The woman said, “Would you like Kool-aid?” and the boy said, “Kool-aid,” and she said, “Okay,” and the boy said, “Okay.”
She said again, “Would you like Kool-aid?” And she held up her fist, made the motion that meant yes. And the boy watched her and balled his fist and made the motion.
“Yes! Good boy!” she said and the boy said, “Good boy,” and she tried to give him a smooch.
The boy slouched half on and half off the chair. He was lining up his Hot Wheels along the edge of the table. One rolled off and crashed to the floor. The boy screamed. He fell off the chair and rocked back and forth, screaming.
The woman picked up the car and placed it in line with the others, but the boy kept screaming. She hadn’t placed it perfectly. She thought of gluing them together, but the teacher wouldn’t approve. She tried again and, finally, she got it right and the boy stopped screaming. The woman let out a long breath.
The teacher had said redirect, show him the proper way, make engine noises, have two cars race. The teacher’s hands flew around as she talked, her fingernails corrugated, the color of butter. The teacher clutched the boy’s shoulders. The woman wished she wore gloves.
The woman went, “vroom, vroom,” with one of the cars and the boy went, “vroom, vroom.” He took the car from her hand and placed it at the end of the line.
She gave him the Kool-aid and he drank it all before setting it down. In the other room, the fax machine started beeping, sending work. She used to be a geologist, but now she did proofreading from home. The boy clapped his hands over his ears and cried.
“Should we go to the park?” She said.
The boy stopped crying. “Park,” he said. Every morning, mothers and their children paraded past the house. She imagined herself with her son someday casually falling into line behind them and sitting on benches with the mothers and talking about anything at all while the children ran and played. She imagined a lazy passage of time. This morning, the children had been wearing Halloween masks.
She held up her fist and made the motion for yes. The boy watched. He held up his fist.
“Good boy!” she said.
“Good boy,” he said.
“Can Jason say Mommy?” she said, pulling on his arms, like gathering tension from loose ropes.
“Can Jason . . .”
“No. Say Mommy,” she said, louder. The boy’s teacher had told her to develop some backbone. But the boy looked at the floor and the clock ticked and the refrigerator hummed. Deep beneath their feet, tectonic plates shifted. She let his arms drop to his sides. Backbone. For God’s sake.
The phone rang. The boy ran into the living room and spun around on the rug. He flapped his arms as he spun and smiled at the ceiling. She smiled at him, but he didn’t see her. She carried the phone into the kitchen.
When she finished, she found him lying flat under the sofa cushions. She wondered if she was supposed to unbury him. She sat on the floor and leaned in as close as she could. She felt the boy’s breath on her face. It smelled like apples.
“Hello in there,” she whispered.