“Hickory dickory dock. The mouse ran up the clock. The clock struck one, the mouse ran down. Hickory dickory dock.”
Most children have, at some point in their lives, heard this nursery rhyme. Whether it was a favorite or not was their choice, but for me it was. Every night my mother would read it to me, and every night I would fall asleep with her voice slowly fading away as I traveled to the dream lair. I remember her smell. She wore too much perfume, smelled like a bouquet of roses rather than one, but it had been so since always so I was used to it by then. Whenever I smelled it, I would feel safe.

I never did have a dad. Well, I did, but not that I knew of. He left when I was three months old and never came back. When I was old enough to realize that I didn’t have a dad, I asked why. My mother gave the same generic story that a lot of kids get, “He went to the store, Honey.” I was six at the time but I wasn’t stupid. I knew he wasn’t coming back, but all the same, I knew the smell of too many roses was there to keep me safe.

But time goes by, and people age. I aged too of course but not quite the same way. Yes, I did age physically but not mentally. I wasn’t slow but when all the other kids outgrew the need to be coddled by their parents, I didn’t. I was a momma’s boy. Always have, always will. My mother was the one thing that made me feel safe even in high school. I never was made fun of for it because I hid it well, and the people that did know were my closest friends.

But, parents can’t always keep you safe. One night I was at home watching television at about 7:30 at night. I don’t recall what I was watching but whatever it was, I was completely zoned out into it. I was twenty-five at the time so naturally, I had my own house. Well, apartment really, but it was what I had. It was a small one bedroom, one bathroom apartment on the top floor of a two story apartment building. I’d only lived there for less than a month, so most of the apartment was filled with boxes of things I hadn’t unpacked yet. The glow from the TV flickered rhythmically over the walls as the people on screen moved around. I sat there watching with what I guessed was a stupid look plastered on my face.

The thing that finally brought me out of my stupor was the sound of ringing. I jerked around as if I had just woken up, and saw a new source of light. My phone was ringing. The name Stevie was labeled at the top with a choice to answer the call or to ignore. The blue screen seemed bright to my eyes but I decided to answer it. “Hel-hello?” I asked, my voice sounding gravelly.

“Hey man, you doing anything tonight?” I heard Stevie ask. He sounded excited. I could hear noise in the background, but I wasn’t sure what it was.

“Um, no. Not that I know of anyway. Why?” I said, running my hands through my shaggy hair. I had been telling myself for weeks that I needed to get a haircut but I never did.

“Me and some friends are going drinking over by the Pit. Wanna come?” he asked. After asking about drinking, I recognized the noises in the background. It was music and people chatting.

“Sure,” I grunted, “I’ll be there in a few.”

“See you there,” he said. The phone call ended with a stifled click, as the electronic humming of the call occurring shut off.

I picked myself off of the couch and went into my bedroom directly down the hall to search for some clothes to wear. I found a dark blue T-shirt with yellow lettering that read “American Eagle” and “1977” with a picture of an eagle in flight in between the name and the date. I wore some simple black jeans with a hole in the left knee, and had some generic sneakers that were red on top and white around the base. I grabbed a gray hoodie from the doorknob, grabbed my keys, and headed out the door.

I remember not being able to start the car at first. I’m not sure why it wouldn’t start, but I do know that it was annoying. I jammed my key into the ignition, but all the engine did was screech in defiance at me several times, until finally it turned over, and rumbled with a satisfying purr.

I pulled out of the parking lot and headed for the Pit. The Pit was the place in town that everyone who knew anything would go. I guess you could call it the “cool kids” hangout. It wasn’t too far from where I lived, so I was there in less than fifteen minutes.

I pulled up to the Pit, and listened to the cracking of gravel getting kicked around by the tires of my otherwise silent maroon pickup truck. I expected a few girls to be there as well, so I checked my hair in the driver side window before getting out.

I walked over to the area and saw Stevie sitting on a bench, fashioned out of a half of a short log. He was wearing a black shirt with the Nike symbol on it and a white hoodie, green converse, and blue jeans. He looked up and smiled at me and stood up to greet me.

“Glad you could make it, man! Anyway, let me introduce you to the others,” he said, waving his left hand toward the five other people standing by a bonfire with beers in their hands. They were laughing about something but I couldn’t hear what. Stevie’s red hair flew into his face a little and he brushed it away, “That’s Mark over there with the Chicago Bulls hat. Jeremy is the one in the chair. The two that are kissing, like constantly, are Martha and Riley. And the one with sunglasses on his head is Steve.”

I didn’t really know what to say. I’d never met the people before so I wasn’t too eager to go over and introduce myself. I’m actually a pretty shy person. I thought it was a little weird for there to be so few people at the Pit, but it was spring break for the school so they were off other places, as the Pit was more of a weekend place.

The wind was blowing gently, causing the flames to dance with the fluid movements of a ballet dancer on stage. I tentatively waved to the people over by the fire, like giant moths to a flame, but stayed rooted to my spot. “I’m not too sure I want to go over there,” I said looking around nervously.

“That’s fine,” Stevie said, “I actually wanted to talk to you about something.

I felt chilly so I pulled my hoodie closer to my body. I had a feeling what he wanted to talk to me about, and wasn’t sure I was ready: My father. Like I said earlier, he had disappeared when I was young, and that was that. Stevie obviously didn’t think so. He led me to a sort of secluded area and stood there with his hands in his pockets. He stared at me with a thoughtful look on his face, as if he were trying to figure out what he was going to say. After a while, he began to speak, “I—I think—I think it’s time to stop looking.”

I stared at him with what felt like the tips of my eyes, trying to fathom what he meant. “What do you mean?” I asked, trying to sound incredulous, however, my voice was shaking and I knew I was fooling no one. I did know the answer, however, but I guess I just didn’t want to accept it.

“You need to stop looking for him. I’m saying this as gently as I can. You’re at the height of your youth. You need to get out there and experience the world, create a family, something,” he seemed to beg. The way he said “him” got to me. It was like Stevie was saying that my father was never real, that I was just some loser wasting his life chasing a pipe dream. Looking back on it now, perhaps I was. But at the time, I had no intention of listening.

From this point on, the details are a little hazy. The next thing I remember doing is feeling overcome by emotion and yelling, “Stop acting like you know him!” and then I shoved him. Hard. Apparently too hard. He fell backwards, grunting, and hit his head on a rock that I didn’t see in the moonlight. At first, I was too stunned to move, but when I recovered from my momentarily fear-induced paralysis, I ran to his side. When I picked him up to make sure he was ok, I noticed blood on the cool, smooth rock, feeling weirdly warm as if it were not blood, but his being, that was on my hands. His head lolled to the side as I trying to wake him. I checked for a pulse on his wrist and neck, and felt nothing. I think I started to hug him and rock him. I’m not sure how long I was there, but next thing I knew, I was tearing through the woods back the way we came. I ran right past the group of people fervently asking where Stevie was, and clumsily started my car and drove.

Eventually, I made it to my mother’s house. I rang the doorbell and knocked several times, frantically, until she opened up. She looked at my bloodstained hands and gave me a look of worry. It was then that I started blubbering like a baby, “I didn’t mean to, mama. It just happened. I didn’t mean to. I love you, mama, I love you.” I was gasping for breath in between the words and I wrapped my arms around my mother and hugged her for what felt like ages. After a long time, the police showed up and took me from the embrace of my mother, out of the house, and into the police vehicle, hands cuffed, the smell of too many roses with me the entire way.