I crouched down and drew my face as close to his as I could. Careful not to disturb his rest, I strained to speak so that my brother would not overhear our conversation.
“Hey buddy.” I whispered. Christopher David did not respond. He just lay there serenely, eyes closed and quiet. I smiled at his stillness, so foreign when compared with my two teenagers that seemed to embody the phrase “flurry of activity”.
“I have to head home. I’m gonna miss you…” My quiet voice broke a little as the reality of my impending departure and the consequent separation from Tommy and Barb, and, of course, my little nephew Chris washed over me. My heart seemed to gain a couple pounds as it sank in my chest.
I carefully reached a shaking hand forward as though to stroke Chris’ wisps of hair and then left it there hovering over the child. Thinking better of it, I let it fall back to my side.
Looking past where Christopher lay quietly, I was disappointed to see Tommy fumble through his pockets to find a lighter. Finding it, he absently lit the filter end of the cancer stick. He dropped the lighter on the pavement near his feet, ripped the cigarette out of his mouth, threw it to the ground, and released a surprisingly colorful stream of swear words for a church-going man.
Tommy stepped forward and crushed the butt into the pavement, grinding it below his shoe with such wrath that it appeared that he might be trying to drive his foot right through the concrete. Moments later, satisfied that the obliteration was complete, he leaned back against the car again. His head dropped and I could no longer see his face, but the heaving of his shoulders announced the return of his tears.
“Oh, T” I said under my breath as I leaned in to whisper to Chris again. “Your daddy needs you, little man. Now, more than ever, you need to be strong for him…and your mom.”
Barb was sitting in the front seat of the dark sedan which Tommy was leaning against. She appeared to be focused on something in her lap, and I could see the profile of her face set in a grimace of anguish which I had seen far too often during my short stay.
Only a thin layer of glass separated Tommy and Barb, but it may as well have been the distance between our sun and the next. The gulf between them seemed to widen with every passing hour, as their hearts slowly collapsed inward from the weight of their pain.
“You know what buddy?” I continued, “I remember when T…I mean your daddy… first told me I was going to be an uncle. He was so excited, and all I could say was ‘get outta here, you’re kidding right?’. And then T says ‘Kidding? Is that what they call pregnancy these days?’’ and we laughed and laughed. Then we started to cry because they were trying so hard for you, and for so long.”
Above us the sky was turning angry and the billowing white clouds of the morning were bulldozed away by towers of dark slate. A glance at my watch quickened my pace.
“I remember visiting you all a month or so ago. Your dad was so…so filled with plans for you. And, the way he looked at your mom,” I smiled at the bittersweet memory “…the way he looked at your mom. I can tell you, your auntie Jen gave me a pretty hard time about why I haven’t been looking at her like that lately.”
The first dark circles in the soil began to appear as the dark clouds released their cargo on the fresh soil mound.
“Anyway buddy, I will be back to see you soon. Be strong and remember to ask God to take care of your mommy and daddy. They don’t understand…why He took you. They don’t understand why after so many prayers and so many tears, they only got to hold you for such a short…” My tears had returned, and they mixed with the rain on my face.
I reached out and touched the tiny box. Taking a deep breath to steady myself, I began walking to the car.
And somewhere in the gentle patter of the rain, I heard the voice of Christopher David:
“It’s okay unca’ Dave, we play a’gether soon. Jesus say I an early gathering.”
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