Fill your lungs with refrigerated air before you push open the truck door. The parking lot’s swelter grips your calf. You imagine the sizzle of your flipflop as it sinks into softened asphalt. Drag yourself through air as thick as molasses. The passenger door thuds shut.
The prize justifies the trek—an air-conditioned thriller-mystery that promises gooseflesh and a shared experience with the only boy you’ve ever truly loved. Hold that thought like an ice cube on your tongue. Your almost-twelve-year-old son, now beside you, makes a wisecrack about how it’s hotter than a pile of steaming poop out here. It’s not that funny, but you chuckle. Relish the company of someone with your sense of humour. Who has your smile and shadows your stride.
You’ve got to slow down. Because when did your little boy get so tall? A few days ago, when you put on his new-school-year shoes and they were a little loose on you, you both cracked up. But you cried after he went to hang with his friends. Says he’s too old for playing. In two weeks, school starts up again, and you’ll both be in Grade 7—him at his new school and you at yours. You want to stop moving and fold him into your arms like old times. Perhaps he senses your need. His fingers lace into yours and your heart soars. Then it sinks.
You’ve been preparing for the moment since he was five. Have always pictured it would be him breaking your heart. The past few years, he’s had it rough. Moving provinces, cities, schools, and at each junction, new taunts. In grade 4, a student in his class jeered “little chink”; in fifth grade, the boys at the next school mocked his allergies while he blew his nose raw; then in grade 6—the worst so far—a kid at his last school accused him of “smelling Asian.” The others sneered that he was “the teacher’s kid.” And now, next week, both of you at new schools. Again. But separate schools. You pray that, this time, the transition is effortless.
So, you intervene by doing the thing you can’t bear to do. You exhale the last ration of cool air from your lungs, and, as you unlace your fingers from his, as you say, “We can’t hold hands in public anymore,” tears spring to your eyes.
He faces you, traps you in a freeze frame. Your flipflops fuse with asphalt. He asks, “Why not?”
You want to call your own bluff. Laugh it off. But, instead, you force your hand into your pocket, examine your toenails—the ones he painted electric blue before you left for the mall—and say, “Because you’re getting too old to be a mama’s boy.” You nudge him with your elbow, and the asphalt releases you. Long before reaching the air-conditioned entrance, you mourn the hand you’ve clutched for a dozen years. Already, you feel the chill of small gap between you.
Hailing from the Canadian prairies, Rachel Laverdiere tries to find the balance between writing, throwing pots and teaching. Her words are published in journals such as The Common, CutBank, The New Quarterly and Filling Station. Rachel’s flash CNF was shortlisted for CutBank’s 2019 Big Sky, Small Prose Flash Contest and made The Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2020. Her debut collection of essays is forthcoming. To learn more about Rachel or her courses, visit http://www.rachellaverdiere.com.