Silent tears trailed down Sonny's face as he watched the movers work on the house across the dirt road from where he sat on the front porch of the old "Florida Cracker" style house he had grown up in. Someone was moving in over there. He knew he was too old to be crying like a baby. His friends, what few he had, were chasing girls and getting ready for college, but what was left of his life was falling apart in front of him. His worst fears were coming true. When Sonny and his mother had broken up the twenty acres his grandfather had bought for his new bride half a century ago into five acre lots, Sonny had known in his heart that some day they would get the land back. The separation was temporary and he could live with it. Or so he thought. They needed the money. His dad was gone and his mom was sick and he was too young to work. All they had was the land and since they could not farm it, they had to lease it out
When the developer had leased the three lots other than the one Sonny's house stood on so he could build houses, Sonny believed it was temporary and he could live with it. They needed the money.
When the developer had started to build the first house, Sonny believed it was temporary and he could live with it, although he did secretly wish that it would burn down and the developer would give up. But he knew they needed the money and as long as the developer was developing, they would have income.
The developer abandoned the partially built house when the bottom fell out of the housing market and the property reverted back to them. Sonny was thrilled. They had their land back, but they still needed the money.
Then a real estate agent had stopped by asking about the empty, partially built house. He said he had a client willing to lease the house even unfinished as it was. Not only that, but he wanted the other two vacant lots as well. Sonny did not know what to think, but they needed the money and high dry lakefront property even this far away from town was hard to come by.
Sonny's mother had signed the lease. The new tenant had paid the first year's lease in cash and had set up an escrow account with a local attorney for the second year. Sonny was surprised by that, but the agent had said it proved he was honest. To Sonny's way of thinking, it proved the opposite. Only someone up to no good would pay in cash. Why would someone pay in cash for that much land? Still, the money was a good thing. They were guaranteed that they would have enough money to live on for two years. Maybe after that they would get the land back. He could hope.
Sonny heard the screen door open and close. His mother sat beside him on the porch swing. He looked at her. She was pale. Her hands trembled as she settled on the swing. It was not a good day.
"How are you feeling, Mom?" Sonny looked at the folds in her gown where her breasts had been and sighed.
"Not one of my better days," his mother said softly. She stared at the movers across the road for a moment. She looked at Sonny and sighed. She hated giving up the land as much as he did. "At least the rent will cover our bills for a while. Without my insurance from work and your Dad's pension, we would have run out of money long ago."
Sonny tried to be brave and said, "Tomorrow will be a better day."
"We can hope, Sonny. We can hope."
That had been one his father's favourite expressions. Whatever resoluteness Sonny might have had in the face of his mother's illness dissolved. Whenever his mother repeated the saying that Sonny's father had used so often, Sonny thought about his father gunned down in a madman's shopping mall shooting spree. "Do you miss him? Do you miss Dad?"
Sonny's mother stifled a sob. "Every day. I miss him when I wake up in the morning and he's not there. I miss him when we sit to dinner and his chair is empty. I miss him when I go to bed at night and I know he won't slide between the sheets trying not to wake me, but knowing he does every time. Most of all I miss him after my treatments. When I was pregnant with you and sick so much he would hold me and comfort me and remind me how much he loved me."
"Why did he have to die?" Sonny whimpered as any semblance of strength he might have had flowed away.
"If he had not stood up that day, how many other people would have died? He did what he had to do. You know that."
"I know, it's part of being a policeman. But why him?"
"There's no answer. We've been over this again and again. Sonny, you have to move on. You need to stand on your own."
"And why did you get sick? Is God mad at us? Did we do something wrong? Are we being punished for some sin?"
"Sonny, don't do this to me. I need you to be strong like your father." She choked on the words. "Your father would want you to be strong."
"But I'm not strong. Look at me. I look like a skeleton. My joints stick out like I have no muscles at all. I can't play sports. I'm too clumsy and I can't lift anything because I'm too weak. I'm not like Dad, I can't be Dad. I'm sorry." Sonny put his face in his hands and cried.
"Sonny, what did your Dad always tell you? Strength is not in your body. It's in your mind."
"I know, but I can't be like that. I'm not strong."
She looked at him for a second and then said, "The characters in those books you read all the time, are they strong?"
"Are they strong physically or mentally?"
"Some of both."
"Sonny, you're smart. You're one of the smartest kids in school. Can't you see how important that is?"
"Mom, school's easy. This is hard."
"I know, but you have to use that strong brain of yours to get you through it."
"I'll do my best."
The movers closed the doors on the shipping container that dominated the yard across the road. Once he had verified his load, the driver attempted to pull out without hitting the big old oak tree that loomed over the corner of the driveway. The turn was tight and the driver had to make several manoeuvres before he could get the container on its trailer out to the graded road. For fifteen minutes Sonny and his mother sat silently watching the driver and the two movers who helped him extricate the container from the driveway. When they heard the truck accelerate on the hard packed, unpaved roadway beyond the end of their property Sonny turned to his mother and said, "Did the real estate agent tell you where this guy was from?"
"Must have come from overseas someplace."
"Why do you say that?"
"His stuff came in a sea container and not in a moving van. If he came from the US, Canada or Mexico he would have trucked his stuff here. That container was on a ship."
"I see those containers on trains and trucks all the time."
"I know, but that's because they came off a ship."
"If you say so."
"Why would someone bring their stuff from overseas to live here? There is nothing here than anyone who has been anywhere would want to live here for."
"Yes, there is and someday you will see that."
Sonny looked at his mother for a moment. The late afternoon light made her look even paler than when she had first sat down. "Mom, would you like me to make dinner?"
"If you think you can do it."
"Mom, I can handle mac and cheese."
"Yes, please. I would love for you to make dinner."