Sam Pak woke up on Wednesday morning to the familiarity of his bedroom. Sitting up he remembered that last night he’d heard Mom and Dad talking. The sounds were muffled, sometimes louder and then softer, but he knew what they were talking about. He had known about it for a long time.
He lived with Susan and Frank Pak, his parents, and Ellen, his younger sister, in Santa Maria, California, a 1950’s small town grown large. Getting out of bed, and pulling back the curtains on the bedroom window he looked out on the backyard. He saw a great expanse of new and unfinished tract homes. The sky was a clear blue, no fog, not even a wisp of a cloud. It looked to Sam like today would be a good day for him and his family.
“Hurry up now, Sam,” Mom called from outside the bedroom door. “You need to take Ellen today, so please get a move on.” Get a move on, get a move on, Sam thought, it’s always Get a move on. Sam wasn’t that concerned about going to school this morning, no, his mind was elsewhere, occupied by other thoughts. The fieldtrip was going to happen soon. Quickly, he dressed for school.
Taking Ellen to school was no problem; he’d done it many times. His duty was to escort her to class, then lunch and back home. She played with him, but sometimes, Ellen just seemed to drift off. Once in a while, it got really bad, so bad that Sam was afraid of what might happen next.
He emerged from his room and walked into the kitchen. Everyone was there, including Ellen, waiting for him. After the morning details were attended to, his parents ushered Sam and Ellen out of the house and onto the sidewalk in front of the house. Mom and Dad were standing on the front porch, Mom with her starched white apron tightly bound to her and Dad, looking sober, dressed in a blue business suit, in his right hand clutching a black leather valise.
“Make sure you come home right after school, no dallying with your friends, understand?” Mom cautioned, her voice cracking so slightly that Sam only remembered it after he’d arrived at school.
A book bag in his left hand and Ellen’s hand in his right, as he had many times before, Sam set out for the walk up Hillview Street, then, a right turn on Hopkins. Soon, the Hetch Hetchy utility hill loomed above them. Both children looked up to the top, then at each other. Shrugging together, they began the slow walk up the gravel path. Sam, holding Ellen’s hand, propelled them forward. Stopping at the top of the hill, Ellen, blinked twice, pointed at the bottom of the hill and said, “School.”
Sam looked at Ellen; she dressed in her yellow dress and white jacket, and smiled at her. She smiled back at him, making Sam feel much better about whatever was happening with his sister, seeing for himself the love she had for him.
They carefully descended the hill, Sam being mindful of not going too fast for Ellen. They crossed the street and walked under the wide and tall archways that lead into the school grounds. Waiting at the flag pole for Sam was Jim, his best friend. These very smart boys shared an interest in learning and were very curious about everything. Today, they were primed for their newest adventure, the field trip to the Science Museum.
Holding up a piece of paper, Jim said, “I just bought my ticket from the office. Did your Dad give you the money?”
“Yes, he’s all for me going,” Sam said. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a closed hand which, when opened, revealed two shiny quarters, the sun glinting off the surfaces infusing them with warmth that helped Sam feel the love his Dad had for him.
Ellen looked at the money in her brother’s hand and raised her hand, with two fingers pointing up in a V. “Two,” she said. Sam and Jim smiled at Ellen, inviting her into their adventure.
Jim, excitedly waving his hands over his head, shouted, “Mr. Tory says that the place we’re going to in the City is more fun than any of his science classes.”
Sam knew that Mr. Tory, their science teacher, was also a very sober man. “We’ll see about that,” Sam said, not hiding his disbelief from his voice.
Holding out a huge imaginary ball with his hands and circling it round about, Jim said, “You know he promised to show us ball lightening.” Jim showed his make believe ball to Ellen, who laughed out loud and then hid behind her brothers legs.
“If he does that, Principal Harmon will have a fit,” Sam said. Principal Harmon, who walked about the school, his arms akimbo, occasionally stopping to talk to a student, seemed to Sam as if he were an actor in a war movie.
Jim, ever restless, did his best imitation of Mr. Tory, a short stocky man, by blowing out his cheeks, and pushing out his stomach. They all laughed and then smartly marched off to the school office to buy Sam’s admission ticket. Everyone smiled and laughed, including Ellen.
Sam breathed out a long sign of relief, a breath that he’d held in for a long time. It was true, then, he believed it, Ellen is fine, maybe even getting better.
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