“Tony’s lips moved silently, forming the word “I’m sorry.”
Tie Li understood and nodded her response. For some unexplainable reason, she felt at peace, even as the world destroyed itself outside the confines of the little machine clinging stubbornly to the wildly pitching ark. She knew as long as Tony was by her side, everything that could be done would be done. Her job was to wait and hope.
The three young people heard a new sound along with the deafening thunder claps and the rasping, rushing wind. It was as if someone were pounding on the outside of Voyager. Simon looked at Tie Li and then at Tony. “Hey, I thought you said no one could see us,” he challenged. Tony placed a finger over his lips and pressed his ear against the wall. Again the muffled pounding noise carried in the cold, damp air. Then, the group heard someone calling. “Tony, Tie Li! Are you in there?”
Tony’s mouth dropped open. Twisting around, he pressed the lock-release lever. As the door opened, Mrs. Parks’ face appeared, wet hair clinging to her forehead and neck. “I’ve been looking all over the place for you guys,” she shouted above the thunder and wind. “When you weren’t in your workshop, I got worried. You’d all better get inside. It’s not safe to play out here in this storm. Come inside now, you hear?”
Tie Li looked up at Tony, and then stuck her head out the doorway. A big smile lit her face. “We home, Tony!” she cried, “Look, we home!”
Simon lunged from the machine and sprawled on the rain-swept grass, laughing and shouting. “We made it! We made it!”
Mrs. Parks pulled strands of hair from her eyes. “What’s he talking about, Tony?” she asked, trying to speak above the thunder crashes.
“We—uh—we were—uh—” Tony stammered for words.
“Oh, never mind.” Mrs. Parks grabbed Tie Li by the hand. “Let’s just get inside before we all drown.”
They ran for cover as the downpour increased. From the kitchen doorway, Tony looked back at Voyager. It would take some time to dry everything out and get it ready for the next trip. But for now home looked mighty good, mighty good indeed.
In an hour or so the storm passed, leaving the world clean and fresh. Simon downed his last cup of hot chocolate and headed for town, his bike splashing through the mud puddles, wet leaves slapping against the wheels. He turned his jacket collar up around his neck. A north wind was blowing, making the air chilly, uncomfortable. Winter was catching its breath. Soon autumn would sleep under early snows.
“Dad, I’m home.” Simon closed the front door of the little apartment and searched the wall with his hand for the light switch. Light flooded the room as the bulb hanging from a long wire above the couch flickered to life. “Dad?”
Simon threw his wet jacket over the back of the bony, faded overstuffed chair and walked into the kitchen. Breakfast dishes lay dry and stained where he’d left them that morning. Opening the refrigerator, he leaned on the door, studying the meager contents for signs of supper. He noticed the remnants of a six-pack of beer sitting beside the empty carton of milk. He closed his eyes when he heard his name being called from the bedroom.
“Simon? Did you finally decide to come home?” The voice was heavy, slurred. “I’m about to starve to death, but you’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Simon walked down the hallway and opened the door to his father’s room. “I’m sorry I’m a little late. I got caught in the rain at Tony’s house.”
“At Tony’s house, at Tony’s house,” the voice mocked. “I’m sick of hearing you say that.” An unshaven, disheveled man staggered to his feet and pointed an unsteady finger in Simon’s direction. “You’re a no-good bum, that’s what you are. You think this Tony cares anything about you? I bet you had to bribe him just so he’d tolerate having you around. I just bet you did.”
The man pushed Simon aside with his arm and weaved his uncertain way down the hall. He threw open the refrigerator door, grabbed a can of beer from the shelf, and turned to face his son again. “Just look at this mess. Dirty dishes in the sink, trash all over the place. You’re a pig, a dirty old pig.” With that, he staggered into the living room and fell heavily on the couch. “Now if it’s not too much trouble, your highness, how about some supper for your old man?”
Simon watched his father open the can and drink its contents in four noisy gulps.
“Sure, Dad,” he said, slowly turning toward the kitchen. “It won’t take but a minute.”
The boy worked in silence. Soon the oily smell of eggs frying in the pan mingled with the stale odor of beer. Simon buttered a couple pieces of toast and poured a can of olives into a cereal bowl. Placing the food on a TV tray, he carried it into the living room. From the couch came the deep, coarse breathing of a man sleeping the disturbed sleep of an alcoholic. He wouldn’t be eating tonight.
Simon set the tray down and lowered his tired body into a nearby chair. He studied his father for a long while, listening to him breathe.
“Dad,” he said, knowing no one heard, “I’ve seen the world the way it used to be. I saw the first two people who ever lived. The man was strong, real strong. He played with the animals and everything.” The form on the couch coughed and turned in its sleep.
“The woman, she was beautiful. She looked soft and pretty. She kinda reminded me of. . . Mom.” Simon stared at the torn wallpaper clinging to the wall across the room. “If I could just remember Mom, I’m sure that’s what she’d look like, all soft and pretty.”
A cold wind whistled through the crack in the window behind the couch. Simon stood and walked to the hall closet. He returned with a blanket and spread it over his sleeping father. “But there was another man there too, Dad,” he said,tucking in the corners of the blanket. “He looked kind, real kind. Tony said that man was God, the Creator.”
The boy walked to the window and studied the darkness beyond the panes of smudged glass. “This God looked like He could love anybody in the whole world. Even me.” A tear inched its way down the big boy’s cheek and fell onto the windowsill. “I’m sure He would love me, too.” Simon was silent for a long moment. Returning to his chair, he sat down with a sigh, nervously brushing his cheek with the back of his hand. “But the serpent ruined everything. He made people not listen to God anymore. He made them kill the animals, kill each other. Then Noah said that God was going to destroy the world with a flood and everyone should come into an ark. But they wouldn’t listen then, either. And God did what He said He was going to do. I know; I saw Him do it.”
Another gust of wind wrapped the room in a cold embrace. Simon shivered. “North wind’s blowing out there tonight,” he said, looking toward the window. “A north wind is always cold. You can count on it. Maybe God made the north wind. When we feel it, we know winter’s coming and . . .” Simon’s gaze fell on the broken pane of glass. “Then you know it’s time to fix the crack in the window. That sounds like something God would do. Yeah, I bet it is!”
Simon jumped to his feet and ran to the kitchen. Rummaging through the drawers, he found a roll of tape and a garbage bag. Soon the crack in the window was covered with a neat patch of plastic.
Tie Li wrapped another blanket around her shoulders and edged closer to the warm, cheery glow of the fireplace. “I don’t like cold,” she told her mother who was sitting cross-legged on the floor, playing checkers with Tony.
“That’s right,” the woman said, not taking her eyes from the board, “you don’t know what winter is like, do you?”
Tony’s chin rested on his palms. He looked at his sister, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “You don’t know anything about snow, either, huh?”
“No, I never see snow before, only pictures.”
Tony jumped two of his mother’s pieces and rolled over on his back.
“Snow’s great! I like to eat it.”
“Eat snow?” Tie Li’s nose crinkled at the thought. “You eat snow?”
Just then Mr. Parks came in carrying a steaming teacup.
The sweet smell of herbs filled the room. With a satisfied sigh he relaxed into his favorite chair. “Tony, what’s that contraption out on the lawn with Voyager written on the front of it? I saw it as I was putting the tractor away.”
Tony glanced nervously at Tie Li. “That’s—just—it’s an invention, something I built. Your move, Mom.”
“But how did
it get on the lawn? It’s too big to fit through the door of your workshop,” his father persisted.
Tony wet his lips. “It’s nothing, Dad. Just an invention. I’ll put it back tomorrow, I promise.”
Mr. Parks set his teacup on the end table. “Tony, I think you’re hiding something from me. Are you going to tell me what that thing is, or do I have to go out there and find out for myself?”
“No!” Tony’s voice was louder than he’d planned. “No, Dad. I’ll tell you what it is, really I’ll tell you.”
Tie Li’s eyebrows rose, and her mouth hung half opened.
“That’s more like it, son,” Mr. Parks smiled. “Now you tell me what this Voyager thing is and what it does.”