Peter stood in the front yard for what seemed an eternity. The house seemed smaller, somehow; smaller and thoroughly ordinary in a way it never had before. It had the usual Box Elder in the front yard and the usual tan siding and the usual four-door sedan in the driveway.
He willed himself up the driveway to the walk and up the steps to the door, where again he stood, hesitant, unsure. His nose was already full of the smell of cooking and laundry. He reached out and took the doorknob in his hand; unlocked, as if nothing had changed, as if it was safe, as if the night was empty of horrors.
He turned the knob, opened the door, stepped in.
His mother was there at the counter, mixing bowl and wooden spoon in her hands, looking over her shoulder at him. She quietly put them down, turned to face him, smoothed out her apron, regarded him.
It was going to be a yellow cake with strawberries and whipped cream, but the cake was still a mix of store-bought mix and eggs and milk, the strawberries were still in the refrigerator, the whipped cream waited in the can. Peter remembered how good her cakes had tasted.
She held out her arms. "Hug?"
He gathered her up, careful of his strength. She was soft, familiar. Her cheek was warm against the side of his neck as she squeezed him reassuringly. He half-expected her to whisper something to him, some secret admission, some motherly advice, but she was silent. She released him, stepped back, smoothed out his shirt, fixed his collar, smiled wanly.
She offered, "He's in the basement," and went back to the incipient cake.
The basement door was closed. He remembered being small, fearing this door and the darkness and musty smells beyond it. He remembered fearing the creaky wooden steps and whatever might be hiding under them, listening to their groans of protest, readying itself to reach between the slats to grab at his ankles.
He descended slowly, quietly, placing his feet where they would produce no sound. He had well-learned the merits of the silent approach.
His father sat at the work bench, a gooseneck lamp curved over a model plane in front of him. Paints and brushes were arrayed within easy reach.
From the foot of the stairs, he called out, "One-oh-nine?"
His father didn't look up. "Yeah. Revell." He continued painting. Eventually he turned, saw Peter waiting, followed Peter's eyes. "Oh. Sorry." He reached up, took the silver crucifix off the pegboard, opened a workbench drawer, dropped it in.
Peter walked over to stand beside his father, looked down at the model, nodded. The livery paintwork was immaculate, as always; the man had a gift for detail. Next, after the drying, would come the weathering.
Different brushes for that. Peter picked the right ones out of the tin can, dipped them in the bowl of clean water, ran the fine hairs between his cold fingers.