When Jack was a kid, he and his father would skip rocks at the lake behind their house and watch the sunset dip across the sky, their smiles reflecting hues of pink and purple and gold. On weekends, his father would play catch with him in the backyard, and they’d chase their dog Hunter across the morning grass. His father told the funniest jokes, and Jack would laugh until his sides ached. The air was all toothy grins and warmth as the color of laughter spiraled into the sky.
Jack walks Hunter, shirt clinging to skin from the thick afternoon heat. A faint breeze whistles across leaves, and silence pulses in his ears. They play a quick game of catch, Jack tossing the ball lightly, making sure it doesn’t land in the (scary) Millers’ front yard, Hunter’s tail wagging and tongue dancing as he chases his target. Jack’s eyes flit around the street. The air is dead, and the houses are sleeping.
The day is ingrained in Jack’s memory. He came home, tossed his blue Jansport over a kitchen chair, and searched the fridge for a juice box. He heard the heavy pitter-patter of his father’s footsteps entering the kitchen. His father’s sighs on the phone, and then two doleful eyes staring at Jack.
Afghanistan? Jack’s eyes say what his lips will not.
Jack’s father sighs, and his hands reach across the table, an apology, a departure. Yes. Jack knew the answer before he even asked the question. I’m leaving next week.
The lake stirs peacefully beside the house. It sings in the breeze, longing for its lost friend, waters still and untouched. Jack has forgotten the sound of deep blue slipping through his fingers and what a sunset looks like. He ignores the lake’s plea, cranes his neck, and buries himself in his homework. Jack slips headphones onto his ears and closes his eyes as music drowns out the silence.
Jack’s father loved photography. He bought an expensive camera, the type with the fancy lens and tripod, and he took pictures of everything. Jack’s cheeks flushed ketchup-red with embarrassment during middle school graduation. The silver shadow of Jack’s silhouette while he did his homework. A tennis ball suspended in the air, and Hunter’s protruding tongue as he leaped after it. Most of all, he loved capturing the swirling colors of a sunset and the lake and his smiling boy, Jack.
Light falls through the downstairs french windows and wafts upstairs. Jack closes the blinds of his bedroom window, replacing the colors of sundown with the familiar gray of his walls. He doesn’t go downstairs until it’s nightfall.
Jack’s mouth inhales old air and lost memories. His bedside lamp flickers, and it sounds like the click of a camera shutter. At night, Jack’s fingers trace invisible drawings of what they could’ve been.
Each day plants a new seed, and a blossom harvests from its wake. Jack’s arms cup his chin and rest against the windowpane. He stares outside the window, into the blinding afternoon sun, into the teal skin of the sky. A car rumbles down the road, sides dripping with rust. Its tires grate against the street and into Jack’s driveway.
Jack’s heart sinks to the bedroom floor. His hands tremble with anxiety, and he grabs an old baseball bat, shielding his face. He locks the door.
A figure walks out of the car. His lips are stretched up to his eyes.
Jack’s mouth hangs agape. Hunter barks, louder than he’s ever barked. Jack runs downstairs and opens the door. A figure emerges.
Jack smiles, and their eyes make sunsets.