He is a little boy. The kind of little that watches carefully, that listens carefully, and then thinks about what he saw, what he heard. The kind of little that keeps those thoughts tucked inside his mind, and carries them to his adult life. Sometimes the kind of thoughts, that if not fleshed out, discovered, can make that adult mind stay a little boy.
The day is hot, the sun too bright. “Pass me the ketchup.” I say to him. “Toss it. I can catch it.” I balance the hot dog in my right hand and reach out my left to catch the bottle. The picnic table is covered with a paper cloth. Pictures of cars and trucks that he’s drawn with a crayon, are all over it.
“But grandma,” he picks up the red container, making sure the cap is upright.”It’ll spill. I can’t throw good.” His five year old eyes look across the table into mine. Fear of failure. He’s too young to have that look, but it’s there. He’s intense. Like his mother. Not sure if these things are learned, or genetic. He asks the question that’s been lying behind his eyes all afternoon.
“When’s momma coming to get us?” he checks the driveway. The other two kids are on swings. I hear them yelling, “C’mon Brandon, come on over and swing with us.” Their voices high pitched in the afternoon sun.
But they know he won’t. He keeps pretty much to himself.
“She’ll be here soon,” I say to him, though not so sure myself. We both wait.
“I figured it out,” he says to me after a while, the freckles on his cheeks growing darker in the afternoon light. He enunciates the words carefully, letting me know this is a serious conversation, a serious thought.
“Yes Brandon.” I sit across from him, my hot dog dripping red ketchup onto the grass below, not sure what he’s figured out.
“My daddy’s not my daddy anymore.” He says matter of factly, his own hot dog clenched in his hand. He hasn’t taken a bite.
“Oh?” I say. “Why do you say that?”
“Well, my mom told him to go away. That she didn’t want him around anymore.” He struggles to remember the words he’s heard sitting behind the living room curtain in a tiny ball. “That means he doesn’t live with us anymore, right?” His eyes look at me, waiting for confirmation.
“Well Brandon.” I take a bite of the hot dog and hope to come up with some kind of answer that will make sense to a little boy. “He’s still your daddy. What makes you think he won’t be your daddy anymore?” I toss the question back at him. I need to hear him think.
“Well,” he draws out the well. I take another bite of the hot dog but all I can taste is the anguish I see on his little face. “He’s not going to be coming home anymore, and that’s where we live.”
“Well,” I draw out the word too, hoping some wisdom will hit my tongue, something a five year old boy can understand, not so much with his head, as with his heart. It’s there the question is coming from, and it’s there the answer will live, for a very long time.
“You’re daddy can’t stop being your daddy,” I tell him. “Just because he doesn’t live with you. He will always be your daddy.”
“Momma says he doesn’t care about us kids. I heard her say that. She yelled it in the kitchen and then she started to cry.”
“She was angry Brandon. Sometimes parents say things when they get angry. But they don’t mean them. They mostly never mean them.”
“Oh,” Brandon takes a bite of the hot dog and chews it. I see him thinking.
“So we live with momma, but daddy will still be daddy.”
“That’s right,” I say, smiling. “That never stops. No matter what.”
“Even though I make him mad. And he gets mad at momma because of me?” The clear blue of his eyes look into mine, waiting for some kind of absolution.
“Even though,” I say back.
“Oh,” he says again, and puts his hot dog down on the table. A small smile curls his baby lips, and he heads over to the swings.
“Even though,” I say to myself, and feel a little lighter too.
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