by Anna Pratt
Dozens of family photographs adorn the long hallway walls, each picture lined up perfectly with the one below it, a pleasing symmetry of black 11×14 rectangles. Pictures of two young parents with three children fill the frames. The oldest of the three children is a girl, the middle child another girl, the youngest a boy.
The hallway continues toward a large maple door, and a fourth child joins the collection of photos. He is not a baby, but grown, around the same age as the three other children in their later pictures. He has large, almond-shaped brown eyes and a nose dotted with freckles. In each of his ten pictures, he wears his hair in a short buzz cut. He stands at least a foot taller than the daughters, and a few inches taller than the other son. Open the large maple door into a room of four white walls and you will see an adoption certificate – August 14th, 2003 – proudly hanging in the center of the first wall, along with a growth chart that begins with Robert: age 10: 5’8, and ends at Robert: age 21: 6’7, August 2014. An American flag on the wall to the left sways lightly forward and backwards, pushed by the breeze from a ceiling fan. A poster of Kate Upton occupies another wall, and on the floor nearby a mini fridge filled with Miller Light hums softly.
A yellow Labrador sprawls on a yellow striped dog bed near the dresser, snoring lightly. Her striped pink and green collar vibrantly displays her name: Marley. A framed photo of her and the fourth child hangs above her. She is a puppy in the photo, and has now outgrown this once too-big bed.
A large wooden bed rests against the fourth white wall, perfectly made and seeming to have never seen the ruffling of nightly sleep. Two teddy bears sit on the black and grey bedspread. The first bear, covered in pink and white hearts, wears an army uniform and a pink bow in her hair. The second is covered in camouflage, and wears a matching uniform. On the white nightstand rests a letter, a camouflage keychain embroidered with honor in thick black block lettering, and a paper printout of a flight itinerary.
The woman from the hallway photographs sits on the bed. Her husband stands in the doorway, but she does not notice him. He stares at her as she fixes her shoulder-length light brown hair and fluffs the pillows behind her, a mindless task. Her brown eyes are drawn to the bears, and she presses the first bear’s paw. “I love you ,” the bear says, in a deep, soft voice. “I can’t wait to see you.”
The woman sighs and bites hard on her lip, her husband still watching closely from the doorway. She presses the paw of the second bear, and hears the same recorded voice: “I’ll be safe, I promise. I miss you more.” Tears brim in her eyes and her husband rushes to console her. She sobs as he fumbles for a box of tissues.
She rests her head on his shoulder and her eyes are drawn to the Sports Illustrated calendar behind the white nightstand. One date stands out. “Finally home” is written on November 17th in large red lettering, taking up the entire box. A countdown leading up to the homecoming reveals that it is only nineteen days away.
Marley the lab stirs, startled by the tears and sounds of sorrow, but quickly resumes her nap.