Home > Leaving Blythe River(11)

Leaving Blythe River(11)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

He felt his small wad of bills extracted. The man held the money close up under his face and peered at it in the dark.

“You better have more than just this.”

That’s when Ethan knew he was going to die. Because he didn’t. He didn’t have more. He had maybe twenty dollars. Maybe thirty. He had his passport in his jacket pocket. And nothing else. His mother had been holding everything else they would need.

Ethan desperately needed to swallow, but he couldn’t. Because he didn’t dare increase the pressure of his neck against the tip of the knife. The more he knew he couldn’t swallow, the more he needed to, and it was a panicky feeling, as if he were drowning. For a flash he wished it could be over. If he was going to die, better to die in that moment. Not have to endure the terror of waiting.

He felt his watch roughly pulled off his wrist. The expensive watch his father had given him as a gift when he turned sixteen.

“You better have more than just this,” the man said again, crushing Ethan’s hope that the watch would be enough.

He wanted to say that it was, that it should be. That it was worth a lot. But he couldn’t speak. Even if the knife had been withdrawn from that frighteningly vulnerable soft spot, Ethan could not have made so much as a squeak.

The man patted Ethan’s back jeans’ pockets for a wallet. He rummaged in Ethan’s jacket pockets. Pulled out the passport. Glanced at it. Threw it away on the filthy concrete.

The horrible face leaned in until its nose was just an inch from Ethan’s nose. Ethan felt a small trickle of blood, just a drop or two, as the knife nicked him. He pressed his eyes tightly shut.

“Bye . . . bye,” the man said.

Then the knife was gone. But Ethan fully expected it back. He was going to cut Ethan’s throat—that’s what Ethan thought. That’s how it felt. Ethan felt strangely sure it was his last moment on earth. He waited for it. Just for a split second he thought he knew what it felt like to be dead.

Still the moment dragged on.

He heard a light shuffling noise at the end of the alley, and instinctively opened his eyes.

He was alone.

His bones seemed to dissolve, and he slid down the rough brick and landed on his butt in the alley. He wrapped his arms around himself.

It took Ethan a minute or more to realize he was trembling. And that he was alive.

Chapter Four: Far

Seven weeks before his father disappeared

The phone woke him with a start. Ethan lay in bed feeling his heart pound.

His mother had picked it up on the first ring. But Ethan still couldn’t get back to sleep. Because the shock of the sudden sound had been replaced with a different, more concrete fear. It was dark outside his windows. His alarm clock said it was barely five.

Nobody calls at five in the morning with good news.

He could hear his mother talking from her bedroom on the other side of the wall, but faintly. Just a trace of voice. He couldn’t make out words.

He slid out of bed and padded quietly to their common wall. Pressed his ear there. But her voice was still nothing but a buzzy, garbled series of sounds. He slipped back into bed and waited. Waited to hear her hang up the phone. Or even to hear her voice go silent. Then he would go in and ask her what was wrong.

Ethan opened his eyes to see that it was after seven. He had fallen back asleep in spite of himself. In spite of everything.

He found his mom sitting at the kitchen table, her face in her hands.

“What happened?” he asked her. “What was that call?”

“Oh,” she said. Sudden and unbalanced, as if he’d wakened her. “Ethan. You’re up. It’s your grandmother.”

Ethan just stood a moment in his pajamas and bare feet, waiting for the jolt of her simple statement to settle. Ethan had assumed it would be about his dad. That all bad news tracked back to Dad.

“Did she die?”

“No. But it’s a bad situation. She had a stroke. A serious one.”

Ethan slumped into a chair without even meaning to.

“A stroke on top of the cancer? Does that mean she won’t even live as long as the doctors thought?”

“Not necessarily. But it does mean that she won’t be able to take care of herself in the meantime. And that means nobody to look after Grandpa, either. She was the only thing keeping him from leaving the stove on all day or wandering off.”

“I didn’t know he’d gotten that bad.”

Ethan waited for her to say more. To get to the part about what this really meant. What would have to happen now. She didn’t speak for a long time, and he didn’t ask her any questions. Because these were her parents. And he knew she was upset. So was he, but in that moment it seemed right to let it be more about her.

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