My little Argonauts, she called them, her two sons, though they had no idea what it meant, nor she, as her pregnancy with Thomas (her eldest) had occurred when she was only sixteen, resulting in her dropping out of high school, the importance of learning definitions of peculiar words waning each day with the growth of her belly, and so she was forced to misuse them instead.
There they go, she said, my little Argonauts, as they ran out the door to go play. She watched them digging at the end of the front yard from the kitchen window of their trailer, in that low dancing heat that made her boys shimmer in the background like mirages, while she washed plastic dishes clean of the boy’s macaroni and cheese lunch; one red, one green. Mulling the term over in her head, she decided that it meant to be some kind of explorer, perhaps one who travels explicitly on foot, one who purposely avoids the sea or the air, a fitting term for her two sons who were grounded by the poverty that they were, for now, blissfully unaware of. They had only an idea of the absence of things, like possessions, or a father.
She pictured her boys as two such travelers, explorers of the world all around them, and she allowed for herself, briefly, the romantic notion that their home, that grounded and thinned out metal tube, was really a vessel missing one small part, one key component. She imagined that their tenancy in the trailer park was only temporary, that at any moment a large bearded man with black fingers would come in through the front door wiping his hands off on an old spotted rag and say, It’s all fixed up, ma’am, and she would call in her two sons, and they would soon be halfway across the world, the view outside their windows, blurs of colors and sounds, everything once keeping them fastened to the earth disappearing behind them.
However, Jess, now twenty-four years old, was coming to an understanding that fantasies such as these did more harm than they did good. She was better off keeping her head level with the window, her feet planted firmly to the ground, recognizing the horizon for what it was, a dangerous drop off at the edge of the world.
It was at this moment of consideration that Brian, her youngest, began to squeal, a screech that first sounded like one of pain, but, as Jess snapped out of her languidness and back into a state of motherly awareness, she saw her two boys running toward her with an eagerness that suggested having never experienced disappointment, the sincerity of children, both of them shouting, Treasure, mom! Treasure!
Thomas, his feet pounding furiously against the pavement with his fist held out in front of him had a look of seriousness on his face that his mother would eventually come to hate. First when he would tell her that he wanted to meet his father; again when he would inform her that he had gone and joined the army; and again, the worst time, when he would wake her up at four in the morning and ask her to have a seat in the kitchen, where he would explain to her very slowly that Brian had been killed in a car accident by a drunk driver, where he would say that he was gone forever, that he was never coming back, that it was just the two of them now, that she was that much closer to being entirely alone, that nothing would fill the hole he had just created.
But before these moments would unfurl there was now, this moment of optimism, this bizarre feeling of hope fluttering alive inside of her like a white dove, as Thomas burst in through the front door of the trailer and ran to where she stood, dirt trailing in behind him, while Brian, coming in after his older brother out of breath, began dancing and spinning, his arms flailing up and down while he yelled, Treasure, mom! Treasure! In his high pitched warble, while Thomas stood still in front of her panting, red faced and sweating, staring wide-eyed and hopeful at his closed fist with such an intensity that one would think he was able to see through his fingers to the treasure he enclosed there.
Jess, her heart still racing, the hair on her arms and neck raised like it was listening, knelt down to the same height as her son and placed her hands around his own and prayed, Let it be something. Let it be one of hundreds of gold coins, or the tooth of some prehistoric creature, or the tip of the mast of some long forgotten ship, the beginning of an ark; an answer to their prayers, anything at all.
Show mommy what you found, she whispered. Show mommy what’s in your hands.
Thomas finally broke his gaze and looked up at his mother with his girlish brown eyes -- his lashes so long for a boys -- and he nodded in understanding about this secret that they were about to share, the two of them, while in the background Brian giggled with sparrowish delight and sang, Show her, Tommy! Show her! And Thomas released what he held and in that instant his hands opened in his mother’s she understood that whatever it was that he found held little to no value at all, she felt what little weight there was between the dirt he dropped in her palms, something small and insignificant, and with the disappointment already showing on her face she opened her hands and saw the dull, brown coin there, a farthing, old British copper worth only a fraction of a penny, one of the few things she remembered from her history class sophomore year, pictures of old British currency in the margins of her textbook, and with this knowledge floating around hopelessly inside of her, Jess began to cry, and then the only noise in the kitchen was the sound of three people breathing and a small distinct ‘pink’ on the plastic tile floor of the kitchen, and Brian quieted, and Thomas finally spoke, and he said, What is it, mom? And with the back of her hand Jess wiped her cheeks and gave the coin back to her son and said, It’s nothing, Thomas. It’s nothing at all. And she rose, to walk past them, to her bedroom, full of vagueness, full of nothing, toward what felt like, for her, inevitability.