The buildings balance on the plate, precarious. I set it down safely. They stand, secure. If all goes well, they will be gone soon. I visualize a rubble of crumbs.
He’s sitting on his bedroom floor, kneecaps even with his head. His fingers click crazy on the controller between his thighs. His tongue is pressed wide between lips rounded and tucked, hiding the rose of them. Xbox. I pray today he will eat breakfast.
“I’m not hungry, mom,” he says without looking up.
He never looks up.
“You need to eat. You’re getting too thin,” I say. “Look! It’s a bacon house with a pancake roof! See the toast tower? Chocolate milk juice!”
I sound like a cheerleader.
He grunts and says something about ‘we gotta kill these guys’ into his mouthpiece. I stand for a moment deciding whether or not to touch his hair before I leave his room. I cannot risk him pulling away again. Yet the pinprick of possibility that he would let me heavies my hesitation; such a prize.
I decide the risk is too great, and I go.
When I check on him, an hour later, the food still sits, cold.
I take the plate away. The buildings crumble into the sink.
It has been eight or more days since he stopped sleeping next to me. The space is cold again, wide again. Even when he was there, it was not much smaller, his frame so flimsy inside the most burdensome of gaps; a dead father’s side of a bed.
During the first days he’d crawl in from my side, and roll over the top of me until his body rested next to mine, two lines in a broken barcode. He’d stay that way through the night, as if by leaving the gap vacant, it might be filled again.
It made me regret the tales we’d told him of fairies coming in the night, taking and leaving things while we slept.
The last one that visited only took.
He’s never been a big eater so this struggle is not new, only the circumstances are; so dire and life-changing and therein lies my worry. I need to know what to do. His care is my concern. Mine alone.
I ask myself what I did before and the answer is; nothing. It was his father.
“Race you to the bottom of the bowl, champ!”
And so would go the stew.
“Two more bites and you get an extra half hour of Xbox tonight!”
And so would go the spaghetti.
“Twelve more peas and I believe we will be the World Pea Eating Champions. We can do this!”
And so would go the peas.
I would make a certificate on the computer with both of their names and present it to them after the meal. It would hang on the fridge with the rest of them; Pork Chop Eating Champions, Baked Potato Eating Champions, Asparagus Eating Champions and so on.
They are still there, overlapping and white; feathering our fridge.
I am not sure what I should do with them.
I am not sure of many things now.
At the dinner table with the emptiest chair, I continue my contrivance: Darth Vader head meatloaf, hot dog pirate ship, macaroni and cheese man.
A hot fudge sundae volcano.
I try to lead by example; eating the mast off the pirate ship and the right leg off the mac and cheese man. I chew enthusiastically and force myself to swallow.
“Mmmm…it’s good baby. Try some. At least eat the sail or those two arms.”
He picks at it all, trying, but not really trying, to appear as if he’s eating.
“If you eat three forkfuls, I’ll kiss Chester,” I tell him. Chester is our goldfish.
“Can I go play XBox please?”
Defeated, I clear the table. Dishes and food mass the sink with a smell that taunts of failure. Chester swims, stupid.
I go to my bathroom and vomit my hard work into the toilet.
I lie down on our bed. My bed.
Across the house, the sound of chainsaws.
My son’s PE teacher leaves a message about his lack of class participation and asks me to phone her. I call her back and we make an appointment.
When the day comes I drive to the school, park and start walking. It’s only after many minutes of turns into long hallways and wandering down concrete corridors. I realize I am lost. For a moment I feel invisible. For a moment I want to stay there.
The PE teacher’s name is Ms. Boyce. She looks like she is better than me. I sit across from her while she eases me into the matter at hand. I try to make my face look normal. I feel as if I need to force it.
I don’t want her to know.
When her monologue breaks I ask her if she is a mother and if she knows any recipes that 9 year old boys really like. I tell her I’ve been trying things with cheese and bacon.
She tilts her head then changes the subject back to my son’s withdrawing from the class, his lack of attention.
I make sounds of agreement and understanding. When she pauses, I ask her, “What about quesadillas? Don’t they like quesadillas? I thought I could use a cookie cutter and make them into…”
“Mrs. Stevens!” she interrupts, and then, softer, “Please, I need you to take this seriously.”
I tell her, “It’s ‘Ms. Stevens’.”
She mutters something in apology and our meeting fumbles to a close.
I walk back to my car, questioning my response. Does becoming a widow change your status to Ms. or am I still Mrs.?
I’m not sure.
I feel like I should know this sort of thing.
It’s his father’s birthday. It’s a Sunday. My husband died on a Sunday. Or it could’ve been Saturday. When someone dies during the night there is no official time stamp. The day of his death was a best guess made by officials who needed to turn in paperwork. I have decided he died on a Sunday because that is when I woke up to him, unresponsive, unmoving, un…John.
Even though my touch knew better, I decided he died five minutes before I woke. I want to believe he stayed warm and sleeping next to me through the night, letting go at the last second. The thought of an entire night of him lifeless next to me, in a place where so much life was spent, was too much. The thought that the last hours we had were wasted on sleeping was too horrible to bear. We could have tangled ourselves sweetly, we could have held each other hard and read our lives back to each other until it was time for him to go.
He could have prepared his son.
In honor of the occasion I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich cake.
He takes four bites. It feels like a gift.
I pick him up from school and the first thing he says is, “Brian Welsh’s mom overfed their hamster and it died.”
His tone is tinged with accusation.
“I think you overfed.”
I don’t know what to say. I know one cause of heart attacks is being overweight. I know his dad was the champion of many meals; the evidence hangs heavy in our kitchen. It weighs down our fridge.
I drown in a torrent of blame.
Tears I have tried so hard to hide from him take over. I put them on display: flashing neon arrows, air horns, yellow highlighter strokes.
It takes him a minute before he reaches over and holds my hand.
I keep him home from school and make him nest with me in a fort made of blankets. Pillow walls pile around us; soft, protective.
My t-shirt rides up during fitful sleep. He pushes my ribs with his thumbs, counting me awake. He asks if he can make me a pizza sandwich. I do my best not to cry when I decline his offer.
“I bet I can eat it faster than you,” he challenges, his voice, sing-song and steadfast.
“Mommy’s not hungry anymore baby.”
He looks at me the way I normally look at him. It’s disjointing seeing my worry on his young face.
His sunken eyes should have the power to sway me, to make me care, but I am spent. I am empty. I am the air inside the blanket fort. We are out of supplies and the enemy never leaves our gates. We continue our standoff.About the author:
xTx is a writer living in Southern California. She has been published online in places such as PANK, Monkeybicycle, Smokelong Quarterly, elimae and Dogzplot. Her free e-book entitled, “Nobody Trusts a Black Magician” is available at nonpress. She says nothing at www.notimetosayit.com