From beneath the dining room table he spots wisps of dust on chipped gray floorboards across the room. He hears his grandmother clop around the kitchen in her low-heeled shoes, into the pantry and out again. She places things hard and small and metal on the counter. The door to the Frigidaire slams shut with a soft burp. He scurries closer to the kitchen and peers around the corner, careful to remain in the shadow of the tabletop. He sniffs nutmeg, vanilla extract. He puts his fingers to his nose, but they smell of nothing at all. He misses his mother. She’s been gone a very long time. He’s afraid to ask when she might return. Outside, through gauzy curtains, the sun dips behind a cloud. His grandmother slips into the dining room, bends down and smiles at him, her thick glasses sliding down her nose. “Milkshake?” She lets him stay put as he sips the sweet foamy liquid, fresh from the blender, his lips skimming the cold clean glass.
How does she know?
Back home, his mother shakes her head as she inspects rug burns on his knees—raw and red and stinking of Bactine. “I don’t know,” she says, wrinkling her nose at the sharp odor. He doesn’t mind, just a pleasant little sting. “Mommy,” he whines, mainly to distract her.
Ellen sits at the back window, where she can see rose bushes and the fig tree—they need work. The aroma of baking cookies fills the evening air. Who knew a factory could smell so sweet and reach so far? Tailpipe fumes from Broad Street, diesel and gasoline, are no match for the baked goodness sailing warm across city blocks to reach her as she squirms and worries about her quiet grandson.
Who steals his words?
The white ball flutters in the hot summer air. He eyes the bright white plastic, full of oddly shaped holes—and forgets to swing. His dad looks disappointed. “Come on, son, take the bat off your shoulders.” His father turns away, silent.
Why is this supposed to be fun?
Sometimes Dad doesn’t come home at night.
“Work,” his mom says when he asks. She’s folding laundry—white t-shirts, Dad’s running socks. She fluffs the top of his head but doesn’t lean down to kiss him.
He wants to ask another question:
Could grandma come live with us?
In his own little bed, soft and warm, he stares at the dim ceiling. His mom’s been teaching him “Now I lay me down to sleep.” They kneel together beside the bed before she turns out the light. It’s not the one they taught him in Sunday school. Here’s why: Mommy skipped a line. “If I should die before I wake.” Well, no wonder.
How can he sleep, with the invisible night right outside his window?
It’s dinner. Just Mom and Dad and a big box of pepperoni pizza on the table. Grandma wouldn’t like it. But they’re all laughing and his dad’s cutting up a slice for him, little pieces so he won’t choke. It tastes pretty good.
This is perfect.
The sun’s rising. Mommy cleans the dishes, scrapes pizza crust into the sink, runs the disposal. Time to get dressed. She takes him to kindergarten on her way to work. Dad climbs the stairs and falls on the bed. She gave him a kiss before he went up.
Dad’s always home in the morning.
So much love. So much to lose.
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