The Vacant Game (Working Title)

Part One: Gabriel Returns

The leaves were falling from the trees covering the ground in a brilliant splendor when Gabriel returned to his home town that evening. He had been gone for too long, and now at the age of 30 he was returning as though for the first time. He drove slowly down the suburban streets passing familiar fences and freshly mowed lawns. There were bikes left on the sidewalk as children played street hockey in the alley, mothers sitting on porches reading and drinking coffee while fathers raked the leaves into giant piles only to have the younger children playfully jump into them and scatter the leaves, a bon fire in a pit at the park and pumpkins that grinned toothless. Autumn was here and Gabriel had returned to bury his father.

He pulled up the driveway to his childhood home and sighed sadly as the familiar Halloween decorations failed to greet him. His mother, usually eagerly awaiting his arrival outside was also absent. The lawn that was normally the model of perfection had been allowed to grow unhindered. Dead leaves crunched under foot as he made his way up the walk. He half expected his mother to hear him pull up and open the door, but was not surprised when she didn’t. He let himself in. The house was oddly quiet and dark. He wandered the rooms and finding them vacant. It wasn’t until he reached the back of the house when he discovered his mother sitting alone at the kitchen table. A cup that was once full of warm liquid cradled in her left hand, her head resting on her right.

“Mom?” he said gently.

“Hello Gabriel,” she answered blankly without turning. Her gaze was fixed out the great picture window into the backyard.

Gabriel entered the room and kissed his mother on the crown of her head. Without another word he refreshed her coffee and helped himself to a cup. He sat in the same chair he had always sat in as a child and looked out the window. He saw the tree house he had built with his father and brothers. The oldest of three he was only ten years old when construction began. He remembered his brother, Elijah, only six at the time was rather useless when it came to construction. He chuckled to himself remembering the time Eli had dropped a hammer on his big toe and watching him hop across the lawn howling in pain. The youngest had only just burst forth into life and Mother was too busy looking after the swaddling infant only a few months old. The tree house project was Fathers way of keeping the boys out of her hair so she could tend to Uriel.

The first four years of Uriel’s life were filled with torture as his brothers would dash up the ladder to safety and pull it up just before he could join them. They would taunt him from above, shooting foam darts from the windows, stealing his toys, even going so far as to tie his favorite stuffed bunny to a long string and pull it along the ground until it lifted off the ground and was firmly in their grasp.

“Your brothers should be along soon,” his mother finally broke her silence.

“Even Eli?” he asked surprised. “I thought he was in Japan.”

“He was,” she answered. That would be the only answer he would get from her on the subject.

“How are you Mom?” he asked directing his gaze at her.

“You should put the kettle on,” she avoided. “The house will be busy again soon.”

“Are you hungry?” he asked as he went about his business. “I can fix you something.”

“No,” she answered.

“Have you eaten anything?” he continued to prod.

“Please Gabriel,” she finally turned to look at him. Her deep brown eyes looked empty. “Don’t.”

“I’m sorry,” he answered. “I just worry, you know?”

“Stop worrying,” she answered returning her gaze to the window. “I’ll be fine.”

When the kettle squealed it was ready Uriel and Elijah were letting themselves in. Gabriel heard Elijah calling from the front hall. Gabriel responded that they were in the kitchen and his two brothers entered in frenzy.

“I came as soon as I could,” Elijah was apologizing as he embraced his older brother. “I was relived to find Uri at the airport, I’m not sure I could handle driving on the right side of the road anymore.”

“It’s okay,” Gabriel answered. “I only just got here myself. Uri, you’ve gotten taller!”

“You’re just shrinking, Gabe” Uriel answered hugging him.

“Coffee will be ready soon,” Gabriel answered.

“Mom,” Uriel knelt next to her at the table. “Mrs. Jenkins’s saw me at the airport before Eli landed. She wants to bring a casserole over tonight. I told her that would be fine and suggested this evening around seven.”

“Yes,” she answered flatly. “That would be lovely.”

Uriel kissed her forehead and stood. “Eli, Gabe, you should come out to the shed with me. I can’t seem to get the mower working and could use a hand.”

“Still useless, I see,” Eli jokingly slugged his brother in the arm as they followed him out the backdoor. When they were safely out of doors with the shed closed firmly behind them Uriel turned grim.

“Mom’s been like that since Dad passed,” he explained.

“Well, of course she has, Uri,” Eli seemed unsurprised. “They were married for forty years.”

“Forty-two,” Gabriel corrected.

“I know it’s just that…” Uriel broke off.

“What?” Gabriel asked.

“Well,” Uriel almost stumbled over his own words. “I’m worried. Something is really wrong.”

“Of course it is, Uri,” Elijah half scolded. “She’s lost her best friend.”

“It’s more than that,” Uriel argued. “You weren’t here for the half of it! When Dad was at home she had a sense of purpose, but when he was too ill to stay here she started to regress. Now, without him, she’s lost all sense of time. She wakes up in the morning; she makes coffee and sits at the table all day looking out that window.”

“Uri,” Gabriel said gently. “You need to give her time. It’s only been a few days.”

“I can’t get her to make any sort of decision,” Uriel continued. “It took me this long to get her to agree to a funeral home. They only just this morning collected him from the hospital. I really need you guys to help me here.”

“That’s why we’re here, Uri,” Gabe answered. “Don’t worry. She’ll snap out of it in time, we just have to be patient.”

“I’m sorry you had to find her like that, Gabe,” Uriel seemed ashamed.

“Don’t worry about it. Now, let’s take a look at that mower.”