I was a young boy. It was just me and my mother and my little baby brother. We had fallen on hard times. We had taken to living in the hollow of a large boulder at the local park. There were small holes to climb up into this hollow on either side of the boulder, and it was comfortably snug within. Once ensconced, we were safe inside the boulder, but we had to be discreet in our comings and goings, so that the other patrons of the park wouldn’t notice that we were living in there. To that end, my mother took some of the sand that lay on the ground around the boulder and molded it in such a way that the openings were recessed into two pitted grooves. That way the folks power walking in the parking-lot down the hill wouldn’t see us slip in and out. My mother demonstrated, wiggling in feet first. Her smiling face slipped up under the boulder and she was inside. The people down the hill went about their picnics and their brisk strides, never noticing a thing.
But then I just had to go and point out a problem with this idea. I climbed in after her, and once inside the cool, damp hollow, I whispered that there was a winding stone walkway that passed right by the boulder. Certainly these hidden entrances would be visible to anyone walking along this path. My mother stuck her head out to see what I was talking about, and just then a cop happened to be coming down this walkway. He spotted her before she could duck back in. So she slipped out the rest of the way, and made like she was just resting against the boulder in its shade. She assumed as casual an air as she could with a smear of subterranean dirt across her cheek.
I sat inside the boulder, trying to hold my breath, trying not to make a noise. My baby brother rocked back and forth, shirtless, nibbling at his fingers. I could hear the cop’s muffled interrogation outside. He seemed to be buying my mother’s story. He seemed like he was about to move on. Unfortunately just then, I bumped into one of my brother’s toys, a plastic phone for toddlers, and it let out the briefest clipped ring. The noise echoed off the concave ceiling of the hollow. This perked the cop’s attention, but it wasn’t until my baby brother suddenly started wailing from all the tension and confusion that the game was truly up. I snatched up my brother and slipped out the hole on the other side of the boulder. I took off running across the park with my brother tucked up under my arm, never looking back.
The two of us started making our way across town, somehow growing older as we cut along the back streets and crossed the busy intersections. I figured that we could go stay with my grandmother. I was nearly a teenager and my brother was just starting to walk and talk, coming out of stores marveling at everything he saw, fascinated by the bell that jingled whenever the door opened, the candy and chips and cans of soups that would sustain us smuggled under both our coats. We sat at the curb eating, while I consulted the pieces of a weathered old map, figuring which routes we had to take. My brother’s little shoelaces were loose and dirty from being dragged along in the mud. I tied them into bows and promised I’d show him how to do it himself some day, and then we got to our feet and kept moving.
I was a grown man by the time we reached my grandmother’s house. My brother was the teenager now, raised in the wild. He tossed pebbles across the yard as we waited for my grandmother to appear at the screen door around the side of the house. I told her that I would pay her rent for whatever rooms she could spare. I insisted. I wanted more than anything to settle into the comforts of working a steady job and living a daily life and paying my own way and finding myself in a chair in front of the TV at the end of the day in crusty old work shoes. She told me that we could have two of the bedrooms in the back, upstairs. They had been closed off for years, but we just needed to dust and take down the cobwebs and it would be just fine. It would be so nice to live in a real house again, to sleep in real beds, to sit snugly under a roof on stormy nights.
The clouds were even gathering as we spoke and I could feel those first few drops of hard rain. It seemed that we had arrived just in time. My grandmother held the screen door open and my brother and I ducked inside. Sitting on a cabinet across the room was a stack of letters that my mother had written from jail. My grandmother had kept them for me, waiting for me to arrive. The ones at the bottom of the stack were discolored with age. I considered the weight of the stack in my hand. The whole story of all those years in a handful of envelopes.