Authors: Karen Kingsbury
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Domestic fiction, #Fathers and Sons, #Christian, #Religious, #Christian Fiction, #Birthfathers, #Air Pilot's Spouses, #Air pilots, #Illegitimate Children, #Mothers - Death
As he pulled into Home Depot he dismissed thoughts about the crash and set his mind to the task at hand. Picking out a decent riding mower.
Over the next few hours he found his machine, brought it home, and took down the grass in the backyard; then he picked up the girls from the party and listened to a thirty-minute replay of the birthday girls’ reactions to Elizabeth and Susan’s gifts. By then Connor had forgotten everything bad about the day.
The car accident, the old man. Even the plane crash.
All he could think about was how wonderful his life was, and how much he hoped it would go on this way forever.
Something was wrong. Max knew it as soon as he came home from school.
Ramey was waiting for him at the bus stop and she had Buddy with her. At first he felt his heart get extra happy at the sight of that old dog because the two of them were bestest friends. He ran off the bus and wrapped his arm around Buddy’s neck.
But halfway home from the bus stop, Max noticed a funny feeling in his stomach, the same kind of feeling he had when one time he ate an old cheese stick from his backpack. Sort of mixed up and jumpy and sickish all at once. And he knew why he felt that way.
Ramey never brought Buddy with her to the bus stop.
Buddy stayed home in his own backyard with lots of food and water, waiting for Max and his mom to come home.
“Can’t he stay with me at Ramey’s?” Max asked his mom over and over.
“No! You ask a hundred times each month and the answer’s still no, Max. Ramey can’t have dogs at her apartment.” Max wasn’t sure about the hundred times. More like eighteen or nineteen. But . . . if Ramey wasn’t allowed to have dogs in her apartment, how come Buddy came to the bus stop with her today? And how come he stayed for dinner and had his food bowl in the backyard?
Those were questions he thought about all evening while Ramey talked on the phone.
“Here,” she told him. “Watch a movie. I’ll be right in.”
“Can I watch TV? TV’s better than a movie because it’s educa-tional. Mommy told me that.”
– Oceans Apart –
Ramey made a face he hadn’t seen before. “No, Max. No TV.
Not today. We’ll watch a movie together.”
Ramey looked strange in her eyes, the way his friend Wilton looked when he forgot his bike at the pool and someone stoled it.
Scared and mad and not sure what to do. Ramey grabbed the top video from the stack and pushed it into the VCR. There was no school tomorrow, so staying up late was okay. Max found his favorite spot on the fluffy purple couch, and when Buddy climbed up beside him, Ramey didn’t say a thing.
She didn’t join them, either.
Instead she kept her voice in a whisper and sometimes her cheeks looked wet. Was she crying? Max tried to listen to what she was saying, but most of the time the video was too loud.
He did hear a couple of things, though. “What am I supposed to do?” And “I won’t say anything until there’s proof.” The movie was
All Dogs Go to Heaven,
and Max watched it with the side of his face against Buddy’s. Every few minutes Max checked to make sure Buddy was watching it, but halfway through the movie the dog fell asleep. And Ramey stayed on the phone the whole time.
When the movie was over, Ramey put on another show.
Pan, Part II
. She brought Max a meat sandwich and milk to eat in the TV room. Max’s funny feeling got worse. Ramey
let him eat in the TV room.
Finally, when the second movie was over, Max walked up to Ramey and tapped her on the shoulder. She was still on the phone.
Her eyes had little black lines running under them.
“Yes, Max? Do you need another movie?” She used her whisper voice.
“No.” Max whispered back. “I need my mom. See?” He pointed out the window. “See how it’s dark out there, Ramey? That’s when 38
– Karen Kingsbury –
my mommy’s supposed to call, only what if she can’t call because you’re on the phone?”
Ramey stared at him, and little bits of water spilled into her eyes.
She did a big sniff. “Max, we’ll talk about that in a minute.” He pushed out his bottom lip and walked with slow feet back to Buddy. “Hey, Buddy, wake up.” Max gave him a light shake near his old red collar. “Wake up, boy.”
Buddy lifted one eyelid, then the other. Max put his face up close against Buddy’s nose and waited until the dog licked his cheek.
Then Max put his fingers on either side of Buddy’s wet nose. “I’m telling you, Buddy . . . something’s funny here.” The dog tilted his head to the side and gave Max another lick.
Just then Ramey came up to him. She looked old and tired, and her face was reddish. “Max, your mom can’t call you tonight.” A scared feeling came into Max. A goldfish feeling. One time he and his mom watched a show about people who ate live goldfish.
“I bet they wiggle around in those tummies for a long time,” Max had told her.
That’s how he felt now. Like maybe ten or eleven goldfish were wiggling in his stomach. He let go of Buddy and stood up straight and tall. The way his mommy liked him to stand. “How come?”
“Because something’s come up, and she can’t call, that’s why.” The goldfish wriggled around some more. “Why?”
“I don’t know, Max. We just have to wait.” Ramey came and sat down on the edge of the sofa in front of where he was standing.
Then she hugged him the way she did once when his turtle died.
Max stood stiff and scared. “Is she going to call me tomorrow?
Before she flies?”
“I hope so.” Ramey’s voice sounded disappointed. Like she didn’t really think his mom would call then, either.
Max pulled back and sat down. All of a sudden he didn’t want to think about getting a phone call from his mom. Buddy jumped off 39
– Oceans Apart –
the couch and lay down on the floor in front of him. Max patted his head. “Good boy, Buddy. It’s okay.” Ramey let Max sleep on the couch that night, him on the top and Buddy on the floor beneath. But no TV; definitely no TV. In the morning Ramey came to him and reached out for his hand. He liked Ramey a lot because she was sort of like family. But he didn’t like holding hands with her. Her hands were roughish. Plus, she wasn’t his mom.
“Max, I have something to tell you.”
He sat up and rubbed his eyes because sleep was still in him.
Ramey sat next to him, and he noticed her eyelids were thick. The way his teacher’s eyelids looked when kids in Room 8 gave her flowers.
teacher called it. Maybe Ramey had allergy, too.
A long breath came out of Ramey. “Your mom isn’t coming home, Max.”
He sat up a little straighter. “What?” Why would she say that?
Ramey was wrong. “Only two days away. She promised.” Ramey moved her head with little shakes. “No, Max. Something happened. Your mommy isn’t coming home ever again. Not ever.” The goldfish feeling was back, but this time he was mad, too.
Very mad. “
Ramey!” Next to him Buddy did a little bark.
“Don’t say that. She’s coming home today. Before dinner!” Teardrops started coming down Ramey’s cheeks. She sat on the couch and put her hands over her face. “Help me do this!” Max wasn’t sure what to say. Buddy was sitting up now, watching Ramey the same way Max was. Max didn’t want to be angry, but every time he let go of the mad, a scared feeling came. A big scared feeling that made him want to run out the door and straight home.
Finally Ramey lowered her hands. “Come here, Max.” He didn’t want to do it, but he had to. Gentlemen obeyed grown-ups. His mother taught him that. His feet dragged across the carpet until he was standing near Ramey’s knees.
– Karen Kingsbury –
She took hold of his shoulders and looked straight at his eyes.
“Max . . . your mom is dead.” A crying sound came from Ramey.
“Jesus . . . Jesus took her to heaven to live with him.” Max jerked back hard and fast and shook his head. Ramey never lied to him before, never. But his mom wasn’t dead. She kissed him good-bye yesterday morning and he saw for himself. She wasn’t dead; she was alive. Very, very alive. “No, Ramey . . . you’re wrong.” He backed up and ran quick into the bathroom and shut the door.
Then he pressed his back against it so no one could get inside.
His breathing was fast and hard like when he raced Jimmy Jack-son at recess. He squeezed his eyes shut and told his brain to think fast. Why would Ramey say that thing? His mommy was fine, she wasn’t sick or old or anything. Jesus didn’t take her to heaven. She was in Tokyo, that’s all. Same as always.
His breathing got slower. She would call any minute.
Then a very awful idea popped into his heart and made his eyes sting. What if something bad happened to her airplane? Like maybe the wings fell off, or a door blew open? Or the pilot landed in the water? One time he asked her about airplane doors. “If someone opens the door, what happens?”
“You can’t open the door when the plane’s flying, Max. It isn’t possible.”
“But if someone did, couldn’t you fall out?”
“I guess.” She did a little laugh at him. “But that won’t happen.
Airplanes are super safe, okay?”
He asked her a few more times, but she always told him the same thing. Planes were safe. Wings didn’t fall off, doors didn’t blow open, and pilots never landed in the water. Never.
A knock came against the door and Max felt it push against his back.
“Max . . . open up. Please.” Ramey wasn’t crying anymore, but scared was in her voice. Scared and nervous and not sure what to do.
– Oceans Apart –
Now that the idea was in his head, he couldn’t make it go away.
What if something bad
happen to his mom’s airplane? What if she didn’t know it could happen, but it could? He stepped away from the door and opened it slow and careful. Then he peeked out at Ramey and he was all of a sudden afraid to ask.
His mom’s words whispered in his heart.
Be brave, Max . . . whenever you’re afraid be brave
. He did a swallow and straightened his shoulders. “Ramey, did . . . did something bad happen to her airplane?” She did a little nod with her head. “Yes, Max. Something real bad.” His eyes got stingers in them again, and his throat stuck together the way it did when he ate pancakes too fast. “Did the wings fall off?”
“No.” Ramey opened the door a little bit more, and Buddy stuck his nose through the space. “It landed in the water, Max.” Ramey’s cheeks had wet on them again. “It never made it to Tokyo.” It never made it? A broken feeling grabbed Max’s heart, and his knees felt rubbery. “They landed in water?”
“Yes, Max.” Ramey made a crying sound again. She pulled him close and hugged him to her big, gray dress. “I’m so sorry, honey.”
“Mommy said airplanes never land in water.” He pushed back and looked at her again.
“They usually don’t. But this time, well . . . something must’ve happened. Max . . . she didn’t make it, honey.”
“But Mommy knows how to swim, Ramey. Maybe she’s swimming back to the island.”
Ramey looked up and made her eyes shut tight. Then she said,
“Please . . . I can’t do this.”
Max tugged on her sleeve. “Is she swimming, Ramey? Is she?” Max couldn’t take a breath until Ramey answered him. “We could help her; it’s not too late.”
“No.” Ramey’s body made a shaking move and for a long time she didn’t talk. “She’s dead, Max. Everyone on the plane died.” 42
– Karen Kingsbury –
“But maybe she isn’t dead . . . maybe she’s in there and she needs someone to help her out.” He started to run for the front door, but Ramey caught him.
“She’s not in the ocean anymore, Max.” Her face was wet, and the skin around her eyes was even thicker than before. “She’s in heaven. With Jesus.”
Max couldn’t run or move or even breathe. His mom was dead?
Her plane landed in the ocean, and now she was in heaven? His legs crumpled under, and he fell to his hands and knees. “No, Ramey! She can’t go. Not without me . . .” His eyes got blurry and tears started coming down his face.
More tears than he’d ever had in all his life. How could Mommy be gone? Who would read to him and hug him and love him now?
Who would make him blueberry pancakes for breakfast and get him dressed in the morning and take him to the park for roller-skate lessons? Who would sing him his special song about
you, Max, the most, I love to make you toast
Buddy came up beside him and licked his face.
“Go away, Buddy.”
The dog stepped back and lay down. He had sad in his eyes, and Max felt bad for yelling at him. Buddy must’ve known about Mommy’s plane landing in the water. But why couldn’t someone get her out of the plane and bring her home? “Mom!” His voice was loud and scared, so wherever she was she might hear it. Even all the way to heaven.
Ramey put her arm around him and sat him on the couch. She sat beside him and hugged him for a long time. They cried and cried together, and the more Max thought about it, the more true it felt.
His mommy was dead. She really was.
He knew, because a hole was in his heart now. A big hole where his mommy used to be. His whole self must’ve been filled with tears 43