Sean could not stand the house he lived in for his entire life. He walked through the rooms, going through the motions of wiping dust, of putting stray things back to their places, and everything felt empty because his father wasn’t there.
But at the same time, everything carried Tony’s presence, everything was shaped by his touch. The arrangement on his work desk downstairs, the flowers from the garden, the clothes in his drawers were still the way he left them. Nobody wanted to touch his things. Nobody wanted to move anything. It did not feel right to disturb his order.
Sean’s mother retreated into her garden. Every day, when she got up, she moved outside with the careful, light movements of somebody who is deeply hurt and afraid of disturbing the wound. She didn’t even bother to get dressed. Day after day Sean found her kneeling in the dirt in nothing but her nightshirt, and day after day he guided her inside, made breakfast and laid out clothing for her.
Sean knew she was not significantly younger than his father, and she would follow him sooner than later. They met late in their lives, and Sean was born shortly before Natalia was too old to bear children. But in these days after Tony’s death, Sean tried to avoid thinking about losing his mother as well.
His brother Lloyd was adrift. He was still going to school, and he seemed to do his duties well enough, but everything he did felt hollow, and more often than not he just seemed to get lost in his thoughts. He didn’t invite his best friend anymore, nor any other friends. He stopped painting, or reading books. He went to bed early, and got out of bed late, and sometimes he just stood there, staring into space with a vacant expression.
Sean learned his lesson on responsibility then.
It was him who took care of things that needed to be taken care of. It was him who arranged the funeral, it was him who talked to Tony’s coworkers. When they tried to persuade him to take over Tony’s job, he politely declined.
“I deeply respected his work”, he answered, “but I always had other plans for myself. I know he had plans in place for this case. I know he left you instructions, and chose a successor, and now it’s up to you to continue his work. Or not. Either way, it’s not my problem.”
So they retreated and left him in peace after a while.
Sean knew it was up to him to hold it all together. He knew that mother would fall apart if he didn’t guide her back to life. He knew Lloyd would drift away and get lost in his solitude. He knew that the family never had a lot of money, and he knew that the old house had a substantial upkeep cost. He knew he had to step up and fill the empty space his father had left.
One terribly early morning – technically it was still in the middle of the night, he herded his family outside. “I have arranged everything”, he said in the manner of an explanation. “You just need to follow and not make a fuss.”
It was only when they were on the plane to France that his mother slowly came back to life.
“I always wanted to go”, she said. “All these vineyards. And the flowers. Do you think I can bring back some seeds?”
And when they finally got to the tourist base camp, she had a smile on her lips.
“I will just go take a look at the town. Try and have fun, boys!”
Lloyd also wandered off, looking for the local book shop – he had an assignment from school that had something to do with foreign cultures.
Left to his own devices, Sean went to explore his accommodations, when he saw another visitor to the camp, a beautiful young lady who didn’t seem to be from around here.
She insisted on greeting him in the French way of kissing each other on the cheeks, since she came to explore the French culture, as she said a little awkwardly after.
And for a one little moment, when she placed her hands on his arms and leaned in, Sean forgot about the weight of his responsibilities and his father’s death and everything that he had to deal with.