One of us, we’re not saying who, had him by accident in Grade 10 and passed him to our mother who raised him as her own, dressing him in blue velvet like a dandy and making him special manicotti even while the rest of us were served cold salami sandwiches. On his third Christmas, our mother tied a red bow onto a yellow dump truck and set it beneath the tree. When the tires rolled, the headlights flared. “Mamma, look!” he said, and, as he pushed the truck across the carpet, he growled.
Many years later, our father died and we decided we must clean out the house. A pack rat’s paradise. In the garage a pair of green military boots lay moldering. Also left behind were hand grenades in coffee cans filled with sand, helpfully labeled “GRENADE.”
That dump truck. We couldn’t throw it out. For twenty years the dump truck sat on the mantel, regularly dusted by our mother, reminding her of the deep pleasure our brother/son had given. A soldier, he was six thousand miles away. People were trying to blow him up and fate would be tempted if we pressured our mother into throwing away the truck though we sent him a reminder email and weeks later he responded: “Toss it.”
Bimonthly she FedEx’d baked goods to the battlefield. We think he got them; in fact we know he did as once he sent a postcard home stating in precise script, “Cookies were great!”
He returned in one piece and at the welcome home party was grateful though at the end lifted his Marine photograph from the wall where our mother had so proudly hung it beside our father’s, saying it looked like a memorial photo and he stuck the picture in his bag and we never saw it again. The yellow dump truck though, he did not take.
A decade later, our mother had a massive stroke, not dying right away so we brought her home. Outside the bedroom window the forsythia bloomed and all day long two red chipmunks chased each other in and out of a hole and we began to clean the house. This time for real. The one with the minivan dropped off load after load to St. Vincent de Paul. The one with the contractor husband had him ripping up carpet. The one who was a real estate agent started asking around.
So one of us, the dump truck in her arms, came to the rest. “What shall I do with this?”
“He said to toss it.”
But we remembered, you know, just after the stroke. By then he was working in China, in one of those enormous factories, calibrating electrostatic devices, and one of us, maybe the one who had actually birthed him, sent him a text and in the middle of the night we were startled awake in the hospital room not only by the noise but also by the smell of him, a big bearded man stinking from forty hours of travel.
At the end of the hospital bed he stood and cried. “Mamma! Mamma!”
Did she understand he had come back? Perhaps. Months later, in the sunny bedroom of the half-emptied house, the morning she actually did die, we hesitated calling him.
Until of course one of us did.