I was in the garden when I heard Mama yell out that supper was ready. The summer evening had a pinkish tint as the shadows grew larger around me. I felt calm when I smelled the honeysuckle and lilac dance through the air. My older brother would be home from vacation in Atlantic city, his last summer before going overseas. Mama said that he was going to be on a giant ship protecting democracy. I asked her from who? And she replied from the bad guys. I don’t know who the bad guys are. Democracy is a big word, so my papa said he was going to be protecting the country. That made more sense because the bad guys want to hurt the country. I don’t know why or how, but I know I should be scared.
I saw mama’s bird like face appear through the willow tree. Her summer dress crinkled in the light breeze and the blue of the dress mixed with the green of the tree and the blond of her hair and the pink of her lips.
“There you are.” She said softly. “I told you not to be out in the garden so late. It’s dinner so let’s go inside.” She lifted me in her silky arms, and I smelled the sweet fruity perfume, a summer blend of strawberry and watermelon. It mixed with the lilac and honeysuckle and the shadows and it felt dizzying and comforting. Behind me the world grew dark and the garden disappeared, but I could still smell it, when we walked back to the house, I could feel the sad leaves of the willow. One day I asked mother why the willow tree was sad. She laughed and told me that weeping was only a name to describe how it looks. I wanted to ask her why it looks sad, but I didn’t want to bother her.
In the kitchen papa sat at the table with the newspaper. People on TV always read the newspaper in the morning, but he read it at night. I never asked him why. Mama said too many questions would be a burden on papa because he works hard in the day and is tired at night. Sometimes I ask myself “who is this stranger that sits at the table?” My two older sisters sat on each side of him, Dalila and Daphne.
“Seems to be another storm headed our way tonight.” Papa grunted as he flipped the page. I couldn’t understand the words on the paper. There were old people on the front page, they looked angry. I recognized only a few words, but not enough to make meaning. I also noticed a bottle on the front page, it looked like the bottles mama and papa had in the medicine cabinet. One day they put a lock on the cabinet. I don’t know why. When I had headaches or colds mama, or papa would always get me some medicine from that cabinet, but they never let me get it myself. Dalila and Daphne could get medicine themselves. Mason used to get medicine from the cabinet. Ever since the lock had been placed on the cabinet, I never saw him get medicine from it again.
“Mom, shouldn’t Mason be home by now?” Dalila asked.
“Yeah, I’m starving.” Daphne reached her hand for one of the fresh biscuits in the center of the table, but papa playfully slapped her hand away.
“We’re not going to start eating until he’s home.” Mama said, looking out the window.
I wanted to ask her if I could go back outside to the garden, but I know she would say no. Sometimes when she was away for business trips papa would let me go outside at night. He thought curiosity and exploration were natural for growth and imagination. Though the sky became cloudy when Mama brought me inside, so I don’t think I’d see any stars or the moon. Papa said when he was a young boy like me that he wanted to be an astronaut. I asked him why he didn’t become one, he laughed and said it wasn’t possible. I asked him if I could be an astronaut. He told me I could be whatever I wanted. I asked why he couldn’t be whatever he wanted, but then he told me it was time for bed. Dalila wants to be a politician, but her and papa get in arguments over politics a lot. Sometimes I worry they don’t love each other. I wonder if papa ever told Dalila she could be whatever she wanted. If he did, why would he argue with her over what she would become? If I told papa I wanted to be an astronaut again, would he tell me it wasn’t possible?
I remember asking mama if I could protect the country like Mason, but she told me she didn’t want me to. When I asked her if she wanted Mason to, she didn’t answer. When I asked why there was a lock on the medicine cabinet, she said it was to keep me save. When I asked why Mason hadn’t been in the medicine cabinet she didn’t answer.
“He said he was going to be home an hour ago.” Daphne whined.
“Maybe he’s stuck in traffic.” Papa said, not taking his eyes off the paper.
“Well have either of you texted him?” Mama said, still looking out the window.
“I sent him a text where he was twenty minutes ago. He still hasn’t responded.” Dalila responded.
“Well if he’s driving, I hope he wouldn’t respond.” Papa said.
“Still, he could at least have gave a quick response at a light.” Dalila said.
I sat silent staring at the dinner that was getting cold. Shadows spread around our drinking glasses and over the roast beef at the center of the table that was next to the biscuits and green beans. I didn’t like the green beans, but with butter and salt they tasted better. When I don’t eat my vegetables, mama says she’ll punish me. I thought only bad people were punished, but she told me there were many kinds of bad people. Children who disobey are bad. But Mason was obeying mama and papa by joining the Navy. Yet mama didn’t want him protecting the country. Has she changed her mind? Delila told me he wouldn’t be protecting the country, I asked her why, but she didn’t answer. I ask a lot of questions that don’t get answered. Mason told papa that he didn’t want to join the Navy after high school. Papa got mad at him. Papa said something about Mason should’ve worked harder in school. If I don’t work hard in school will I have to join the navy? Is it a punishment? Papa got mad because Mason wanted to disobey. But he obeyed, and now Mama is upset. I don’t want to make mama mad, so I eat my vegetables. Is Mason going overseas because he doesn’t wanna make papa mad? But mama is upset.
“Maybe he just didn’t want to leave Atlantic City.” Daphne said with a slight chuckle. It didn’t seem real.
“No one wants to leave vacation.” Papa said. “Honey, maybe you should put the food in the fridge.”
“No, no. I’m sure he’ll be home any minute.” Mama said.
“He’s not gonna be home any faster if you just stand there by the window.” Papa said. “We’ll wait a little longer, but then we should eat. The girls and I all have work in the morning.”
“I’m sure he’ll be home soon.”
“Ten more minutes and then we eat.” Papa said, losing his gentleness. Daphne looked uneasy, Delila was looking at her phone. Mama stood by the window.
“Dad.” Dalila looked worried or angry. I couldn’t tell. “Have you read about what happened with McKesson?”
“I’m reading that story right now.” He was clenching the paper tightly; I saw white streaks in his fingers. “How can these companies get away with reckless distribution. Profit off addiction.” The shadows grew around the table. I smelled the roast beef but I wanted to smell the honeysuckle and look at the stars but there would be no stars out tonight.
The front door opened at long last, and there stood Mason with a foggy glimpse in his eyes.
“Oh, thank God you’re home!” Mama shouted. “Where were you we were so worried about you!”
“Traffic. That’s all.” He said curtly. “My phone died too, so sorry if any of you texted me.” I got up from my seat to hug Mason.
“Everyone was really worried about you!” I said, not realizing I was crying. I looked up at him and he seemed distant.
Are you okay Mason, you look a bit off?” Papa put down the paper. He seemed suspicious of Mason. Why wasn’t he relieved that he came home? Mama looked pale, I thought she was relieved. Dalila and Daphne both looked down at the table. I thought they would be happy to see Mason since they were so worried about him.
“Mason don’t tell me that you—” Mama’s voice raised, and she sounded scared.
“No! No, I’m just tired. It was a long trip back.” He looked toward the stairway, avoiding papa’s gaze. “I gotta put my stuff in my room, then I can join you for dinner.” Mason’s backpack was unzipped, and an empty bottle fell out—one like the ones I saw in the medicine cabinets. I picked it up. Mason slapped it out of my hand.
“Don’t touch my things you little shit!”
“Don’t talk to your brother that way!” Papa stood up from the table. “What’s that bottle you have there!”
“It’s just aspirin. Sorry. I’m sorry.”
“What’s in the bottle Philip, can you see?” Papa asked.
I trembled. Mama ran up to me to pick me up.
“Wh-what’s Oxy…oxycontin?” I asked.
“Mason are you fucking kidding me!?” Papa stomped up to Mason and picked up the bottle from the floor. “Oxycontin. So this is what you’re doing on vacation huh?”
“Philip, go to your room.” Mama said. “GO up to you room right now.”
“B-but what about supper?”
“It will have to wait. Now please go up to your room. Please.”
Within moments everyone started yelling. All their words clashed, and everything became muddled. I didn’t understand any of the words they were saying. I don’t understand any of it. I just want to go back to the garden. I want to sit in the garden and watch the sun go down. I want to see and feel the shadows encroaching on the world and I want to smell the honeysuckle.