Mother’s voice, hot on his face. Tickling his ear.
Wake up. Its time to get dressed. We got to go.
Jimmy blinks the sleep from his eyes, letting the room wash in. Stretching.
What time is it?
Sshh. Quiet, sweetie. We got to be so quiet. We don’t want to wake daddy.
Daddy’s sleeping, then?
Yes, love. Daddy’s sleepy. We’ve got to go. We have to be fast. And quiet.
A hitch in her voice that sounds like she is choking.
Fast and quiet, she says again. Which is unnecessary. Jimmy knows what is needed. He knows what is at stake. He understands very well the hammering pain of his daddy’s punishing fists if they are caught. The fists that would find mommy but would make him watch, would blame him, incriminate him with guilt.
Look what you made me do, daddy would tell him. Which was worse than the fists. The fists were bad but the guilt was worse. No, thank you. Not today. Fast and quiet was needed. Fast and quiet he would be.
Jimmy sits up in bed and looks around the room at his clothes, his toys. His dresser top full of treasures.
I know, kiddo. I’m sorry. We can’t take any of it. We’ve got to travel light. Fast.
And quiet, he tells her.
Yes. I’ve packed you a backpack with clothes. Don’t even get changed. Let’s just go.
She is getting frantic and it is unnerving to think that mommy was telling him to go outside in his Spiderman pajamas.
Can I wear shoes?
Yes. Of course.
She hands him his shoes. They are already laced so all he has to do is pull them on.
Did you get my action figures?
She nods. They’re in the bag.
All of them?
As many as I could find.
This does not reassure him, but what choice does he have? Jimmy does a mental sweep of the last few days. All the places he might have left his action guys. Under the couch. In the bathroom vanity. Behind the desk in the study. All the places through the house where battles had been fought. Imagined but fierce. All those bloody battalions blown to smithereens.
Jimmy shrugs. There’s nothing for it but to go so he trusts that his mom has packed all the action guys she could find. He trusts she found all the good ones, the ones that matter most.
Shoes on, he lets her lift him out of bed and set his feet gently on the floor.
She takes a deep breath and he realizes she has a bag just like his, one bag draped over her shoulder. So she is leaving stuff behind too. Stuff she probably loves. Stuff that matters.
So it is just the two of them, creeping through the house, quiet as bandits, fast as thieves. Except they are not stealing their way into the house. They are stealing their way out.
And they are almost to the kitchen door, when Jimmy realizes there’s an action guy mom doesn’t know about, couldn’t know about. Hiding in the pencil jar on the desk in his room.
I forgot something, he tells her, freezing up. I forgot one of my guys.
Don’t worry, she tells him. He’ll be okay. We’ve got to go.
I’ve got to get him.
Jimmy, we don’t have time. She is whispering but it is the loudest whisper in the history of the world. It fills the whole world like a balloon loosing all of its air and she is physically shrinking which is weird thing and the door that had been right there now seems terribly far away.
We can’t. We don’t have time.
And now he is wondering if his action guy is actually still in the pencil jar on the desk at all or if maybe he moved him under his pillow last night before bed without remembering.
Time for what? It is daddy’s voice. More quiet than mommy’s whisper but now it fills the whole world. And Jimmy hears his mother swallow, like she is eating a whole disgusting plateful of brussel sprouts except not one by one but all at the same time.
And Jimmy isn’t thinking about his action guy anymore, who is just another lost solider stranded behind enemy lines. Just the first casualty in the latest war.