad, he closed his eyes and gulped back the lump in his throat should he have made them miss out? Douglas knew they were taking advantage of him. He smiled when Adele’s voice brought him back to reality, she always called him Douglas just like his mum had, never Doug like the others did.
“Douglas?” Adele asked.
“You know I was thinkin’ maybe I could help you out a little. You know so’s you’d have some money to get yourself something’s too.”
Douglas looked in her direction and frowned, he didn’t like the sound of that.
“And how do you suppose you do that?”
“I don’t know get a part time job maybe like a paper round or in the Johnston’s store they were looking for someone to do a Saturday job.”
Douglas gulped. Adele had that worried look on her face. There was no way he was going to let her give up her free time to work in a shop or let anything interfere with her studies.
“It’s a real nice offer Del’ but I’d rather you just concentrated on your studies.”
“But if you’re having problems with our bills?”
He handed out their lunches and gave Adele a kiss on the cheek.
“You let me worry about that pun’ kin’ and jus’ promise me you’ll work hard and achieve good grades okay”
Zachary rolled his eyes. Douglas was beginning to sound like their dad, knuckle down at school, and get good grades!
“What’s up with you Zach?”
“Nuthin’ you’re beginning to sound like Dad! Knuckle down at school and get good grades an’ you’ll get a decent job!”
“Then maybe y’all should start listening!”
“Whatever!!” replied Zach.
“What’s up Del’? Don’t look so worried, I’m jus’ lookin out for y’all! You know that don’t you?”
Adele nodded and Douglas gave her a hug.
“I’m jus’ tryin’ to help. I jus’ get worried ‘bout when you gotta work so hard an’ you don’ get much sleep.”
Douglas smiled and held her at arms length.
“Hey I’m all right! Someone’s gotta pay the bills an’ look after you lot”
“An’ someone’s gotta look after you too Douglas an’ if I didn’ worry ’bout you no one else would!”