The Hollow Body
Part 1 - Major Minor
On Saturday mornings, the aroma of pancakes, vanilla, and blueberries blanket the Sawyer house. It is even more intoxicating under the quilted comforter as young Danny stirs in a dream. Walking upstream through the woods Edmund steadies Danny as he navigates the tree limbs that lie across their path. He lets Danny hold his belt loop as he steps up and over a boulder covered with slippery moss. Danny stops to dip his hand in the slow-moving cold spring water. Typically, he would see an entire school of minnows darting away. Not even one, Danny observes, as he scans the shoreline with the tip of his finger. The mystery fades and goes unsolved when he hears Dad down the hall. Danny looks out from under his pillow and sees that Edmund’s bed is empty. He is always the early one to rise and careful not to wake his younger brother. Danny likes feeling warm and protected and tends to sleep in. He feels the same way when he is with Edmund, too, so feet to the floor.
Daddy loves the breakfast ritual, and right now, he’s totally into it. Danny hears him singing from the kitchen to the beat of clanging pans and drum-stick utensils. Daddy belts out Beautiful Day. Not like U2 does it, but like a lounge singer doing Frank Sinatra. Daddy’s acapella is his "breakfast time" cue.
“It’s a beautiful day. Don’t let it get away."
"It’s a bee-you-tee-full daaaaaaaya!”
Mom is standing by the kitchen archway in her pink mom-robe. Danny lands her a big hug, the smell of Downy mingling with breakfast. Things seem much better now that she is off her anxiety meds. The benzos mess her up. The doc replaced them with a strong antihistamine. Months of withdrawal still show on mom’s face, but now she is better than ever. Dad calls it a transformation. He would read the same mystery novels as mom so they would have something fun to talk about outside of the daily grind and therapy. Although Dad likes more of the self-help type books, he can do a potboiler for his gal.
“Louisa, your pancakes are ready. Organic, gluten-free, and blessed by the pope,” Dad announces. Mom, a devout catholic, isn’t fond of his occasional digs at the pope.
“Let’s be nice, Lou. He’s a very good man. Very good, like you.” she returns, throwing him a kiss.
Danny sits down at the kitchen table, Mom behind, scooting his chair in a little.
“Mom!” he protests as she rests her hands gently on his shoulders.
“I can’t help it,” she whispers, bending slightly over his head.
“Edmund!” she calls.
Edmund makes his way from the back porch and sets his guitar gently on the TV room couch before entering the kitchen. He practices out there in the morning so as not to wake anyone. The strings are what get Edmund out of bed in the morning. They also get Ginger out of her cat bed. She sits up close on the floor while Edmund picks out a tune. Edmund is careful tapping his foot, yet occasionally, his toes get pawed.
“Learn any Tears for Fears?” Dad asks.
Edmund rolls his eyes, “No, Dad. The Strokes. Trying to learn The Strokes. Besides, it’s hard to play over your singing or whatever you want to call it.”
“They sound just like The Killers,” Dad counters.
“It’s the other way around, Dad.”
“Yeah, Dad,” says Danny.
“How many pancakes for you, ax-man?”
“Three small ones. Gotta eat and run Dad. Learning some scales. ” says Edmund.
“Dedicated! And how about you, Danny?
“One big one,” outdoing his brother.
“Coming right up, boys,” Dad sings as he segues to a Sinatra number.
“Got my gal,” he sings, looking at Mom.
“Got my lawn,” pounding out a couple “spatula beats” on the counter.
“Got my song!”
Dad swings around with a plate in each hand. On one is a super thick pancake occupying the full diameter of the plate. On the other are three perfectly stacked pancakes, each the size of a dime, with a drop of syrup on top.
“Uh, thanks, Dad,” Edmund’s eyebrows raised, “I hope I can finish them all,” picking the stack up with his fingers and dropping them into his mouth.
“Me too, Dad,” mimics Danny, smiling at his pizza size pancake with melted butter drizzling off the dish onto the tablecloth.
Mom is staring down Dad with one hand on her hip; eyes rolled back graced below with a sardonic smile. Danny cuts into his pancake, pressing across with the side of his fork. He picks up half and drops it on Edmund’s plate.
Edmund winks at Danny, “Thanks, Bromo Sapien.”
“Danny, you are too kind. Just like your father,” Mom says, eyes cast back at Dad.
“OJ, anyone?” excusing herself to the fridge.
Both boys raise a hand, while Dad is by now buried in the paper.
“Yes, yes, yep.”
“Father of our children! Paper down. Enjoy them before they rebel!”
Dad folds the paper and tucks it under his thigh while downing the last bite of his pancake all in one motion when at last, he raises his fork. That is Dad’s tell. It means he has something to say. The long delay between the fork raise and the words is torturous. Mom, Edmund, and Danny wait motionless. Ginger too.
“Today,” long pause, “is lawn day,” he proclaims.
“Got my gal,” he sings, looking at Mom.
“Got my lawn, got my song.”
Mom is not fond of lawn day. She has allergies, so that means more antihistamines and the drowsies. For Edmund and Danny, it means picking up rocks starting at the shoreline by the brook and over their enormous yard before the mowing begins. Hours and hours.
The stones must walk back from the stream to the grass all on their own in the middle of the night, Edmund thinks.
Danny doesn’t mind; he can hear the babbling brook as he works. His constant companion. The brook winds for miles through the woods like an artery. Just as you enter the trees, there is a boulder the brothers call Indian Rock, sloped steeply on both sides. Danny and Edmund climb on top often and straddle it as it shape-shifts into a horse, an army tank, a spaceship, or a motorcycle depending on what they are playing. Not so much anymore, though, as Edmund finds his guitar more interesting. There Edmund can shape-shift into The Strokes or his brand of a rock star with his fans roaring in applause. The days of catching minnows, crayfish, and snakes fade out as his facial hair fades in, and his front-man voice gets deeper.
“But first things first men,” Dad blurts. “It looks like the creek is getting lazy again. Maybe the beavers are back at it. The two of you go check on that for me first eh?”
“Dad?” whines Edmund.
“Edmund, its Saturday. You know, chore day.”
“I have a lesson at Mr. Malone’s this afternoon, and I told Mrs. Malone that I would help her with her Vacation Bible School recital,” begs Edmund.
“Since when are you into Vacation Bible School?”
Mom interrupts, “Since Mr. Malone was kind enough to help him with his guitar. It’s alright, Lou.”
“Don’t know Louisa, with that policewoman at their door last month. Don’t know what that was about.”
“I’m sure it was nothing. You know Mr. Malone, playing his music so loud,” says Mom.
“Just like you, Dad,” Edmund laughs.
“Lou, maybe Edmund can help Danny check out the creek, then visit the Malone’s?”
Ginger jumps up on mom’s lap, tugging and scratching at her robe.
“I’m not sure Ginger agrees, hon. Cat on a hot tin roof and all.”
Mom nudges Ginger off her lap, landing a long shallow scratch on her bare calf.
“Lou, Lou, Lou, just let Edmund go. Your lawn will be fine, and you're quite capable of harvesting a few stones yourself,” she pleads while gritting her teeth.
“Dad, I can do the rocks myself after I check the creek with Edmund,” Danny interrupts.
Edmund tosses Danny a thumbs up, “ Thanks again bromo!”
Mom starts gathering dishes, a drop of blood running down her leg.
“I’ll take care of those, hon. Let me clean up that scratch. Then we can work on the vacation plans.”
“Thank you, darling,” Mom’s head hung down, her finger testing the bleed.
“Okay, well, we’re off, Dad. I have to be done by noon to meet Mr. Malone.”
“I’ll help you with the yard when we get back, Dad,” Danny says with affection.
“Let me know how it goes, boys. Love you.”
“Love you too, Dad,” Edmund returns.
“Me too, Dad,” Danny affirms.
“What about me?” Mom blurts as Dad finishes wiping her leg with warm water and a paper towel.
Danny zooms over to Mom and wraps his arms around her waist. “Always, Mom!”
“Me too,” Edmund says, winking at Danny.
“Don’t muddy your new sneakers. Boots are in the garage,” warns Mom as they exit.
Danny jumps up to hit the garage door opener button overhead. The morning sun paints the cement floor a faint orange. Edmund motions to their bikes in the corner. Dad scored them two vintage 1969 Mustang bicycles with a banana seat and a sissy bar. Edmund’s red and Danny’s blue.
“Great ride yesterday, eh, Danny?”
“Uh-huh! Let’s go again after you get home from the Malones. Fresh cards too!”
Cakes of dry mud mold crumble off their boots as they slide them on. Edmund's feet are getting a bit big for them. Danny steadies Edmund as he struggles to get them on.
The two of them walk down the embankment to the brook. Edmund brushes his callused fingers along Indian rock as they pass, the crunch of twigs and stones under their feet. They crouch down and test the water, their boots wet at the toes. It reminds Danny of last night’s dream. In real life, the minnows dart about, the water cold, like spring water. Lifting their young frames Danny and Edmund look at what is ahead, the brook winding its way deep into the forest.
Danny hooks his finger in Edmund’s belt loop as they start their hike upstream. The sound of their steps underscored by the diminished rush of the babbling brook.
Eight houses down the creek, the Malone’s are tuning up for today’s activities. Mrs. Malone is decorating for Sunday’s recital. Motherhood escaped Mrs. Malone. Having the kids over makes her happy, especially around Mother’s Day, when people wish her Happy Mother’s Day and forget. Mrs. Malone doesn’t do pity parties. She stands back from the banner she has hanging in the den with musical notes dangling underneath.
Let us sing to the Lord.
Let us make a joyful noise
To the rock of our salvation.
Mr. Malone opens the hallway door to the cellar and switches on the lights. There are no guard rails, so he walks carefully down each step, steadying himself with his left hand against the rafters. Mr. Malone is proud of his makeshift studio and checks that the music stands are in the appropriate position in front of two metal chairs. Mr. Malone lifts the guitar he has had since childhood. So precious he does not mind the ding gouged out on the body, a casualty from an argument with Mrs. Malone. She wanted a dog. He wouldn’t have it.
“There are other ways to exercise your maternal energy,” he opined after he swung the instrument and struck the bedpost finial. He prayed for forgiveness immediately after. He also prayed it would not affect the resonance.
He checks his guitar and confirms that the damp air has not detuned the strings, plucking them one at a time with his long thumbnail.
“E A D G B E,” he sings, “Oh-Lord-I-pray-to-thee.”
He sets his instrument down gently in its stand and walks over to the cellar bulkhead door that opens to the backyard and double-checks the bolt lock.
(to be continued)