When we left, his sisters were eating moon pies on the front porch. They were wearing matching short lavender dresses over jeans, the ones, what are they called? Pinafores? With brown bric-a-brac. Ric-rac. Those zig-zaggy lines across the chest.
He carried supplies in his backpack. He kept saying the word, “backpack” over and over. He’d buckled the front himself, unzipped, zipped, unzipped.
“You look just like a little boy now,” I told him.
“Yes,” he said.
“You are a little boy.”
“Big boy,” he said, pointing to the bright backpack strap.
“Not a baby,” I said.
There was a hotel around the corner, where my car was parked. The air conditioner didn’t work very well. I looked at him, my boy. He was already red from the heat.
“Are you tired?” I asked him. He said something, it sounded like “dire”I couldn’t understand. I knew I didn’t know him, but then, I thought, I did. Of course, he was saying “tired.”
“I don’t know about child development,” I said to him, “I don’t know enough. We’ll go back, you know. To visit Dina’s kids. Your sisters. And, you know. Your parents.”
He looked up, suddenly, and gave me such a look. What a look, I couldn’t say what it meant. It was a glare, a wise old man glare.
“Sis,” he said finally. “Wait!”
“Wait!” He was screaming now. “Wait!”
I scooped him up and ran. I was aware of the glare, of the light changing to red, of the sweat stinging my eyes, and the weight of this boy. He was surprisingly heavy.
I took him to the hotel bathroom, into the handicapped stall. There was a changing table in there. He started to pull it down.
“Do you have a dirty diaper?” I asked him.
He looked up at me.
“I have diapers in the car,” I said.
“Sis,” he said. “Pinky.”
I sat on the toilet seat, and the belt from my sundress fell into the water.
“Shit,” I said.
He laughed. “Shit!” he said. “Shit!”
“Sorry,” I said.
“Uh oh,” he said. “Shit!”
In the mailbox that was painted with ladybugs I’d left them a note. It said, thank you for letting me see him. I know you may not understand, but we are going away for a while but we will be back. I’d typed the note on the Mac in Dina’s home office. It occurred to me, after I’d written it, that if I deleted it, well, maybethe people who lived there knew things about computers. Maybe they could see the words even after they were gone.
It was one of those moments when you know you are about to do something, and nothing can stop you from doing it, and even if the future-you was right there, saying, hey! What the hell are you doing? Well, you wouldn’t stop. Those girls, two redheads who slept in the pink room across from him, were outside singing camp songs. The sun spilled from a skylight over his long hair. He had a look, like he was concentrating really hard on something, and I wondered what he was thinking. I thought about how I would like to cut all that wispy hair, to see his blue eyes better. I could see him out of overalls, in little skater jeans and one of those shirts with cute bugs on them, or maybe sailboats.
So we stayed in that bathroom stall for a long time. He seemed content, playing with the toilet paper and the flusher. I looked at him, and I wanted to kiss him on the top of his head but of course, you know, that might freak him out and anyway, it was like I knew I was doing right by him if I could figure out how to do it the right way.
“I remember, when you came, all I could think about was how much I wanted to chew ice,” I said. “That’s all they let you have. You can’t drink water.” He looked at me as if he remembered, too.
“Backpack,” he said, and I noticed the pack was falling from his shoulders. It really was too big for him. I readjusted the straps. We walked out together. Nobody would stop us, why would they? He looked just like me. His hair was the same wheat color, something between blond and brown.
We walked past a fountain full of manufactured-looking pebbles. He stopped, squatted, gazing up. His small hands balled into fists.
“Oh, wow,” he said, “Waterfall.”
“Wow,” I said.
In that yard there had been a little garden, a wheelbarrow full of some kind of wildflowers. His room had been all primary colors. There were towers of blocks in the hallway.
“Oh, wow, wow. Water. Waterfall.”
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