Authors: Adele Griffin
Sons of Liberty
ONIGHT WOULD BE INTERRUPTED.
Rock couldn’t figure how he knew, but he did.
Drip-plip, drip-plip, drip-plip;
water pooled in the plastic bucket Rock’s mother had stuck on the landing between the two upstairs bedrooms. Rock listened to the drips—would the plinking rhythm lull him into sleep, or prevent it?
He listened harder, for the soft brush of newspaper pages turning in Cliff’s bedroom. His brother usually worked on his designs late at night, spread-eagling the real-estate section, drawing pad, and himself underneath his bed, his body tensed for their father’s voice vibrations in the floorboards, in case he planned a surprise checkup.
It was way after midnight, though. Cliff was long asleep. Rock flopped onto his side and raised his head, punching and twisting his pillow. Maybe he should turn on his lamp and work on his paper, get a few more index cards done, if sleep was evading him for now.
He pressed and rubbed his thumbs against the back of his neck, willing himself into relaxation, but his heart skittered uneasily under the floor of his chest and he could feel a fat wad of tension folded into the space between his shoulder blades. He squeezed his eyes shut tight and tried to let warmth and darkness fog over him. Uneasily, he drifted.
“Okay, men. Everybody up.”
A flood of electric light and the steady clapping of his father’s hands jolted Rock awake. The colors of his room blurred before his squinting eyes. He knew it. I knew it, Dad, he felt like saying. He and his father were in touch that way.
Rock could see only the crook of an arm and a white shirtsleeve, but he knew that his father stood in the landing with his feet planted far apart and his arms crossed at the chest. His Mr. Clean pose, Cliff called it.
Rock snapped back the quilt and jumped to his feet.
“Cliff, up.” Quietly. Their father hardly ever raised his voice.
“Oh, for chrissa—”
“You hear me now, Cliff.”
“I got my Spanish quiz tomor—”
“You want trouble, sailor?”
“Naw, no. No trouble.”
Rock held himself straight at attention; chin raised, shoulders leveled, hands cupped at his sides. He blinked back the tiredness from his eyes, shook it out of his head, smiled grimly. He might be fifteen months younger than Cliff, but Rock had always been quicker to his feet at surprise wake-ups.
Now their father leaned in the door frame and nodded at him. “Your brother can’t seem to get going. Rock, you want to help him out?”
“Twenty push-ups and you’re all set, Cliff,” Rock said quickly. If a help-out wasn’t decided fast enough, their father might think one up, and he had a way stronger imagination. But this time he only hmmphed approval.
“Don’t know how I got one son so alert and one so lazy. Warm clothes, you two. We’re gonna go fix that roof.”
Rock heard the heavy slap of Cliff’s weight to the floor as he began chuffing off twenty. Hauling into his jeans and flannel shirt, Rock caught sight of his reflection in the mirror over his dresser. Once Liza had accused him of looking like her hamster, Pearl. At 2:17 in the morning, just waking out of his uneven sleep, Rock had to concede the likeness. The puffs of dark hair curling up to stiff meringue-beaten points, his frowning, triangle-pinched face—not that he resembled a rodent during regular time. But an Interrupted night was different from regular time.
“Get a move on.” Their father clattered down the stairs, loud enough to wake their mother and Brontie, if he wanted to. Which he probably did. When their father was awake, he thought the whole world should jump awake with him, or at least be aware that some jumping was going on.
“Unreal.” Cliff coughed. “Can you believe this?” he asked. Not waiting for Rock’s answer, he started singing quietly. “Oh, give me a home. Where the bu-fah-lo roam. An-the deeeer an-theean-tee-lope plaaay.” The song was sort of a joke, since lately in private Cliff had taken to calling their father Cowboy George. But now Rock was in too much of a hurry to laugh.
As he rushed down the stairs, Rock heard the squeak of his brother’s closet door opening and the clattering of wire hangers as Cliff leisurely explored its messy cave for clothes.
“Hurry up,” Rock huffed under his breath. It unnerved him, this defiant streak Cliff had been showing lately. It couldn’t be a good idea for anybody.
Outside, the air was prickly cold, and Rock’s every breath swelled from deep inside his heart and lungs. He sucked in cleansing balloonfuls. An ivory horn of moon hung in the sky and the crunch of the snow beneath Rock’s Timberlands sounded purposeful, stealthy, as he walked around the side of the house. One cool thing about being awake when everyone else was asleep was slipping through the ghostly beauty of a winter’s night.
His father was already up on the roof. His Triplebeam Jetlight suddenly bore down on Rock, who automatically raised his hands to shield his face.
“Just a flashlight, buddy. Look on your face—ha! Remind me of a blind squirrel.” His father laughed softly as Rock dropped his arms and began scaling the ladder, double time. Rock hated ladders and heights, and yet the fear also exhilarated him. Not one molecule of his body or brain was sleeping now.
“Leak’s coming from right up around here.” The flashlight roved and caught odd pictures in its light circle. “Leaky pipe, maybe, but then I think we’d be seeing more water. Clear away the snow?”
Rock dropped to his knees and began digging like a dog. Snow whooshed off the roof.
“Take it easy,” his father chuckled. “You’re like me, Rock. Too much night energy. Couple of barn owls, that’s us.”
They worked together, clearing the snow, and their breath in the stillness made a comfortable working rhythm. Barn owls. Rock smiled wryly. It was true. He and his dad were a lot alike. It was mystical, almost.
“Time I got to be your age, my own parents had long passed.” His father’s words were easy inside a familiar story. “I got raised by your great-aunt Cass, as you know, and I spent my summers mostly alone. Aunt Cass couldn’t keep up with me. Running wild, neighbors used to say, which was fine by me. ’Cause you can learn a lot, running wild.”
“Sure can,” Rock agreed.
“There’s plenty of times when it’s important to do what you gotta do, not follow along with rules that don’t make sense to you.”
“But there was other times, when I’d liked to’ve shared those wild days, when I’d wished I had an old man, or a brother or two, even a sister, maybe, that I could’ve horsed around with, fished with, talked to. Which is why I myself am glad I had my own kids pretty young.”
“Yep,” Rock answered. These moments with his father Rock enjoyed best, the remembering times, when Rock could picture his dad like Huck Finn, running wild through a Sheffield summer. And his father was still young, kind of; at least it wasn’t impossible for Rock’s imagination to smooth out some of his father’s wrinkle lines and slim down his waist into the gangly, smooth-cheeked kid Rock had seen in a couple of old Polaroids.
“And I used to think that when I had a family of my own, I’d teach ’em all the learning I was storing up inside, all the things I taught myself. How to look a man straight in the eye. How to bluff, even when the deck’s stacked against you.”
“Straight in the eye, yep,” Rock repeated. He enjoyed the sound of the words; they rang so solid and true, although Cliff would have called it Dad’s Cowboy George talk. Cliff liked to point out that their dad’s philosophies seemed like they’d been pulled off old John Wayne westerns. Rock didn’t mind. Besides, if all Dad had counted on for company was weedy old Aunt Cass, watching John Wayne movies easily won out as livelier entertainment.
“This world’s gone lazy,” his father continued. “Everyone’s used to handouts. No one’s got endurance. No discipline. Say if that isn’t right, Rock?”
“I need to teach my own sons better. That’s why I worry about Cliff’s lazy streak. He’s got no discipline, your brother.”
“Nope,” Rock said uncertainly.
Too soon, Rock heard Cliff’s feet shuffling up the ladder.
“Hey.” Cliff’s stocking hat appeared just over the eaves. “I brought these up from the basement.” He produced a thick stack of cedar shingles from his jacket pocket. “In case we need to replace.”
“Smart thinking,” their father grunted.
Rock frowned. Why hadn’t he thought to get the shingles from the basement? Because of course the problem turned out to be not a pipe leak, but a couple of loose shingles tacked along the edge of the metal chimney flashing. Their edges were warped from where the ice had buckled the wood.
“Good move, Cliff, bringing along those shingles,” their father commented again. “Take a lesson, Rock. Your brother thinks on his feet, eh?” Rock nodded begrudgingly.
Now the three of them worked, intent as thieves, clawing off the rotten shingles and hammering in the fresh roofing. The darkness blurred the edges of Rock’s careful fingers, and the cold, which had at first jolted him awake, began to exhaust him. He yawned, turning his face so his father wouldn’t see.
“Just because you’re tired’s no excuse to do a sloppy job, Rock.” Their father shone his flashlight over Rock’s handiwork. “You just hammered in a three-quarter nail, where you need about an inch more length for the wood to hold.”
“It’s ’cause he can’t see,” Cliff muttered.
“His glasses,” Cliff persisted, although by now Rock was leaning into him, pressing the toe of his boot hard against Cliff’s leg to make him shut up. “He can barely see a foot in front of himself without them.”
“Ah, that’s baloney.” His father scowled. “Not one single Kindle in our entire family history’s ever had granny eyes.” Rock hunched closer to the toolbox, fingering for the right nail. He felt his face go warm. Fatmouth stupid Cliff, making Rock look like a granny-eyed weakling.
“Well, I’m just saying,” Cliff concluded.
“Fine.” Cliff shrugged, but his face was clenched with secret thoughts. “I’m finished,” he reported after a few silent minutes. “So I’ll be heading down now, if that’s okay. I got a long day at school tomorrow.”
“Nothing school can teach you that you can’t learn from life lessons. Remember that, son. Your brother and I’ve been talking about you. You might as well know—both of us’ve noticed this lazy streak you been showing.”
“Oh yeah?” Cliff turned and glared at Rock, who raised his eyebrows and said nothing, even though he felt sort of embarrassed.
“One bad apple spoils the barrel, right?” their father continued. “You’re not interested in being that apple, are you, sailor?”
“No.” Cliff continued to hold angry eyes on Rock, who looked down and began to carefully brush some snow off his knees.
“Glad to hear.”
“I’m still going inside though, okay?”
Their father was silent. Cliff swung a leg over the roof and disappeared down the ladder.
“He’s got that Spanish quiz,” Rock tried to explain as they listened to the front storm door slam. He felt bad, especially since Rock didn’t really think Cliff was lazy and hadn’t really been bad-mouthing him behind his back. It was just hard to speak up, sometimes, when their father was trying to make a point.
“You’re not your brother’s keeper, Rock. You don’t need to make excuses for him.” His father sat back on his heels and scratched his chin with the claw of the hammer, thoughtful a moment. Then suddenly he leaned over and tapped Rock’s thigh with the tool’s handle. “Good job out here.”
“No problem.” And even though Rock thought he could have curled up and gone to sleep that very moment, he was so tired, he also felt plenty content up on that rooftop with his father after a job well done. Life never seemed easier than when Rock could bask in the calm of his father’s good spirits.