June 7, 2011 by The Citron Review
by Sean Walsh
In the middle of the night, Cody woke up to get a glass of water and found the man asleep on their kitchen floor. The man was wearing stained blue jeans and a jacket even though it was summer. Behind his eyelids, his eyes were twitching like he was watching for an opportunity to cross a busy road. Clutched in his fist was an open pocket knife, the blade pointed to the ceiling. The window next to the table was open, wind blowing against the curtains, making them float up and down.
Cody did not know who the man was, but he smelled like dirty laundry. For a few seconds, he thought maybe it was his dad, of whom Cody had only a few vague memories. In one memory they were at the beach, and his dad was wearing blue jeans like the man on the floor. Cody and his dad were standing at the edge of the water and every time the tide came in, the water sucked their bare feet into the sand.
But this man was too old to be Cody’s dad, and if he did come to visit it wouldn’t be in the middle of the night. The only way Cody heard from him was through letters he received every few months. The stamps on the envelopes always had something cool on them like Spiderman or panda bears. The letters themselves were sloppily written. Words were crossed out and misspelled. In his last letter he told Cody he would build him a tree house when they saw each other again. A tree house was what Cody wanted most in life. There was always a sheet of stickers folded up in the letter. Aliens. Baseball players. Zoo animals.
The last letter didn’t have any stickers in it, and Cody figured that maybe his dad thought he was too old for stickers now that he had turned eight. It also didn’t have the envelope. His mom had just handed him the letter when he came home from school and refused to explain to him where the envelope was. Cody was unsure of what this meant, but thought that maybe she didn’t want him to see the return address because his dad was living in their town again. Either that or the stamp was of a naked lady, but he wasn’t sure they made stamps like that.
The man’s elbow twitched in his sleep. Cody went back down the hallway and opened the door to his older sister’s room. Andrea was sixteen, and watched him when his mom had to work the overnight shift at the hospital. In the dark, he could just make out the shape of her asleep in her bed and poked her shoulder.
Andrea woke up with a little gasp. “What?” she asked.
“There’s a man in the kitchen.”
She sat straight up in bed. “What?” she said again. She turned on the lamp by her bed and pushed past him out into the hallway. A few seconds later she returned and shut the door behind her quietly. The click of the lock made Cody flinch. She picked her cellphone up from the dresser, and Cody could see that her hands were shaking. She turned off the light and pressed the buttons on the phone, sitting down next to him the edge of her bed.
“I need the police,” she whispered into the phone after a few seconds. “Some homeless guy broke into our house. He’s asleep in my kitchen.” She said a few more things and put the phone down. “The police are coming,” she whispered to Cody. “Let’s just stay here. We’re safe in here.”
“Who is he?” Cody asked, trying to speak softly.
“I don’t know.” She put her arm around him, her fist touching his chest. “Some drunk homeless guy. Let’s be quiet.”
“I thought maybe it was dad at first,” Cody said. “I thought maybe he came back.”
“Shh,” Andrea said. They were silent for a second. “That’s crazy. Dad’s in prison again anyway.”
A siren squealed in the distance, getting closer. His heart beat faster, and it felt swollen in his chest . The siren was in the driveway. Blue and red lights lit up the wall of Andrea’s room, and Cody wanted to say that it reminded him of the Fourth of July, but he swallowed the words back down his dry throat.
Sean Walsh has had fiction published in print in Avery and online in The Monarch Review. He lives in Maryland.