Daddy worked its way down the hall. It was a tiny voice from a tiny bed in the darkest corner of a dark room. The cry came like smoke, swirling and tickling my senses before slapping me awake with what it was. I followed it expecting fire.
I found two boys in two beds. One, the one that never sleeps, was sleeping. The other, the one that sleeps sound was awake with thoughts on his mind and scars on his face.
The walk home is 19 steps for little feet. I can do it in ten – less, it turns out, when running.
The dog had been tethered in its own yard, a small patch of grass, unfenced and inviting. The dog was step twelve.
“Daddy,” he said from under his covers. “On Saturday at 4:00 at night I want to go to the fair.”
I stood in the doorway, one shoulder against the frame and the other weighed down with the demons of the day. He talked and I stood slightly taller.
“My teacher is going to be there then,” he continued.
“And you want to see her?” I asked in his general direction.
“Yes. She said if she sees us there she’ll give us a big hug, and I want to go get a big hug from her.”
He hadn’t tried to hug the dog. He had only stopped to pet it as it stood there, watching him. Wagging.
The blood was both above and below the eye. The nose also trickled. The red lines of violent scratches covered both cheeks. The scratches were from teeth.
A little boy came into the neighbor’s house. I was on the couch. There was a beer in my hand and football on the TV. His words sent me running.
I ran past concerned children and the blurs of twilight. I ran as fast as I could. My fears ran faster.
I found them in the living room. Blood. Tears. Pain on my son’s face. Concern on my wife’s.
I walked out to a growing crowd of neighbors. Their gazes were knowing.
My son, his flesh raw and hot, was behind me. Neighbors have kids and kids have chalk and opportunities such as that should never be squandered. They drew their circles on the asphalt. We drew our circles around them.
“Yes,” he said, his voice as small as it had ever been. “I want a big hug.”
And I gave him one.