By Attila Zønn
The next evening Tata didn’t come home from work. Mama called Ray at home, but he said he didn’t know where Tata was. Mama went outside to the bottom of the driveway and looked up and down the street. She came back in and said, “What do I do?” She sat on the sofa and said,” What do I do?”
When Alex woke up the next morning Tata still wasn’t home. Mama sat in the chair by the big front window in the living room. Her eyes were tired. Alex went to stand beside her but as soon as he reached her she stood and said, “I will call the police.”
A policeman came to the house later in the morning. He had a black writing pad and a holster. He asked Mama questions about what Tata looked like and where he worked and if they had been fighting. Mama tried to speak but she was too excited, and it was like she had forgotten how to speak English, and she couldn’t get any words out. She started to cry. Then a funny thing happened—the policeman spoke to Mama in her language.
He was a nice policeman. His name was Officer Petracek. He sat down, and he and Mama were having a good conversation. Then Mama stood and went to make coffee. And as she made coffee she kept talking, and the policeman nodded and wrote what she said in his black pad. Cristina cried out from upstairs, and Mama asked Alex if he would go get Cristina from her crib. Alex ran to get Cristina, and when he pulled her out of the crib he hugged her warm body close and she put her face against his neck and every time she breathed into his neck it made him happy.
Officer Petracek told Mama that everything would be fine. That maybe Tata had gone somewhere to think. Some people do that. And you can’t go on what people used to be like because things change in someone’s life and they change too. That’s what Mama told Alex after Officer Petracek had left. Mama went and sat by the front window. Alex played with Cristina on the floor.
The next day Officer Petracek came by again, and he told Mama that he had checked all the hospitals and Tata wasn’t in any one of them, which was good, and no crimes had been reported that had a man like Tata in it, and that was good, and don’t worry, Officer Petracek will find Tata.
That night, Alex helped Mama give Cristina a bath.
The next Saturday, Officer Petracek came by, but he wasn’t wearing his policeman clothes. He wore jeans and a green plaid shirt. He didn’t look like a policeman. He had a sad face. He looked at Alex, then said something to Mama. Mama slumped into a chair and started to cry. Officer Petracek touched her shoulder, then he left.
“What is it, Mama?” Alex asked.
“They found your tata,” Mama said. “He is well. They found him walking in the downtown. He does not want to come back. He does not want this life anymore. You will not see your Tata again.”
Tata was gone forever? Alex didn’t feel anything when he heard this. He wasn’t sad. He thought a life without Tata telling him what he was doing wrong was going to be a good life.
Officer Petracek’s name was Mike, and Mike drove by in his yellow police car and stopped in a lot over the next few weeks. Sometimes they spoke English, sometimes they spoke Mama’s language, and one time when Alex came home from school, Mike stood in the kitchen holding Cristina.
Then one day Mike came by in the morning, and Alex and Cristina sat in the back seat of his Malibu when he drove Mama to find a lawyer where she signed some papers. Then they went to a bank. Then they went to the grocery store.
Aunt Magda came by a lot, and she and Mama talked and talked and Aunt Magda would say, “Good riddance!” a lot. Uncle Laszlo would come by to pick up Aunt Magda, and he talked with them, and he said, “Good riddance!” a lot.
Mama sighed as she stood by the front window, and when she saw Mike drive up in his police car, she smiled and hurried to put the coffee on, and when Mike knocked she hurried to open the door. Some days when Mike came by, they all got in his Malibu, and he’d drive to an empty parking lot and teach Mama how to drive a car. Though Alex didn’t like it when Mike held Cristina, he did like how he helped Mama. He thought policemen were very helpful.
One Saturday, Aunt Magda and Uncle Laszlo came to visit. Mike showed up a little bit later and brought steaks. While Aunt Magda and Mama made a salad in the kitchen, Uncle Laszlo stood at the BBQ with a beer in his hand while Mike cooked the steaks. It was easy to see by the smile on Uncle Laszlo’s face that he liked Mike very much. And as he sat on the porch steps and viewed all this—Uncle Laszlo and Mike, and Cristina puttering along the grass, Alex thought briefly about Tata, but then Cristina started pulling the heads off Mama’s flowers, so he went to stop her.
Alex had never thought of how old Mama was. He had never thought of her as old or young, she was just Mama. Now after they had eaten the delicious steaks Mike had cooked, and they sat in the kitchen with their beers and wine, everyone talked about their lives, and he heard that Mama was thirty-one. Mike was thirty-three, and he had been a policeman for eight years. No, he had never shot anyone but some bad people had shot at him one night when they were running away from stealing some televisions. His police car saved him.
As the evening wore on, Alex watched television in the living room while Mama and Mike and Uncle Laszlo and Aunt Magda laughed in the kitchen. He fell asleep on the sofa and had a dream—in the dream, Mike carried him to his bed.
Alex woke in his bed the next morning, and as he walked down the steps to the kitchen, he looked out the window at the top of the landing and saw Mike’s Malibu parked in the driveway.
Copyright © Attila Zønn 2017