His name is Rick Shane. He was lying in his bed, staring at the ceiling fan, watching as it moves round and round and round, swooshing ever so slightly. With each revolution of the blades the string, dangling from the light, swaying by the motion, clicked as it bounced off the light. Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.
He can't help but to think of Marie, and how many times the two of them lay in this same bed watching this ceiling fan in action, usually emulating into a discussion.
One such discussion involved how many kids they wanted. It was a unanimous decision there would be four kids scampering through the little house on 201 N. Columbia Avenue in Shoreline, Michigan. There would be four kids to take to Lake Michigan on warm summer days. There would be four kids to dress up in their warm clothing to take sliding on the hills by the state park on the lake. There would be four kids.
He could feel the tear trickle down his cheek. Yet before he could get lost further he felt a soft hand on his left hand. "Daddy, are you gonna get up?" It was Clarice. He blonde hair was all fluffy and messed up from sleeping, and she looked so pure and innocent. She kissed her daddy's hand, and smiled. Yes, it was one of the three smiles he would never forget. A smile that glows bright in his minds eye in the late hours of work when he's forced to listen to stories from children that would haunt most men.
He rustles his way out of bed, slips on the same shirt he wore the day before, and the same navy blue sweat pants, and picks up his older daughter. "How old are you today?" he said, looking at her bright smile as he walked down the hall to the living room. "How old are you, pretty?"
"Four-years-old," she said in her high pitched voice. "Today is my birthday. Today I'm four-years-old, da da."
He set her down and she quickly went to work, playing with the Barbie dolls she played with the night before. Rick could hear a voice, and he knew right away it was Carrie calling out from her crib, behind the closed door. Only she wasn't calling for him, she was merely talking, or, as Marie would say, thinking out loud. "Carrie is one of those little girls who verbally communicates every thought that goes through her mind," Marie would often say.
"How old is your sister?" he said. "How old is your baby sister?"
"Carrie is two-years-old," Clarice said nonchalantly as she continues playing, making no effort to look up. "Come on, Barbie, it's time to make a cake. Come on, honey, it's going to be a BIG day today. We're going to have a birthday party. Come on, honey, we have work to do." She was talking to her dolls, and not Rick, he decided. She was so cute. Her mom would have loved to be here on this morning.
He opened the door a crack and peered in at Carrie. He was immediately overwhelmed by the smell of poop. She immediately looked at him, and giggled. "Da Da," she said, "Doah." He pushed the door open and she put her arms up. He picked her up. She squeezed him tight, leaned back, looked into his eyes, and kissed his cheek. Her smile was huge. It was a smile that would be engraved in his mind as long as he lived. You can't forget a smile like that so early in the morning. You forget all the bad stuff, and moments like this you remember. If he had a dime for each time he said that to a kid he'd be rich, he thought.
The phone rang. He rushed to the desk to pick it up. It wasn't on the desk. It rang again and again. "Where's the phone?" he shouted.
"Here da da," Clarice was holding it up. He grabbed it, and said, "Hello."
"Hi, Rick," it was his mother. "Can I talk to the birthday girl."
"Absolutely," he said, handing Clarice the phone back. She was all smiles.
She put the phone to her ear, saying nothing, and listening to whatever her grandma had to say. Rick could hear his mother's voice from the phone, but couldn't make out any words. That is, until she started singing happy birthday. That was a tradition of hers an every birthday.
Rick went into the kitchen, opened up a loaf of bread, grabbed four pieces, and stuffed them into the toaster. He clicked the lever.
"Da Da?" She was standing by his side, holding up the phone. He grabbed it. He said, "Hello."
"I just want you to know that I think you ought to go back to work now." That was mom, always blunt. She just said whatever was on her mind, regardless of the appropriateness of the moment. The last thing Rick wanted to think about today was money, because money made him think about not having a house to go along with not having a wife. "I know this probably isn't the best time, but I don't know when a good time is. Your house payment is due next week, and you don't have any money to pay it."
"I know mom," he said, trying not to sound melancholy, although he knew he probably failed. He was so happy she was helping him with his finances, because that's something Marie did. Rick had no idea any passwords, and felt completely out of the financial loop. He realized as soon as she was gone how much she did, and how much he probably took for granted. "I talked to my boss yesterday and she says I can come back whenever I'm ready."
"Rick, you're not going to be ready no matter when you go back to work," she said into the receiver. "I know it's hard, I know." She didn't know, he thought, yet left it alone. "I know what you're going through. I understand. And maybe being around your work will help you get your mind off all that's going on in your life now. Maybe that's the best therapy."
She was right about that, but he wasn't going to tell her that. He loved his mom, but all he wanted to do now was somehow end this conversation. "Mom, I have to get dressed so I can take my girls to the store. I have to get birthday presents. I promised the girls I'd let them pick out there own present today"
The toast popped up. He opened the refrigerator. "How are you going to pay for them," she said. "You can't just charge everything."
"Well, for now that's what I'm going to do," he said, grabbing the butter, and shutting the fridge. "I have to get going, mom. I love you." He grabbed a plate from the cupboard, which was already open.
"Just remember, I'll watch the kids for you. That should never be a problem for you. I will watch those darlings anytime you need it. And I love you too, Ricky."
He hung up the phone. He watched his kids playing so well together with the Barbies. He buttered the toast, and put on a layer of strawberry jam, a favorite of the girls. Once finished, he turned around and just stood there a while watching his little girls happily play.