Sarah Koch was born and raised in Pennsylvania, spending most of her life in the reading area. She first started writing in high school, and now looks to finish a degree in creative writing. She currently goes to Full Sail University, and hopes to one day be a director and writer.
A smile on rosy cheeks marked the happiest days of early years.
The pair of young love watched paper tear from box, listening to the delightful surprise of squeals and giggles from their only flame in the tiny, two bedroom, grungy apartment. The world outside those pasty, thin walls seemed barricaded. It was bliss and nothing could pierce the shield they’ve built around their precious porcelain doll. Her smile faded to tears at the pure joy that came from such a sadly simple gift. She clicked the camera as the boy of now four held up his Transformer action figure, with realistic fighting action and buttons that caused parts to light up, move, or speak. His tiny teeth grinned ear to ear as he proudly displayed his new possession to his father, who replied with a face of seemingly equal shock and awe, as if he had never seen anything so wonderful.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact was, the recession hit hard-hit everyone hard. Jobs were dropped left and right over the sides of this sinking ship. Most of those furthest from the carnage just shut their eyes and covered their ears and let those who would fall first take the plunge, while others of their ilk simply complained and made their stake in what they thought might patch this now pathetic bucket of nails. He did everything he could to keep his family afloat. He built his own life boat out of the scraps of whatever he could find. But the odd job here and there was barely sustainable. So little did he earn that, in fact, even with her moving away from “stay at home momming” their bills left them nothing for extra. Fun was that of a distant memory, what they could do had to be expense free.
“Please, here, we have some extra, take your son to the movies.” Polite gestures from well-meaning friends and family came often.
“No,” they would say, “we can do this ourselves.”
The swelling of pride and so much more filled the room, almost so strong as to be pungent. It nearly pealed the original paint off the walls. But, so high on their little one’s happiness that it didn’t matter the smell. Hard work pays off… sometimes. They looked up at each other, mom and dad, and exchanged a relieved smirk.
"Is there nothing more we can give him? Just one, single present?” The discussion just days before.
“Honey, I know it’s hard, but he’ll love it. This is all we could afford right now.”
“I could take another job.”
“No, someone has to be around sometimes to take care of him, we can’t afford a nanny.”
As their son flew around the room with his Autobot, mom put the camera down. She could only turn away. The tears may not have been out of sadness, but she couldn’t ruin it, not today. She couldn’t, yet all the weight of worry, of work, it seemed to push the flood gates wide open. Dad followed her into their bedroom. It was barely big enough for the bed they had brought over from their house. You could see a picture of it on the mold-colored walls. Yet even the selling off their home and most of their possessions couldn’t drain their sea of debt.
He felt it too, as he lay down beside her. He clutched her hand tight as if he could feel her slipping away. He wished he could fix it, that this was something a hammer and nails would mend. But, unlike a bandage or a new coat of paint, nothing would cover the transition from a fenced in yard to nine hundred square feet of living space. He wiped his eyes, had to be strong. How could he put that on his wife and child? How could he even face them with just how far he let them down?
“Autobots, roll out!”
The strange sound jerked them both away from their off-white bed sheets. They leaned forward, sitting up as plastic red and blue greeted their dripping faces. And a no-longer laughing boy, determination his radiant cloak, squeezed between them, slipping under their cotton, red and gold comforter. He looked up at them, with the most serious expression a boy his age could muster.
“Thank you mommy. Thank you daddy.”
And there it was. They wrapped their arms around him, entwining their gaze upon his cheeks. Their wet smiles felt less heave, if only just a little. And here, in this tiny room, at least they could keep the outside at bay, if only for the night.