Sarah stepped forward and looked down into the gaping hole in the porch. The wood planks were splintered and jutted out in places, creating a two-foot circle. Through the hole Sarah saw the dirt. A yellow plastic thing poked out of the ground, a toy truck, perhaps. It must be Adam’s, Sarah thought, or else it was Jack’s from thirty years ago, buried and fossilizing in the dirt beneath the aged porch.
Sarah grimaced. Where was Jack, that adventure-minded, ratty brother of hers, now? Beijing? Shanghai? A rice patty somewhere out in the rural farmlands; in love with some beautiful Chinese girl who brewed him tea and kissed him on the cheek? He wasn’t here, anyway, that’s all Sarah needed to know.
Sarah stared down into the hole. The hole stared back. This hole had killed her mother. The mother had slid open the glass back door and dragged her bulky oxygen tank outside to watch her only grandchild spin around on the tire swing, his faded jeans streaked with dirt, and when she’d lifted the oxygen mask to say something to him as she stepped forward and hit a loose board, her foot had gone through the wood with an almighty crack, and her last words before she smacked her head on the wooden railing were “Sarah, Goddammit!” and now she was lying in a coma living out her last days in silence, offering no explanation for what those words meant.
Sarah bent her knees and reached down to pull the yellow toy from the dirt. It resisted, the heavy dirt wanting to keep the toy in the ground, and clinging to it still after Sarah brushed it off. It was indeed a truck, with a big claw on the front used to haul sand in a sandbox. Scribbled in a black permanent marker on the side was ‘JACK.’ Her little brother’s truck, thirty years old, still buried in the dirt beneath the porch after all this time. He’d buried his truck, he’d buried his sister and his nephew and his mother, and now he was God-knows-where probably having the time of his life.
Sarah shook the toy truck to loosen the dirt and the bugs that had crawled over the black tires and had nestled into the claw. She turned and reentered the house, seeing Adam still sitting on the living room floor picking at the beige carpet with his dirty fingers, his superman figure retired and tossed aside next to him, bored of having a boy pretend to make him fly.
“Hey Adam, look what I found,” Sarah said. Jack wasn’t going to play with it anymore; she might as well make use of it.
Adam looked up and saw what Sarah held in her hands. “Cool! A bulldozer!” he said, jumping up from the floor and running over to his mother. She handed him the toy, and he ran immediately out the back door, hastily dodging the hole and heading straight for the sandbox. Sarah watched him out the window as he pushed the truck around and hauled sand from one end of the sandbox to the other.
She watched him for about five minutes, and then she smelled something burning. She sniffed the air to be sure her nose wasn’t playing tricks on her. Realizing that indeed it was the scent of crisping smoke, she spun on her heels and bolted into the kitchen.
“Adam, Goddammit!” she said, grabbing an oven mitt, opening the oven, and pulling out the tray of blackened fish sticks. She tossed the tray onto the stove with a clang, the heat emanating through the ratty mitt. She flicked off the oven and stood there in the kitchen, watching the grease from the fish sticks sizzle on the tray.
It took a minute before it registered in her mind what she’d said in that moment of frustration. But they had been Adam’s fish sticks, anyway. It wasn’t like she was going to eat them, that plasticy child’s finger food.
The doorbell rang, and Sarah released a sigh. She went through the living room and opened the door. There stood her Aunt Polly, her mother’s sister. Her eyes were downcast, her hands folded over her belly.
“Your mama’s passed,” she said sullenly.
Sarah ushered her inside.
“What’s that smell?” Aunt Polly asked.
“It was Adam’s lunch, but it burned,” Sarah said. “Fish sticks.”
“Oh.” Aunt Polly sat on the couch. Sarah remembered sitting on the couch with her mother and her brother, watching TV in the evenings after dinner. Aunt Polly cleared her throat. Sarah could tell she had been crying. “Your mama, she wasn’t as bad a person as she seemed, you know.”
Sarah didn’t answer. She continued to stand there, looking down at Adam’s superman figure.
“When our mother passed, your mama was so angry at herself. She hadn’t talked to her in three months because she’d been mad at her for something or other. She wanted to get away from her. She didn’t want to be like her, but I could see. I could tell already that she was treating you and your brother just the same way our mama treated us.”
Sarah shifted her feet anxiously.
Aunt Polly looked at Sarah, but Sarah continued to stare at the floor. “I bet your brother Jack is going to come home any time now.”
“Maybe just for the funeral, but then he’ll go back to China again,” Sarah said. “And I don’t blame him.”
“Maybe.” Aunt Polly snorted out a little laugh, glancing out the back window, which could be seen from the living room couch. “Your boy Adam,” she said. “He looks just like grandpa. And just like his uncle.”
Sarah turned around and looked out the window too, wishing she would not see that long-lost family face plastered on the face of her son, and she saw Adam still playing with Jack’s truck, his jeans and cheeks now streaked with dirt, as if he were beginning to bury himself.