“You got taller,” she said to the boy, though he wasn’t a boy anymore, and he flew every summer, visiting his father, who’d been living in the same place ever since the boy had been a toddler.
This time the boy responded to the mom, “No, you just got shorter.”
She had to look up to see him, and she told him that, and she said she liked his haircut, which was another thing she usually said to him after he went to see his father.
They stood at baggage claim, and this time he had two bags, though he’d left with one, and that was also not unusual. There was probably money in his pocket, much more than he had left with, and there was also his tuition.
They stood there at the carousel, with all the other passengers, and she asked him how his flight was and he said, “There was more than one.” He shifted his backpack, said, “You know I had to transfer.”
He talked about the bear he helped dissect at his father’s workplace. He’d gone swimming in a lake and made a castle with his brother. He said he gave his brother baths and changed his dirty diaper.
The carousel started moving and they watched and waited, which also was familiar. Each year, they’d moved from one state to the next, and even the airports were never very different.
She watched the bags turn on the belt and she saw that picture in her head: at another airport, her boy at two. He wore orange pants that had been too big when she had packed them. He was carried by his father, and then the father put him down.
She ran to him.
The boy, he only stood there, hands in the air.
Her baby cried, so she lifted him and bounced him. Her hip was bruised. Her husband had the car, even held the title. He was at practice, teaching girls to hit the puck. Later, he would cry and say, Is that okay? about the girl then, and he would ask her to pretend that she was younger, polishing her nails while she let him do things to her. She pictured the baby asleep, the ham in the freezer. The girl. He would say thank you. He would say thank you, thank you, thank you, collapsing into her arms like a toddler.
She looked in the mirror. The sweatshirt said Go, only backwards.
It Was Hard to Get Off
She put her wardrobe into boxes, and found a hooded sweatshirt from a track coach. Old and too big for her, and the last she heard her coach was Mafia. The shirt said Go, and she remembered him pushing her, saying she could do it. She found a shirt from an ex. She put it on. It was brown and cotton and from Mexico and she’d washed it too many times and it was too small and pinched her arms like the boyfriend. She took off the shirt. It was hard to get off. She put the shirt in the pile that would go to Goodwill. No, she said, then she put it in the trash pile. She put the sweatshirt on again and looked at all the boxes. Clothes were everywhere and there was more ahead and she almost wanted to quit already. She looked in the mirror. The sweatshirt said Go, only backwards.
He was mostly into curve balls. He handled the ball in odd ways, not holding the way you were supposed to, with your fingers in the right holes, lining up, getting centered. He bowled as if it were a dance, a slow one with a beat you made up from the inside. He had his own ball and shoes at home, he left them there, forgetting them until his mom reminded him he had them. Tonight they’d rented three whole games: the boy, his mom and dad, his aunt and that one grandma, and tonight his dad said he was older and finally mature now.
Tonight at first, he bowled gutters. He’d already had one whole day of softball, a big tournament where he was captain and shortstop. Then his dad arrived, his flight surprisingly on time and they played hoops, the two of them, the father almost winning; the aunt and that one grandma, they’d been in town a couple of days already, and they hadn’t seen the boy’s dad since that time before the boy was even born.
The other lanes had leagues and this boy, the graduating senior, waved to some people who he knew from the place where he served burgers.
He had a grace to him, and asked if he could get anyone a soda. They all wanted Cokes and the grandma said a beer please, and the boy’s father went and ordered, delivering while the pins clinked and banged and rattled.
They played in their two lanes, picking up their balls and rolling them, sometimes after aiming, watching down the lanes, and then they sat, they went on with their small talk. Drinking all their stuff, sometimes clapping when a strike came.
You sat and then you waited. You took turns and you tried to be kind and look comfortable. You found your ball and rolled. You let it go, and you watched, waiting for the topple.
Kim Chinquee is the author of Oh Baby: Flash Fictions and Prose Poetry (Ravenna Press), the forthcoming Big Cages (White Pine Press), and is co-editor of Online Writing: The Best of the First Ten Years (Snowvigate Press). She lives in Buffalo, New York.