Ben held his drill to the mark in the siding where he was planning on attaching the first number, and he said to Charlie, who was holding a toy drill three feet below him, “Ok, it’s going to get loud.” He pulled the trigger on the drill and watched as drill dust rained down on his son Charlie.
Charlie asked, “What is that, Daddy?”
“When I use the drill, it takes a little bit out of the side of the house. That stuff falling is the part the drill took out.”
“Which number are you doing first?”
“Well, which number is this?” Ben asked as he held a five-inch number for Charlie to see.
“Two!” shouted Charlie with a deep pride in knowing his numbers.
“You’re right, Charlie. The number of our house is 2708. The first one is the two, and then I’ll put up the seven.”
“When the pizza guy comes,” Ben said, “We tell him the number of our house. We tell him we’re at 2708, and when he comes down our street he’ll see these numbers and know this is the right house.”
Two weeks ago, while their family was on vacation, the neighbor kid who they paid 20 bucks to mow the lawn mangled, with the weed-wacker, the ground level sign that marked their house numbers. The kid claimed he didn’t do it and Ben didn’t ask for his 20 dollars back because no one ever saw those numbers anyway. He’d been meaning to put up numbers by their front door ever since the pizza delivery guy said there was no 2708 on their street and went back to the restaurant with their pizza. As soon as Ben told Charlie the numbers for the house were for the pizza delivery person , Charlie replied, “Can we have pizza tonight?”
“We’ll see,” Ben said, knowing tonight’s supper was to be broccoli and rice. “We’ll have some soon, and then the pizza guy will know this is the place.”
A few minutes later, once Ben had attached all the numbers to the house, Ben and Charlie walked out to the sidewalk to get a look at their work. Each holding their drills, Ben his Black & Decker and Charlie his Fisher-Price, Ben said, “We did it, Charlie. What are those numbers?”
Charlie replied quickly, “2708!”
Two mornings later, Ben heard Charlie’s from his bed. “Daddy!” he cried. It was Ben’s job to be with Charlie when he woke up, and as he felt the floor for his slippers, he saw the clock said 4:48. Charlie usually slept until six, and Ben hoped he could talk Charlie back into sleeping for another hour. “I’m awake, Daddy,” he said as he opened the door to Charlie’s room.
“I see that. Do you think you could try to sleep a little longer?”
“No, I want to watch Mickey!”
“You’re sure you can’t sleep?” Ben asked, knowing what the answer would be.
“No, Daddy. I want to watch Mickey.”
“We can watch tv later; let’s get something to eat.”
“I want a donut!” Charlie shouted.
“We’re all out of donuts. Let’s try for some cereal.”
“I don’t want cereal. I want donuts.”
“I know, Champ,” Ben said, “But it’s not good to have donuts every day. Before we do that, do you want to go outside for a little bit? I saw the moon last night, and it’s really big.” The nights were warm with summer heat, and Ben held Charlie as he opened the front door. They wouldn’t see any sign of the sunrise until a half an hour later, and the full moon was still as bright as it was when Ben saw it early in the night. “Look at that. There’s the moon.”
“It’s bright, Daddy,” Charlie replied.
“Tonight it’s a full moon when we can see all of it. It’s really far from us. The moon is more than 200,000 miles away.”
“Is it as far as Grandma and Grandpa’s house?”
“It’s even farther. And the stars you see, it would take years and years to get to them.”
“Have you been to the moon, Daddy?”
“No, Champ. I haven’t. Only a few astronauts have. They got in their spaceship and went all the way up there, and they walked on top of the moon in their spacesuits.”
“I will go there, too!” Charlie shouted across the still sleeping neighborhood.
“I bet you will, Charlie. Will you take me with you when you go?”
“No. You’ll stay here. You can look at me when I go. I’ll see you.”
“How will you know where to find me?” Ben asked.
Charlie pointed to the newly installed house numbers. “I’ll see the numbers on the house, and I’ll know it’s you.”
That night Ben went out on the porch, as he often did on these summer nights. Charlie went to sleep two hours earlier, and Ben wanted to look at the night sky before he went to sleep, too. Ben could see the Big Dipper from the porch, and he was learning about each of the stars. He read today that the one at the end of the dipper, Dubhe, was 124 light-years away. He did the math in his head and realized that 124 years ago was 1896. He didn’t have any idea what happened that year, but he thought he wouldn’t be able to explain it, yet, to Charlie how far away that star was.
A car full of teenagers drove past; their music was loud enough to wake Charlie, but instead of being upset Ben thought of Charlie as a teen, ready to hit the open road with his friends. Ben saw the moon, too, as full as it was when he showed it to Charlie that morning. He thought about Charlie going to the moon, and he felt the mixture of pride and sadness any parent has when they realize the child they love so much is slowly moving away from them and out into the world.
Before Ben got too lost in his thoughts, he hears Charlie cry. Charlie’s room is by the front porch, and Ben hears him cry through the window. The music from the teenagers’ car must have woke Charlie. Ben turns to go back in, to check on his son. He sees the house numbers he put up, and he traces his finger on each number, the two, then the seven, then the zero, and last the eight.