It was nearly bathtime when the boys decided to take one last look in the old barn. Joshua had scrambled up the rickety ladder, calling dibs on whatever knickknacks PawPaw had left in the loft. Tobias had barely made it halfway up when Joshua stepped off the ladder and gripped the rafters, his feet dangling wildly above the dirt floor. “There’s nothin’ up there but spiders and a dumb babydoll head,” Joshua said as Tobias popped his head up into the loft. “I’m goin’ to play out back.” Joshua swung his feet back and forth a couple of times and then dropped to the earth with the hoot of a howler monkey.
Tobias looked around at the empty space and shivered with the cold November air that whistled in through the cracks in the wood. Joshua may not have wanted it, but that babydoll head without its body—that was a treasure. Tobias hoisted himself up onto the floorboards, adding another layer of dirt to his already stained pants. As he turned the head over in his hands, he stuck his fingers in the eye sockets, flicking the eyelids open and shut. He wished he’d had a pair of scissors so he could cut the eyelashes. It seemed like a fun thing to do. He stuck his fist inside the neck and banged the head to the floor. Yes, this was a treasure.
Tobias put the head in his cargo pants pocket and scooted his butt across the floor to the ladder. He wasn’t big enough to jump yet, so he backed himself down the ladder the way he came up.
Once on the ground he heard Mama and Daddy talking in hushed voices outside. Mama was crying–probably about PawPaw. Tobias hadn’t known his grandfather hardly at all. They’d only visited a couple of times and one of those had left Tobias in tears when he accidentally knocked over his oxygen tank. But still…PawPaw was in heaven now and Mama was sad about it. And that made Tobias sad too.
He crouched down, running his hands through the soft dirt and scooped a handful into the baby’s head. He wiped his nose on his sleeve, the chill making his nose run and his nostrils burn with the cold air. He could hear his Daddy kiss Mama on her head like he always did when he didn’t know what to say. The leaves crackled as Mama and Daddy walked back toward the house and Nana. It wouldn’t be long before they’d be calling them in. He wondered where Joshua was playing and why he hadn’t come back to look for him.
The dirt gathered under Tobias’ nails as he deposited another clump in the plastic head. As he thought about Mama and PawPaw, he had a great idea. Outside the barn, the wind blew and Tobias knew it was getting close to the time when they’d light the fireplace every night. That was his favorite. He filled the head to the top with dirt and went out to search for some leaves. There weren’t many left, but he managed to find a couple of red ones that he could stick in the dirt like flowers. When he held it up to inspect his creation, Tobias thought it looked kind of pretty.
“Joshua. Tobias. Time to come in!” his father called from the house.
Gripping his makeshift vase to present to his mother, Tobias walked back to Nana’s house suppressing a triumphant smile. He knew his gift would make Mama happy. And since he was feeling so good about that, he decided he wouldn’t even fight his bath tonight.