That night in late April, I ordered from a new Mediterranean place on West 238th in the Bronx. The lamb souvlaki with spinach pie and fattoush salad, falafel burger with tahini sauce, Greek salad and carrot cake came to $45.16. I thought if I added fifty cents that would make it 4566, our old address on West Avenue in Fresno. I was a ballplayer and my dad an algebra teacher, so I’ve always done math in my head. I went to bed recalling former addresses. 106, 5041, 2619, 5290, 10939, 2443, 375, 383, 205, 3950. I reminisced batting averages. .308 in Babe Ruth League, .366 in high school, .231 in college.
When I drove by 4566, the house had burned to the foundation. I stopped to stare and think it all over. How fire is no illusionist—the house really had disappeared. How nothing was the nothing left. No ashes to sift for precious objects. No firetruck or cars. No people. Just me alone on a desolate road. I blinked hoping that when I looked again, all of it would’ve been a bad dream. My childhood home and everything in it gone. The house I lived in till I was 10 and Dad said “divorce” as he pulled out of the driveway on the way to a ballgame. Instead, he and I returned to the house, to my mom, Lois, and big sis, Linda, so we could weep together on our last night as a family unit. Now, only ghosts remain. Three bedrooms, two baths, living room, dine-in kitchen, garage.
One smoking American dream.
Your house burning down is something nobody can discuss unless it’s happened to you. I could talk to Eugene Wheeler. His house burned down in the Sierra Nevada foothills three years ago. He knows you can’t put a number on the pain. No one asks, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how much does it hurt to lose the family photos, your kids’ framed artwork, the love letters you and your wife sent each other when you were young and delirious?” Eugene and I could talk it over.
Now, I’m in the house with my mother and sister and they’re looking around like happy tourists. The house hasn’t burned down yet. Everything’s in its place. My 75 Topps Baseball Cards (founded 1938), Folger’s coffee can of 120 marbles, blue coin-collector folders and banker’s bag of 500 wheat pennies (1909-1958) all in my top dresser drawer.
The carefree attitude of Lois and Linda is dizzying. Don’t they know the house is soon to burn? They’re giggling at my 1969 Rawlings catcher’s mitt, ball and bat on the bed in my milk chocolate bedroom. Pages of meticulous statistics say I went 13 for 39, hit .333 with 1 HR and 8 RBI in the 14 games of my second year in Little League. They mosey into Linda’s carnation pink room, pointing at the candy-apple nail polish and woodgrain phonograph. Barbie (1959) and Ken (1961) hold hands on her homework table. A lime green Guarantee Savings “Add-O-Bank” saves money on her dresser. It registers $5.85. Lois ignores the master bedroom.
I demand, “What are you doing?”
Mom replies, “Oh, I just thought you’d want to see it one more time.”
“So, you know about the fire?”
“Of course, silly. I’ve seen it coming. Nothing lasts forever.”
“Well, it makes me mad.”
“I know it does, dear. But isn’t it neat to be together?”
Next day, I described the dream language to Linda. “That’s wild. I hope it’s not a premonition.”
Mom’s stomach had gradually swollen over the last three months.
Today, 20 days later, medical point-person Linda calls with Mom’s endoscopy results.
She sobs, “I don’t know how I’m going to tell her.”
I can’t think of what to say, so I try lying. “It’s going to be okay.”
We facetime Mom from SoCal and the Bronx, and she’s chipper like always. “Hey there, what’s up?” When Linda delivers the news, Lois pauses. To stop and stare and think it all over.
“Well. That’s not good.” Mom, always a comic.
In 48 hours, I will be in Fresno on Memorial Day.
7 days later, driving from the oncologist I will say, “Mom, we’re going to play this thing out. No one can tell us when. We’re going to make a Top 10 list of things to do, drive to old neighborhoods, throw water balloons and have a good old time. Just you wait and see.” When we get home, I will tell her that Linda feels like she’s getting ripped off. Lois will quip, “I’m the one who’s getting ripped off.” We will laugh hard at that one.
14 days later, she will stare out the front window. “I’d just like a little more time.”
21 days later, “I know what’s happening. And I just can’t help but laugh at myself.”
28 days later, she will worry over her cat. “What’s going to happen to Pepe Le Pew?”
35 days later, “No one should live this long. I just want to crawl in a hole and sleep.”
3 nights after that, daughter and son holding her, Lois will let go at 3:38 A.M.
But today? Today I’m extrapolating. Doing math in my head. Dreaming a magical future of birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases, Mother’s Day flowers, California Pizza Kitchen lunches, movies at River Park, coconut pecan ice cream cones, strawberry cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory, America’s Got Talent episodes, the romantic kiss at the end of all Mom’s memorized Hallmark movies, and long talks on the 201-mile drive from Fresno to Linda’s in Santa Clarita.
Today I’m thinking of the lucky ones who live years after cancer news.
I’m thinking nobody believes in miracles more than we do.
I’m thinking how I’d just like a little more time.
I’m thinking no one can tell us when.
I’m thinking but she’s so alive.
I’m thinking why not us?
Colton Green teaches public high school in the Bronx. M.F.A. in Writing, Lindenwood University. M.A. in teaching English, Columbia University. His prose appears at Prometheus Dreaming, Tell Us a Story, and is forthcoming at The Ignatian. Colton has been a finalist in contests at Bellingham Review, Blue Mesa Review, Tucson Festival of Books, and twice at Cutthroat.