“Why are you crying? It’s no big deal.” She peered at the four-year-old hovering on the edge of
his chair. He studied the tabletop, as the shuddery rising and falling of his chest gradually slowed.
After running a hand under his nose, he was shocked to see his fingers coated with teary snot. As if injured and needing a bandage, he held his hand out to her.
“That’s gross,” the young woman thrust a napkin at him, “here.”
He appeared poised for another eruption of tears, but swabbed his fingers, and hiccupped.
“I’m supposed to get a break sometimes too you know.” At the window, she scanned the
walkway outside, grabbed a cigarette and lighter from a drawer, and checking once more that
the coast was clear, opened the door, sat on the doorstep and lit up.
Having spied a toy car half-hidden beneath a cabinet, the boy quietly collected it, and relieved
to be out of the spotlight, drove the car up, over, and down the back of a chair. She watched the street and smoked, while the room held its breath.
“Don’t want to go,” the boy said, cruising his car along imaginary avenues. The woman turned
to watch him, not replying. “I don’t want to go,” he repeated.
“I know. And tomorrow you’ll be home again.” She directed a half-smile his way. “Like I said,
it’s no big deal.” Rising, she crushed the cigarette out underfoot, and closed the door. “This is something kids do all the time.”
He flung the car across the room, keeping his eyes fixed on where it landed.
“Anyway, he’s your dad so you have to. And he’ll get you pizza and a root beer.” The boy
welled up again. “Don’t do that,” she warned, “you’re a big boy now.”