by James Flaherty

He was her oldest. Tyrannical and five, he pointed and directed her like an actress and held the camera of his fist over an eye. Action, he wailed.

He rolled himself up in the rug and screamed, Free me!

It was one of his first haircuts when she snipped the dangle of his ear. It was just a few drops. They’d both see torrents, remembering it later.

She drove to the grocery store, and he listened to the entirety of what she said: The world might be like this or like this. The seatbelt was stretched across his mouth; the weave bulged with his lips. He listened.

He was irritable and wild with temper. She recognized this but was too busy to think about it.

Then he was twenty-two. She was driving him to the airport, where he would board a plane to Texas. Another twenty-two-year-old was in the back seat, making adjustments to their suitcase. She didn’t know this girl; she didn’t know whether he loved her or not. She didn’t know what was in Texas or why he was going or when he was coming back. The decision had not been discussed; whether there was a decision or not, she wasn’t sure. Yet she managed to say things and hug him and allow him to step into the airport with the girl. Leaving, he stood very straight.

 As she drove back, the August sky swarmed and a tremor underground pursued her. She couldn’t have said exactly how this was, but it continued full ahead through the months that followed.

He called every other day. She could hear a wild confusion in his voice. He didn’t have a job. He hated where he was. He cried on the phone. She didn’t know what to say so she said very little. The fact of the states between them baffled and offended her; still the tremor built underground. It built until the night in December when he flew back suddenly and stood in the living room. The girl returned too—upstairs, on the phone. He asked if they could sleep in his old bedroom. And here the tremor breached, up through her feet. It was a complicated thing, what was happening to her. It quaked and freed itself. She had very little control as she yelled at her son. You’re making mistakes – she was ashamed and disappointed and hurt, she said. It caught up with her belatedly that he was on the floor with his arms over his head.

She was high up. Her love had put her there.

Four days later, he moved out. She didn’t offer help. A numb crept in after he left.

The week after, she asked permission to see the apartment he and the girl rented a five-minute drive away. She brought new dishtowels and did not comment on the place, examining it. He said little.

In the two years that passed, they never talked about it. He and the girl came over awkwardly once a month maybe. He got a job. His confusion started to retreat. She admitted quietly that the girl probably helped with this. He was making things. He called sometimes, though she never called him. Gradually, she came to believe he was not in crisis.

He accepted a job out of state. She cleared out space in the basement for the things they couldn’t take. The night before they left, they stayed over in the living room on separate couches. She woke up at six that morning as they were loading the car, and when they came inside to say goodbye, she was making eggs. It was time to head out, he was saying.

They stayed an hour longer, eating. They talked as the day touched the windows then said goodbye a second time. She’d be seeing him, she said.  

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