There in the Carr Avenue house on an early spring evening in the year of the Great Shedding, the two youngest Corrigan brothers came to dinner when called. By their father. From the afternoon hours at his desk Milo arrived in the kitchen, half-dazed, the dragon still flying through the denuded forest, from his imagination onto the sketchbook page. Kevin, who by then had given up all sports for marijuana and become a sullen and unruly high-school senior, slouched into his usual place at the table. Across from each other, in their separate worlds, neither noted their mother’s absence. Not until their father pulled three TV dinners from the oven and slid them onto the Formica in front of them. Milo, and Kevin too, sat silent and staring at this curious first in their lives.
“Your mother’s away for a while,” their father told them as the heat and sick smell of peas and chicken gravy rose up to Milo’s face. “She’ll be back. Now just eat.”
Both boys, mystified, knew better than to ask questions, that night or in the motherless few days that followed when she wasn’t there in the morning before school or after, in her chair at the front window, smoking. Living in their father’s iron-forged silence, it was as if she’d never existed. Neither brother could come up with a reason, at least not one that made sense. But on the following Saturday with Michael in from the city and James home from college, Richard Corrigan assembled his four sons at the same kitchen table and told them their mother was having a rest. He made it sound like a vacation, some fun she’d earned.
Milo, imagining his cheerless mother off somewhere nice, away from them, somewhere she would like to be and having a good time, missed seeing the look Michael and James exchanged and missed the stern look their father gave them for it. In the weeks after that, Milo also missed, or ignored, the long looks the neighbor women gave him when he passed them standing out in their front yards, up to their ankles in that spring’s bizarre heap of green leaves. Just as he paid little attention to the clucks and fawning concern of his aunts when, several times a week in late afternoon, one of them stopped by to drop off a casserole.
He was young, after all, wouldn’t turn twelve till mid-summer.
And, Milo was the boy who’d always inhabited a different place from other kids, who looked at what everyone saw but colored it all with his young artist eye. He was the boy who worked to understand his world by questioning both the insides and outsides of all the things he could either see or, more often, dream up. He wasn’t much concerned with how or if any of it worked in the everyday world so long as he could account for things in his. Milo’s was a world almost exclusively of imagination, creation. His latest drawing might have stood for it all: he wanted wings to fold in such a way so that his dragon could fly through the trees, cleanly, without snagging on the seemingly impenetrable tangle of leafless branches he’d drawn, and so the wings folded. He loved the dense web of branches he’d worked so hard to create, but more, he loved his dragon’s ability to fly through cleanly.
Dreamer, some thought, dismissing the kid. And dream he did, no question, but Milo was also the plenty intelligent boy who knew to accept what existed outside of his imagination, understanding and control, what grew up apart from and beyond himself, because he had to. He had grasped early on that, simply, there were times he had to wait to understand.
It wasn’t till Thanksgiving of that year of the Great Shedding, well after his mother had been back home after her resting two months away, that Milo overheard her talking with her sisters about the hospital. And how easy it had been to be there, and how being at home was the same old hard. There’s just nothing for me here, he heard her tell them in her same flat voice. Or anywhere. That’s when he began to understand, consciously, because he began then to pay attention in a new way, that his mother’s silence, her strange flatness was a thing requiring attention rather than acceptance.