When Tom was a boy he aspired to be an astronaut. Climbing into his dryer, he felt the sleek cold surface and look out the tight round window. The planets he'd imagine on the other side of that glass took him far away from the yelling in his parents home. The galaxy before him would bring peace and comfort.
Many hours were spent in this make-shift space shuttle before his mother discovered him and made him get out, for she had laundry to take care of. Each time she discovered him she would furrow her skeletal brow, place a hand on her hip and motion wordlessly for him to scurry out. The look of worry for her son never left her face. Tom had no friends. Kids his age thought he was weird.
Perhaps it was the alien voice he often spoke in, or the fact that he referred to people as “earthlings.” Regardless, it was the way he was. Not every kid had a functional family in the 50s, but it wasn't common to discuss the matter either. There were no group sessions, no counseling. Tom was alone. Despite his aloofness he found little joys that kept him going. Like the first half of his ninth birthday party when his dad sobered up long enough to give him a gift. They sat in silence around the broken picnic table behind the house before his dad dug underneath his bench, a wry cold smile spreading across his lips. He pulled out a brown paper bag and handed it to Tom. Tom's eyes lit up. Had his dad really got him something this year? The last time he could remember his father giving him anything besides a black eye and a broken arm, was when he was four years old.
It had been a cold wintry day in Virginia. Despite the miserable frost, his dad was in good spirits. This was before he had been laid-off at the factory. He burst into Toms room, causing little Tom's heart to jump out of his chest. His dad smiled and exclaimed “Tom! Tom! C'mon, it's beautiful outside! Put on your coat! Lets go!” He flung Toms blue jacket towards him. It floated in mid air and sunk to the ground, as his dad flew back out the door just as fast as he had entered. It was a brisk day, but despite the cold, Tom was happy, really happy. They ran out of the house. The snow crunching beneath their feet. The frosty air nearly froze his tiny lungs. His lips quickly became numb, but he couldn't remove the smile from his face. His teeth chattered wildly. But he was happy, truly happy. The snow fell gently to the ground. They held open their frozen mouths and tried to catch some snow flakes on their tongues. Some tickled when they gently landed on their faces, dissolving instantly on their skin. Packing up some powdered snow, they rolled up together the torso of a snowman. They didn't have carrots or coal to decorate it, just twigs and a few small rocks, but it was a masterpiece when they were done with it.
That was the day his father taught him how to throw. He nearly fell over the first time he tried hurling snowballs at a near by tree. His little arm was too uncoordinated to toss a snowball so far, but he didn't give up. His dad encouraged him and he got better each time. He was so happy to be playing with his father. He didn't think his little heart could swell up with any more joy. Today the world could do him no wrong. Tom's little feet turned to ice long before they headed back towards the house. It was evening by then. Tom's dad stopped at the refrigerator to pop open a can of beer before he sat in front of the TV. Tom didn't want the day to end., he crawled up into his father lap. It was the first time he felt comfortable doing so. There was so much warmth coming from his fathers body that welcomed him. Toms little eyes grew heavy. That was the only time he had ever fell asleep in his fathers lap.
Tom now watched his father face and then observed the brown paper bag that had just been placed before him. He looked at his mother to see if it was okay to open it, she nodded vigorously, her tight curls bobbing up and down. He ripped into the thick paper sack and saw a white helmet. His eyes widened in excitement. “Dad! Its a spaceman suit!” He ripped the suit out of its outer papery shell.
“Mom can I wear it now?”
“Sure dear. But what do you say to your father?” She forced a smile and looked at her husband who burst out laughing.
“Thank you, dad.”
“You're welcome, son.” He laughed again.
Tom flew into the house to put it on. It wasn't until he was out of earshot before his mother said. “Really Rick, I wish you wouldn't encourage this behavior. He's already different from the other kids.”
“Shut your face, woman. He's my son and I'll give him what he wants.”
“So this means you're claiming him as your son, maybe what, two days out of the year now?”
Tom came back outside, just in time to see his mother get a beating. He turned back inside the house and climbed into his dryer. His little heart pounded in his ears, and it became difficult to breathe. He took off his helmet. The cramped space amplified the sound of his breathing. He closed his eyes and imagined a dark galaxy with millions and millions of stars before him.
It wasn't until the next day that his mother pulled him from the dryer. His body still trembled. “I'm so sorry, Tom. I provoke him. I should know better.” Her lips were cracked with blood. Her face was bruised. Tears fell down her cheeks. Tom cried too.
He didn't wear his suit after that day. The sound of his own breathing burned into his memory, always reminding him of that day. He felt trapped inside that helmet. He hid his suit in the back of his closet, far from ever remembering it. His fantasy of living in space was buried that day. He decided to play more outside from then on. He needed to get out of his house.
That was when he discovered the forest beside the house. It was full of trees ripe for climbing. He picked up twigs remembering that day in the snow with his dad. Things seemed different now. He didn't dare hope that a winters day like that would ever happen again. So he ran into the forest. He pretended to fight Indians and outlaws. Then he decided to become like the great Robin Hood and do good in a world that was evil. He climbed up a large tree and sat waiting for carriages carrying treasure chests of gold to pass by. He made a bow and notched an arrow to it. He waited, and waited. But no one ever came.
“Robin Hood must have gotten bored a lot,” he said to himself. He shot off an arrow out of boredom. The arrow arced through the air for a moment, and fell to the ground sideways. He wasn't skilled enough for it to stick in the ground.
The sudden snapping of twigs caused little Tom to jolt. He become aware of two boys from his class approaching, Jayson and Tyler. They were bullies.
Tom hugged the tree trunk hoping they hadn't spotted him. But it was too late.
“Hey, barf face! What are you doing up there, retard? Think you're a cat or something?” Jayson yelled, laughing to himself.
“He's got a bow and some arrows, Jayson. He thinks he's a hero or something.” Tyler mocked.
“More like a zero. Morris get down here so we can give you a beating.” Jayson threatened. Tom clung to the tree and hid his face as well as he could in the rough bark. Jayson picked up a rock. “I'm warning you!”
Tom's little heart started racing. He clung to the tree, willing it to hide him from these monsters. He closed his eyes and wished he could hide in the dryer again. Jayson threw the rock at him. The sound of it whistled by Tom's little ears but struck a neighboring tree. “I'm not kidding Morris! Come down here or I'll make you!” He picked up another rock and threw it. It missed again. Tyler joined in this time. Both of them gathered sharp rocks, both of them hurling them up the tree.
A sharp pain struck Tom's rib. A blood curling scream rang out causing the tree's to shake. His hands started slipping. It was hard for him to breath, let alone hang on to the tree. The bully's stopped. “Jayson, maybe this isn't a good idea.”
“Shut up, Tyler. I warned him, didn't I?”
“Tom?” Another voice called out. It was a rough familiar voice. Tom never thought he would be so happy as to hear his fathers voice.
“Dad!” He whimpered weakly. His hands still slipped.
Rick appeared through the trees. “What have you done to my son?” He picked up a rock. The bullies started to scurry. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO MY SON?”
“We're sorry, Mr. Morris. We didn't know he was your son.” Jayson yelped.
“The hell you didn't! Get outta here!” Rick chucked the rock toward the bullies. It missed, just a warning shot.
“Tom, you alright?” He sounded worried, concerned. It was unusual for Tom to hear his father sound so vulnerable.
“I can't breathe.” He cried. Tears were already streaming down his face. The pain throbbed through his entire torso. It stabbed him with every breath he took.
“Tom I'm going to need you to let go, I'll catch you. I promise.”
“No, I'm scared.” His hands slipped some more. He tried to cling tighter but the pain made it very difficult.
“Tom trust me. Please.”
Tom had never heard his father say 'please' to him before. He felt his fingers let go. He fell quickly down the tree. His heart lept into his throat. He felt his side crack as his father caught him. The pain erupted through his tiny body, so intense he blacked out.
Its now been several years since that day. At Ricks funeral Tom was the only one that came. His mom had already passed on years before, cancer. Years of drinking had finally taken Ricks life. Tom didn't cry that day, he was too angry. Instead he found himself in a state of reflection. Where had the years gone?
Having to take personal leave from work at the post office, the first time in 32 years, he realized how many times before he had tried to get away but couldn't. He found himself saying 'someday' or 'one of these days' a lot. The sky was overcast and drizzly. Pulling his coat tighter around his neck, he caught sight of his hands. Looking he didn't recognize them, they were the hands of an old man, age spotted. He was now 62, and where had the time gone? Had he done anything life changing or spectacular? The answer came more swiftly than he realized. . . No, he hadn't. He never married, but never did feel lonely. He realized he didn't feel anything. He still had no friends, just work acquaintances. He never studied at a university, never read a book for pleasure or learned to play an instrument. There's nothing that he had done that he was proud of. He was no better than his father. He hadn't lived either. This trouble him.
He glared at the casket, and felt empty. A simple white lily decorated the exterior of the coffin. Nothing else. No matter how the outside was decorated there was still a dead man inside. He felt like he was the one in that casket.
He tore his eyes from the casket and trudged away. For a very long time he walked in a fog. Feeling the houses pass by as he walked, he was faintly aware of the people stopping to stare. He continued to roam, starring at an invisible object in front of him. He had no destination in mind, no place he needed to be. He felt nothing. He found himself wandering through many tree's. He stopped and found that he was standing before a large tree. At the base of it was a string attached to two broken twigs. It was his old bow. This was his tree. It was much thicker than he had remembered. He felt himself climbing up it, limb after limb his age spotted hands trembled. He felt weak but soon found himself sitting atop the jagged branch where he had sat all those years ago. It was much higher than he remembered.
He sat there for a long time, pondering. He drew in a long deep breath, and felt his rib. The cracked rib had long since healed. He remembered his father. He had forgiven him for all the years of sadness. He couldn't go on blaming his father anymore. The sky continued to drizzle. It smelt like rain was near, but inside him he felt it raining already. The weight of sadness in his chest clung to him, he was miserable, but he had never really remembered being happy. Too many years had passed by since he played with his father in the snow. Too many bad memories had clouded his vision of simple joys.
After awhile of reflection he concluded that all he could say that he'd done, was be a good employee. He had always made it to work on time, he had never caused a fuss. He had never wanted to bother anyone, and never intended to stand out. He spent forty five years going about his own business. Never taking the time to meet a girl, he never even thought of it. He collected the travel magazines and dreamed of places he’d go. He never allowed himself to aspire, even if he really wanted to. The only dreams he lived were in his sleep, but even they was bland. He realized that had been saving up for a day that was, at this point never coming.
Tom felt his forehead which had now become leathery and wrinkled, and his once dark hair was now sparse and gray. He looked inside himself and where his life had gone to. “I am nothing. Why had it come to this?”
He pulled out his cell phone and scrolled through his phone book. Finding the number he dialed. The phone rang and then a voice mail picked up. “Hey Frank . . eh boss. Look, I need to get away. . . a vacation. This time I mean it,. I'm going away somewhere for awhile. I've got to do something with myself, I haven't lived at all in my 62 years. I'll be gone for maybe three to four weeks. Its time I start living.”
He closed his phone. “I know it’s about time.” He sighed. The air seemed to come to life for the first time in a long time. He felt a change coming. It was a good one. He breathed in again. The air exhilarated him. He closed his eyes and breathed in deep some more. It was time to start living. He gripped the branch beneath him.
And that’s when the branch broke. His heart lept into his throat. His eyes grew wide. He screamed. But no one heard the scream of Tom Morris. No one came running into the woods this time to find him. No one witnessed how his neck snapped at the moment of impact. No one grew worried that he hadn't come home yet. No one noticed he was gone. For three weeks, the body of Tom Morris laid in the woods rotting. Animals came to feast on his flesh. Bugs devoured his remains.
Once the body was discovered, no one could identify it. The coroner found a match through dental records, but found it odd that he was never reported missing. No one came to his funeral. Authorities speculated it as a suicide.
The local paper printed an article labeled “Who was Tom Morris?”
“Postal worker Tom Morris died tragically last month when he fell from a tree limb. Authorities were baffled at how the 62 year old man ended up in the tree in the first place. Morris was not discovered till three weeks after he was dead, and was never reported missing.” Frank Peltekian, Tom’s boss of some 20 years reported Tom was on vacation, “There was no need to worry he hadn’t come into work.” `Local hikers had discovered the body 3 miles outside of town. Kate Rhapsody, executive operator of Iowa's Postal Service said, “Tom’s employment to the post office had just passed his forty year mark. We want to commemorate him for his service. I hope the Mayor follows through with my request to name a street after him.” The Mayor was not available for comment. “He was a star employee, we'll have a tough time keeping up without him.” Rhapsody said.