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She stares into the horizon a lot lately. The sunset, at least. She would end the day, after a quiet dinner and unproductive homework, by crawling out her window and onto the roof’s overhang. Always with her, held as if she’s guiding a friend, is her tattered green notebook. The green used to be bright and vibrant, but now it is faded. In a way, it was a reflection of her mood, maybe that’s why she’s kept it so long.
Every night, I hear her escape from the room next to mine, and I’d always be fast asleep by the time she returned, if she did at all. Once I told Mama, but Mama’s had too much to think about lately. Mama told me I shouldn’t worry and that she trusts her daughter, but I don’t know if it was the truth or just an excuse. Either way, I didn’t get any help, and I was starting to get worried.
After two weeks, I asked. My big sister looked down at me through her chestnut hair and, with her blank pale face, lied to me and said it was nothing. I get tired of that now; I may only be twelve, but I’m still man of the house ever since Daddy went away. Mama and Sarah just drift by, though, like ghosts from another time. Now out of place and unsure of themselves.
I finally told Sarah the next day on the way to school. It was quiet because she doesn’t like the radio anymore. When I told her, her eyes flickered, a sign from another time, but that was soon gone. She shrugged, accepting my demand, and let out a sigh, almost in relief. It wasn’t what I expected, but then nothing is anymore.
I was ready to go that evening. I watched out the window, monitoring the sunset, waiting for the time to come. Sarah startled me when she opened the door. After giving me a once over while biting her lip, she sighed and announced that it was time. She lead me through her room and her window, pausing only long enough to pick up the old green notebook and glace at her bulletin board. I tried to sneak a look, but she was in the way. She soon joined me out on the roof.
She walked over, like she had done so many times before, and sat down in her usual spot. She didn’t say anything, or even look at me. She just hugged her notebook to her chest and stared ahead. I decided to take a look, and I was amazed at what I saw. From our second story outcropping, through the pair of ash and sycamore trees, was the loveliest picture of the sunset I could have ever imagined. I’ve no idea how long I stared, entranced by the beauty showcased before me. But as amazed as I was by the sunset, what I saw when I looked back at Sarah took my breath away.
In the time that I’d stared, she had produced colored pencils from her pockets, and had made a drawing of the sunset that seemed to be even more beautiful. Everything was there, the swirls of gold and the wisps of purple, the intense orange of the sun spreading brazenly into the cool blue of the night sky, even the green frame of the ash and the sycamore. The entire drawing took up the top half of a sheet of paper and, as I watched, she surprised me yet again. There was no picture, but instead simple black ink. She was writing a letter.
I sat a few feet from her until she finally finished, right as the sun was surpassing the horizon. I didn’t say anything, and eventually she started talking. She talked for a long time, long past the moon’s rising, and she only talked about one thing: Daddy. She told me how they used to go down to the sandbar after it rained and collect seashells, and how he would push her on the swings down at the park. Then she talked about how, shortly after I was born, the war started and he had to go. ‘Doing his duty,’ he called it, confident that he’d be done soon enough. But he wasn’t. The war dragged on, but every week, Sarah says, we’d get a new letter back from him, and we’d write one back. Then came last summer, when Daddy finally got a few months of shore leave, an eternity compared to the odd day or two he usually received.
At this point I broke in. I remembered this part, the wonder of it, meeting him. He was always strong, and would talk to me, and would listen to every word I said. Daddy never once brushed me off, and we went on our own adventures, fishing and bowling and playing catch. Sarah listened to my tales, smiling for the first time in weeks. As my story dwindled down, I remembered the events as I relayed them. I was standing at the airport as Daddy kissed Mama and Sarah. He then kneeled down, and I looked into the eyes I had grown accustomed to over the past few months.
“I’ve got to go now, Jack. But before I go, I want you to promise me something,” he paused as I nodded my head, “Look out for your Mama and sister. You’re gonna have to be the man of the house until I can get back.” After getting in his request, he wrapped his big arms around me and said, “I’m sorry son, but I’ve got to go. You’re daddy’s real important over there.”
When I got done with my side of the story and slowly drifted back into the present, Sarah’s smile dropped off.
“He was important here,” she said, softly but sternly.
Seeing her smile disappear suddenly made my stomach lurch, as I remembered why I came up here. I asked Sarah why we were talking about Daddy up here. Her face went back to the grim sight I’ve grown accustomed to lately. I sat there in horror as she explained where Daddy was, what he did, and what a roadside bomb was. She said that she first heard of it on the radio, but didn’t even think that it was possible that it could happen to someone as strong as Daddy. The call that Mama got later that day made it clear that it could. ‘Missing In Action’ was what they called it. They didn’t know if he was dead or alive, but they did know he was gone.
Sarah sat there, with her notebook full of letters that might not have a reader, and cried. I couldn’t stand to just sit there. Daddy said that I was man of the house and I had vowed to act like it until he got back. I looked at my big sister, so scared and alone, and even though my lip was quivering, I tried to live up to my title.
“Even if he’s missing, there’s still hope,” I told her, taking her hands in mine, “I know that if anyone could come back from it, it would have to be someone as strong as Daddy.”
I broke down with her, and we sat there and cried, holding each other up for what had to be hours.
It finally got too chilly to stay outside, so we went back through the window. Before I went back to my room, I stopped and asked Sarah if I could see the picture one more time. She seemed reluctant, but relented. I noticed the letter, but I didn’t read it, that was between them, but I did see something that made me want to cry all over again. I didn’t notice it in the faint light of twilight, but now I saw the little olive-green man with wings sitting on one of the purple wisps of cloud, waving down at me. I looked at that and knew even if I hadn’t much time with him, I would never forget Daddy or what he taught me. I’ll have to be man of the house until he gets back. I promised him I would. Making this new resolve, the stains of my tears joined my sister’s on the paper. She’s been staring at the horizon a lot lately, looking for a sign from Daddy. She won’t be alone anymore.