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Tommy's Tower

by David Shaha, '13

Tommy played with small wooden blocks, each decorated with colored capital letters. Phil watched from the doorway as the boy methodically stacked each block on top of another in a perilous tower of haphazard vowels and consonants.

"Whatcha doing Tommy?" asked Phil.

Tommy turned from his construction and smiled at Phil, "Just making stuff," he replied as he turned back to the blocks.

A voice mumbled over the intercom and a nurse brushed past Phil as she hurried down the hallway to assist in some emergency. Phil sighed and walked slowly across the room to Tommy and his toys. The walls were freshly painted with stick-figure families holding hands or walking under rainbows. Phil's brown shoes squeaked and his keys rattled loudly in his pocket as he walked to Tommy's corner. He moved his hand to quiet the keys although Tommy didn't seem to notice the noise. He sat down cross-legged next to Tommy to watch his building grow.

The boy knelt before his creation, focusing intently on the placement of each new block. His tongue stuck out of his mouth to one side, like his father's, and he squinted his eyes in concentration. Phil was sure each new block would send the tower hurtling down and finally, one did. The bottom blocks gave out and sent the rest sailing in all directions. Tommy squealed with delight and immediately set out to rebuild his skyscraper.

Phil licked his lips, "What are you making Tommy?"

"A big building."

"That was a pretty big building huh?"

"Yeah, I think that's the tallest one so far."

Phil paused as the blocks were once again stacked one upon another. The tower spelled "GFIPHG" this time.

"How tall a building do you think I could make, Uncle Phil?" Tommy asked.
"I think you could build one right through the ceiling," said Phil, trying to smile.

Tommy grinned back, his eyes shining with the thought of such a building. He returned to his work with renewed vigor.

"Tommy," Phil began, "I need to tell you something."

Tommy's pace slackened. Even he could recognize the change in Phil's voice. The sudden heaviness.

"Tell me what?" Tommy whispered.

Phil hesitated. He stared at the tower, "GFIPHGAERF" it read. "Something has happened," said Phil lamely, "to your Dad."

Tommy did not look away from his work. Slowly, his face resumed its former determined look and his hands moved to regain their pace. Phil trailed off as he watched Tommy build. There was an air of desperation to his efforts now. Each block was quickly placed on top of another in a flurry of activity as the tower took form. The blocks, like the stones of an altar, fell into place on top of one another to form the tallest structure so far. Tommy's eyes began to water as he quietly manipulated the wooden letters into a towering memorial to the peace that was about to be shattered. And then it fell. The blocks crashed in a heap of broken words and scattered across the too-clean carpet.

This time, Tommy did not laugh.