When Mom’s summer babysitter cancelled on her I got to spend the day with Uncle Rich. He lived downtown where he’d wait for us cross-armed, in slippers and robe, on his small cement porch. While Mom gave her brother instructions, I’d race in behind him, unable to dodge his hand from ruffling my hair. His apartment had a different smell, clean and smoky at the same time. Beads hung in his doorways and photos of him and his friends wearing Halloween costumes, arms draped across shoulders and hugging, hung on the walls.
Once Mom left, he’d call for me from the kitchen where he had started making chocolate milk with extra syrup. While he stirred I’d study the calendar hanging on his wall, the same one my aunt Jo bought every year from the city fire department, filled with pictures of wet firemen with their shirts off. Then we’d take our breakfast – a bowl of fruit and half a peanut butter bagel – into the living room to watch the news. I hardly had questions but when I did, he answered them, in terms an eight-year-old could understand.
When we finished, Uncle Rich would turn off the TV and take our bowls and glasses to the sink. Then he’d go to the bookshelf and retrieve our supplies, setting them square and neat on the coffee table while I slid off the couch to the floor. He liked to buy old black and white comic books – Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts – and color in the empty spaces with color pencils before brushing over them with water. I’d wait for him to sit before finding my book, then silently, with just the sound of our pencils writing, we’d start where we had left off, filling the drab worlds with color.
Ryan Dempsey currently resides with his wife and daughter in Pittsburgh, PA, where he works for local government. His stories, long and short, have been published on paper and online in such places as the Portland Review, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, The Molotov Cocktail, Gravel and others.