“I wanna be a cowboy.”
“Why’s that, buddy?”
“Because they get to ride horses.”
“Police officers ride horses.”
“Cowboys get to shoot the bad guys.”
“Police officers shoot the bad guys too, buddy.”
As they drove around on this remarkably dreary day, stopping at all of the stoplights and yielding to the throngs of soggy sidewalkers, Arthur couldn’t help but stare into the rearview mirror at the four-year-old drawing smiley faces and practicing his name on the fogged up windows.
Arthur had picked up Nathan this morning and told him they were going to the zoo.
“But Uncle Art, it’s raining.”
“I know, but the monkeys are inside.”
Arthur had picked up Nathan this morning intending to tell him his father was dead. The zoo sounded much better.
There was a knock on Arthur’s door early this morning. Behind the knock was a police officer who broke the news to Arthur that his big brother was found this morning slumped at the desk in his office, committing suicide sometime last night. Thankfully, Nathan had been at his grandmother’s when it happened. Arthur thought he should be the one to tell his nephew. Instead they were driving around the city after braving the rain to visit the monkeys.
“I always liked tigers more than monkeys, Uncle Art.”
“I’m sorry, buddy. Maybe next time.”
The boys had spun around this block three times already. If Nathan hadn’t noticed, then he was being ridiculously polite for a boy of four. The boy’s father had been polite, Arthur remembered. Polite until he decided to make his younger brother the steward of his son without discussing it first.
Arthur turned onto a new block and drove for a bit before he found himself in the old ward, passing homes and shops and parks long lost to the cellar of his mind. He carried on seemingly for hours, while Nathan chattered incessantly in the backseat about horses and cowboys and tigers and his dad.
Arthur came to an abrupt halt in front of a dingy damaged castle in disrepair. He stared for a moment through the rain stained windshield trying to remember what this place looked like before life moved out of it. Nathan peppered him with questions, each going unanswered as the boy’s uncle simply stared.
After a moment, Arthur turned off the car and stepped into the gentle rainfall. He stepped onto the curb and continued to gaze blankly at the withered walls and smashed windows. Soon he realized a warmth at his side and a small hand gripping his.
“Whose house was this, Uncle Art?”
“It was ours, your dad’s and mine. We grew up here.”
“Uncle Art, did my dad die?”
Arthur dropped his blank look, something entirely different taking its place.
“How did you...wh...who told you?” he stammered.
“He told me last night before I went to grandma’s that he wouldn’t be around anymore, but not to be afraid because he loved me. He gave me a note too. He said you should read it, Uncle Art.”
Arthur held Nathan’s innocent look. How could a four-year-old be this calm when he himself had been wading through this day, barely able to breath? Nathan dug in his pocket and pulled out a folded and frayed piece of paper and held it out to his uncle. Arthur took it and began to tremble.
“What does it say, buddy?”
“I don’t know, Uncle Art. I wanted you to read it to me.”