His feet jiggling excitedly as if they didn't belong to the rest of his body, Tyler calculated the minutes until the school bell rang. He liked learning how to tell time. After his Little League game last Saturday, Grandpa and Grandma had come over for dinner, and Grandpa pulled him aside, telling him he'd brought a big surprise. "But first, Tyler," he'd said, peering over his tiny Mr. Potato Head glasses, "you have to eat seventeen of those delicious peas on your plate." Tyler hated peas, especially the kind with tiny onions in slimy sauce. Grandpa must've been watching as he raked his wrinkled green mortal enemies beneath a miniature volcano of mashed potatoes. Gulp. "Do I have to, Grandpa? How about if I just eat one?" "Tell ya what, Tyler, how about we make it an even eleven?" Solemnly, Tyler pushed eleven peas onto his fork, raising them to his mouth with the same apprehension of a dead man walking. He could feel Grandma, Grandpa, and Daddy observing him with amused anticipation. "Stop lookin' at me!" Mommy, please come out of your room. The peas were smushy and yucky, and Tyler swallowed them without even chewing, washing them down as quickly as he could with an entire glass of chocolate milk because he already knew the surprise was a Mickey Mouse watch with a grey wristband; he'd seen it inside the clear plastic box that was poking out of Grandma's purse.
Mickey's little hand was almost on the 3, and his big hand was between the 8 and 9. Three more minutes. I won't forget my lunchbox today, Mommy. Mrs. Purcell's mouth started moving, and she was holding up a yellow flashcard with "4 + 6" on it, but her voice sounded like a Transformer robot, and Madison was eating paste again, and Zachary was digging inside his nose, and Kayla's arm was shooting up into the air like a rocket, her hand flapping just like the brook trout he and Grandpa had caught last summer, raising out of her seat and bringing her desk up with her because she knew the answer was "ten." Outside, it was still raining, but only just a little bit. Sunday had been rainy, too, and he and Bob Boxley were stuck inside, looking for buried treasure, but Mommy came out of her room in her pajamas with her hair sticking up, saying they couldn't be pirates inside the house because she had a headache, and could they "please play more quietly?"
Mommy had lots of headaches. She was so sad and tired now that Daddy asked their housekeeper, Mrs. Kelly, if she'd come to live with them. Mrs. Kelly wore a hairnet, and she was fat and smelled like cabbage. She drank brownish water from the flat silver bottle she hid under her skirt, and after she cleaned the house, she'd lock herself in the bathroom, smoking cigarettes and talking on the telephone, the fumes of orange Glade curling out from around the edges of the door. Tyler hated Mrs. Kelly even more than he hated peas. When she was downstairs doing the laundry, he'd take the can of air freshener from the windowsill and spray it right into his nose, intrigued by how much it smelled just like a real orange. If the can was empty, it would spray a different kind of spray, not the kind that smelled like oranges, but the kind that made the walls wobbly. Mrs. Kelly? You've got a hole in your head. He'd told Daddy about the hole in Mrs. Kelly's head, hoping that maybe he'd seen it, too, but Daddy kept reading his newspaper. "Tyler, sweetie, you're just imagining that," he'd said without looking up. "Why don't you and Bob Boxley go outside to play?
When Mickey's big hand pointed at the 9, the bell rang. Tyler bolted from his desk into the hallway, through the double doors, across the playground, and onto the sidewalk in front of the school where the buses parked. He could see his lunchbox, right where he'd left it, dangling from the outermost branches of an old oak tree that was across the street. Last Friday, he and Robbie Johnson were messing around after school, waiting for Mr. Ernie's bus, and Robbie had sailed his baseball mitt into the tree's crown to see if he could hit an old bird's nest, but it got stuck, so he grabbed Tyler's lunchbox and flung it upward as hard as he could, trying to knock down the mitt. The box's plastic handle immediately looped over a stubby outgrowth directly beneath the hopelessly wedged mitt, eliciting peals of hearty boy laughter. "Hey, it looks like your mitt's a hand, holding onto my lunchbox," Tyler observed. Climbing onto Mr. Ernie's bus that afternoon, Tyler hadn't given his lunchbox a second thought. Now, he was on a mission to retrieve it. Maybe if he started remembering things like his homework and his lunchbox, and not leaving his shoes outside in the rain, Mommy wouldn't be so sad.
The rain had made the tree trunk slick, but there were plenty of low-lying branches to use as rungs. Tyler was a natural at tree-climbing. Daddy liked to kid him about being "part monkey, just like Curious George." Today, he was wearing his baseball cleats because his brand new shoes were still wet, and they offered good traction as he scaled the trunk, inching his way toward redemption along the high slippery scaffold limb, until the rogue lunchbox was almost within reach. Almost there. See Mommy, I didn't forget! Hugging the limb tightly, as if he was embracing his mother's thighs, he strained and let go of his right hand, extending his arm as far as he could, desperately wrapping his outstretched fingers around the lunchbox's handle just as his weight started to shift, and determination gave way to gravity.
Part I: The Appointment
Part II: Amplitude