A Strong Man

A Strong Man

Jennifer Mills Kerr

Summers, our bikes leaned against the front porch; winters, our boots piled in heaps by the door. Chris and I couldn’t wait for his mom’s pancake breakfasts on Saturdays. Mrs. Riley was a round woman, freckled, cheerful. I was eleven when she died; an accident, everyone said, nothing more.

Soon afterward, Mr. Riley moved the family away — though he refused to sell the house. None of us knew why.

Now 34 Edgefield Road remains, sinking into the earth, dilapidated, forlorn. This morning, I watch sparrows fly in and out of its broken windows. Do they sing inside those empty rooms?

No sound except the sigh of wind through the elms, dappled light, a golden murmur around my feet.  I imagine the tiny birds chirping inside the house with its creaking floors and scent of dirt, of rot — I can see it so very clearly — but if anyone invited me inside, would I go? Where’s Chris now?

I haven’t told my wife how frequently I come here since Arthur died. We still have Susan, of course: a promising girl, very different from her brother. Art came into this world burdened by melancholy.  There was nothing I could do to change that. Sharon and I tried, but our son was just too heavy for us to carry. And I’d always imagined myself a strong man.  

They found Art in his dorm room. Where he got the pills no one could say. Or would.    

My heart, banging inside my chest as if to break loose. What was it Mrs. Riley always said? Let me get you a drink, sweetheart. You look spent. Iced tea, sweet and tart and cold. She’d watch as I gulped it down. There, now. 

Suddenly, a sparrow appears from inside the house — though it doesn’t fly free. Instead, it perches upon one window’s jagged glass, preening, flickering its wings. There, now.  

I wait. Not for the creature to sing, but to watch it fly, to a tree or into the light, anywhere, anywhere else. I’ve got to see. 

Jennifer Mills Kerr