Enough to Come Home 1 Enough to Come Home Anna Zimney The wind blew through Regina’s denim jacket, causing the hair on her arms to stiffen. She tried to pull her arms further into her sleeves, but since her last growth spurt none of her clothes seemed to fit her right. She dug the toes of her size five Keds deeper into the dirt and watched it mound up around her feet. The sun peaked its way through the tree branches, creating a slight glare on her dirt-covered watch. She didn’t mind too much. She still wasn’t the best at telling time, and frankly wasn’t even sure if the watch still worked. She looked back over to her friend Joey, who had stopped eating his sandwich by now, and was smearing the left over peanut butter across his forehead. He smiled and licked his hands clean as he sang along to the music in his headphones. He set his hands on the ground beside him and looked at the dirt that clung to his palms. His freckly face started to twist and turn. Regina clumsily ran over to him and pulled her sweatshirt sleeve out from her coat. She wiped the dirt off his hands and the peanut butter off his forehead as she had watched his mother do so many times before. She reached for her canvas backpack and pulled out the raggedy old doll his mother had made in her high school home economics class. “Daw!” he screamed as he swiped it from her hands. He meticulously positioned Daw’s brown yarn hair evenly on the sides of her face, and adjusted her left stocking so that the hole wouldn’t show. He rocked back and forth for a while until eventually his face returned to its normal innocence and Daw was dancing along with his Aerosmith mix tape. Adjusting his headphones, his eyes met Regina’s. He giggled. “What?” Regina smiled, wiping her sleeves on her pant legs. Joey stood and pointed to Daw, “Dude yooks yike a yady!” Regina snickered as she watched Joey and Daw twirl around in the dirt. She reached down into her bag and pulled out her father’s brand new Polaroid she had stolen from the linen closet. She snapped a picture of Joey and Daw’s dance and waited for it to develop. Slowly she could see Joey’s stubby legs and arms flying across the photo frame, and Daw’s yarn hair blowing behind her. She grabbed the empty Diet Coke cans they had set at their feet and put them in her bag with the camera. “Show my mama,” Joey muttered as the two continued their mission. The unpaved path to Long Lake was harder to see with the fallen red and yellow leaves in the way. Every once in a while Joey reached down and threw a handful in the air. Regina grabbed some herself and tried shoving them down Joey’s sweatshirt. He screamed a little and waved Regina away. He didn’t seem to think that was as funny as she did. The brightly colored leaves blew violently across her face as they walked. Her brown hair tangled in front of her eyes, blinding her from time to time. She heard Joey’s music grow faint and turned to see he had stopped a few yards back, dragging Daw around in a pile of fallen leaves and dead grass. She waited behind on the path for him to finish exploring and looked up into the autumn sky. “Regina, did you know autumn is my favorite season?” Joey’s mother had asked her the previous year. “No,” Regina had whimpered through her tears, “Why?” His mother smiled. “Because when the air cools down, it’s the perfect time to make cookies and go for long walks by the lake. Would you like to help me?” She nodded her head and walked into the kitchen. Joey’s mom got the big mixing bowl down from the top shelf and pulled out the biggest bag of chocolate chips Regina had ever seen. Enough to Come Home 2 “Cookie!” Joey squealed. Regina had squealed a little bit too. Regina and Joey took turns pouring the ingredients into the bowl, as Joey’s mom recited the recipe by heart. Regina had felt a nauseating tickle in the pit of her stomach as she mumbled, “I wish my mom could make cookies with us too.” Joey’s mom walked over to the coat closet and pulled her brand new Polaroid off the top shelf. “Let’s take a picture so you can show her.” She handed the camera to a trembling Regina, who was terrified of breaking it. “Take mine!” Joey chimed in as he posed in front of her with chocolate smeared across his forehead. Regina and his mom giggled as Joey danced around the kitchen covered in chocolate. She snapped a photo of her and Joey using wooden spoons as microphones dancing on top of the counter. The picture spat out of the camera and the two continued to dance. In his final move, Joey kicked three eggs onto the kitchen floor, sending yolk flying. Regina remembered seeing his face twist and turn as he let out an ear-piercing scream. His mother had sighed. “Joey time,” she told him as she scooped him into her arms. She kissed the chocolate off his forehead as she carried him to his bedroom. After handing him his headphones and a mix tape, she returned to the kitchen. Her eyes had looked so tired, and she walked with stiffness a young Regina had never experienced. She glanced at Regina’s developing photo. “Your mother will feel so happy when she sees your great big smile in this picture. I bet she’ll feel better enough to come home.” The clarity of Aerosmith’s “Dream On” shook her back into reality. Joey ran up to her face and shoved a dead flower right up to her nose. It prickled and tickled. Regina laughed. “Knock it off, ya goof!” Joey moved his face so close to hers that he looked like a Cyclops. The scent of peanut butter on his breath made Regina giggle as he asked, “Show my mama?” Regina grinned, “Ok, but you have to smile really big.” Satisfied with her answer, Joey posed for a picture with his dead flower. He positioned Daw’s hands around the stem and smiled as big as he could. Regina snapped the picture and the two waited for a few moments to see the picture come into focus. Your mother will feel so happy when she sees your great big smile in this picture, Regina remembered, I bet she’ll feel better enough to come home. Joey set the dead flower down and took off down the path again. Joey didn’t move very quickly and Regina felt herself growing anxious–they were running out of time. Her father would soon realize they were no longer in her bedroom playing with Legos. He’d see her first floor bedroom window cracked open. She began to walk faster down the path, hoping Joey would know to keep up. Regina had begged her father to take her and Joey down to the lake today, but he told her she’d have to wait. “You and Joey will have to find something to play with inside,” he had told her as he sorted through his briefcase. “But Dad, this is so important!” she pleaded. He looked at her and smiled. He took a few steps closer and kneeled down beside her. “Promise me you’ll try?” She tried to twist and turn her face like Joey often did, but her father didn’t seem to like it. “Regina, stop. Be a big girl.” She nodded and headed toward her room with Joey following close behind her. Walking in the woods with Joey made Regina feel like a big girl, but she knew her father wouldn’t see it that way. She said a silent prayer that he would continue to work for a while longer, and hoped that this one time God would see she was doing something really important. She didn’t always get along with God. He confused her. She didn’t understand why Joey kicked and Enough to Come Home 3 screamed sometimes, or why her father always said it was because “God made him that way.” She didn’t understand why kids made like Joey got to go to special school where they waited to learn colors until fifth grade, when she had to learn multiplication in second. She really didn’t understand was why God needed to see her mother so badly that he took her back to heaven. Regina had spent a lot more time at Joey’s within the past year. Her dad wasn’t himself since her mom died, and Joey’s mom knew how to make the best cookies in the world. Her play dates with Joey had been working out well. Joey danced and sang as he followed Regina down the path. He giggled as he pointed down at the trail singing “Walk this Way.” It made Regina laugh too. Her dad called him a “clever kid,” and that had always made her smile before. Now it just made her angry. If Joey was so great, his mom would have stayed. “Dad, when is Joey’s mom coming back?” she would ask him as he tucked her in, “She’s missing all of Joey’s jokes.” Her father would let a giant breath of air out of his mouth. “I don’t know.” Before he could tell her something about God taking Joey’s mother away she blurted out, “Joey’s dad won’t tell us either. Is it because of the lawyers?” Her dad pressed his lips together slightly and moved his eyebrows a little closer together. “Regina, how do you know about the lawyers?” Butterflies filled her stomach. Maybe she wasn’t supposed to have overheard them talking about that. Her dad sighed. “Joey’s dad is going through a very hard time. Promise me you’ll stop asking him about this.” Regina wrapped her blankets around her face as she thought about being nosey. She hadn’t meant to hurt anyone’s feelings. Joey’s mom had been gone for a while now, and the two felt it was only fair to know where she was. “She’ll be home soon,” was the answer Joey’s dad always gave before his eyes glazed over and he turned on a football game. Regina was still learning how to tell time, but she was fairly certain soon should have happened a long time ago. Your mother will feel so happy when she sees your great big smile in this picture. I bet she’ll feel better enough to come home. A cold gust of air shook Regina to her senses. Something didn’t feel right. She glanced behind her, and saw there was no sign of Joey. A knot began to tighten in her stomach. She listened closely but no matter how hard she tried, couldn’t hear anything that sounded like Aerosmith “Joey!” she pleaded with the air, “Where did you go, Joey?!” She waited, and then suddenly she heard a scared cry. “Joey!” Regina ran off in the cry’s direction. “Joey, I’m coming! Where are you?” Her heart pounded in her chest. Another cry. Regina raced over fallen branches and through mud puddles until she saw Joey ahead of her. He screamed, “Gina! Foot!” As she got closer she could see his foot stuck between two large rocks. His face was past twisting and turning. He rocked back and forth uncontrollably as he cried, wedging his foot deeper between the rocks. Regina froze as she tried to remember what his mother had done during “Joey time.” She couldn’t remember. She couldn’t think. She couldn’t catch her breath. She fell to the ground and wrapped her arms around Joey. He buried his twisted and panicked face into her shoulder as he sobbed. She rocked back and forth with him for a while until he caught his breath. Enough to Come Home 4 “I’ll fix it,” she whispered to him, “I’ll fix it.” Slowly she moved her hand down to Joey’s foot. Unable to see, she felt around for his shoelaces. She grabbed one and pulled. Joey screamed again as his shoe began to slip off his foot. Regina rocked with him again and whispered. “Joey, hold on, I’ll fix it.” She positioned herself between the two large rocks and pushed one as hard as she could with her legs. Slowly it began to budge. “Joey, move your foot!” she yelled. Her shouting scared him. He started to cry again. “Joey, you need to get up and move now!” She yelled again, fighting the weight of the rocks. She glanced beside her. Daw was lying on the ground. “Joey, get Daw! Her hair is getting messy!” Joey wiggled his way out of the rocks and crawled over to Daw. Regina relaxed and the rocks came back together. Joey quickly brushed the dirt off Daw’s stockings and meticulously straightened her hair. Regina walked over to look at his foot. His ankle had a large gash and was covered in dirt, but other than that he looked okay. She looked up at his tear-stained face. He picked at Daw’s hair. “Broke?” “I don’t think so,” Regina said back to him, “Just scared.” Joey moved his face close to Regina’s again. “You fix it.” Regina moved her face close to Joey’s, teasing him. “You scared me. Don’t do that.” Joey shoved an air guitar into Regina’s face as he sang the guitar parts for what sounded like “Sweet Emotion.” She wrestled his shoe out of the rocks and tied it back to his foot. “Come on, you goof. We’re running out of time.” Holding tight to Regina’s hand, Joey hobbled his way back to the path. The two walked in silence as they listened to Joey’s headphones. He looked at her. “I fink I cried.” “You did,” Regina said, “It’s okay.” He pressed further. “I fink my foot got stuck.” “It did, Joey. But it’s okay.” He paused before he said, “I fink I need get my foot off.” Regina laughed and shoved him a little. “You do not need to get your foot taken off! You’re walking just fine!” Joey laughed. “You right. I’m walkin’.” “Dancing too?” Regina smiled. Joey laughed and started dancing down the path. Keeping close to Regina’s side, he twirled and smiled until he saw the lake. His eyes widened as he shook his arms in excitement. He rocked back and forth in place for a moment before throwing Daw over his shoulder and running to the lakeshore. Regina made sure to keep her eye on him as she breathed a sigh of relief. They made it after all. “Yook! I smile!” He shouted back to her, flapping his arms at his sides. A strong gust of wind blew a harsh chill through them both. An orange sunset slowly closed in on them. She reached into her backpack and pulled out a chocolate-chip cookie. “Joey, come get your cookie! Quick, before it’s too dark!” He rushed over to her, and took a huge bite out of the cookie. “Joey! You can’t eat it yet, it’s for the picture!” He snickered and swallowed anyway. He pressed his hand into what was left and let the chocolate chips melt on his fingertip. He quickly smeared the chocolate all over his forehead, and put the left overs on Daw’s forehead too. Regina held her camera up to her face and saw Joey, Daw, the lake, and the autumn leaves behind them. The picture would be perfect. “Smile, Joey! Make it the biggest smile you’ve got!” Joey’s face looked like it might explode if he tried any harder. Regina took the photo in what little light she had left and let out a sigh of relief. “Show my mama?” Joey pleaded. Enough to Come Home 5 Regina held the newly dispensed photo up for him to see. “Yes, Joey! We’ll show them all to your mama!” She pulled out the photos of Joey and Daw dancing in the dirt, and holding their dead flower. “That’s me!” Joey yelled. “And that’s your big smile,” Regina added. “I smile in all pictures,” Joey informed her. With chocolate still staining his fingertips, he swiped the photos out of Regina’s hands. “Joey, where are you going with those?” Joey took his headphones off and set them on the ground. Still staring at the photographs in his hands, he walked to the lakeshore and sat down in the cold, damp sand. Regina slowly sat down next to him. She whispered, “Joey, what’s wrong?” “Where is she?” Joey whispered back. Regina felt her lips pressing tightly, and her eyebrows moving closer together. She wondered if she looked like her dad from the night before. “I don’t know” was her reply. Joey starred at Regina for a while before asking, “Why pictures?” “Because,” Regina recited, “Your mother will feel so happy when she sees your great big smile in these pictures. I bet she’ll feel better enough to come home.” Joey thought some more. “How we show?” he asked her patiently. “She’ll find them,” Regina told him. The two sat and stared at the photos for a bit longer, savoring every last bit of their hard work. Regina placed her camera back in her bag as Joey positioned his headphones back on his ears. With Daw in hand he set the pictures down on the sandy shore, and the two set off down the path from which they came, leaving the sun to set on the photographs behind them.