Michael had finally allowed her to hang up the phone after exactly five minutes. Five was his favorite number. Carrie briefly considered forcing him to hang up because his father was driving a patrol car on the other end. But a few minutes more wouldn’t matter, would it? Besides, Jon had let the call continue. He even chatted with Michael while she could hear him driving.
Considering everything, it was a good enough outcome. The only thing missing was that her six-year-old son, who had made the call to his father in the first place, had actually talked during those five minutes.
Carrie sighed and poured some more coffee into her mug. It was the third one this morning. She and Michael were sitting on the well-worn couch in their living room, and he was playing with her phone again, searching for YouTube videos he liked. She thought he was pretty good, no, an expert at using the device. One day, for example, she had discovered he could make different windows move around by swiping—she hadn’t even thought that function was possible. But Michael had discovered it on his own.
She turned on the TV. Soft sunlight filtered through the cheap curtains, making it difficult to see the news, but Carrie wasn’t really watching.
“You know what,” she said, looking at Michael, “Dad will be tired when he gets home. Maybe we should go to the mall so he doesn’t have to. We can buy you something.”
Well, it would have to be something small. Or…maybe not. Michael looked really peaceful now. Nobody would have believed the little boy with the unruly, slightly reddish-blonde hair had been all over the place this morning, screaming so loudly that she heard Mrs. Hanson from the neighboring house slam her window. That woman. She was so sweet to the Dennehy kids who lived next door because she didn’t have any kids herself or whatever. Always blabbering about how hard she worked and all the insulting people that bothered her at the Town Hall where she did administrative work—Carrie had never found out what, and she didn’t really care. And then … always being nice to the Dennehy kids because they were normal kids, right? Even Emma, Michael’s big sister. God, sometimes Carrie felt like screaming at that arrogant…
But no. She had to think clearly. She had decisions to make. Michael looked really peaceful now. He looked as if he could handle kindergarten. And he only had four weeks left, minus the holidays. Then it would be school. A special school, sure, but a new and scary place with all sorts of problems. Mostly her problems, because Jon was the one working.
And the hours when Michael was in kindergarten. Even if she had to scrub the whole house—and she often had to—they were precious hours. She had never imagined when she was younger that she would feel such a burning need to be alone. But it never lasted long.
Carrie moistened her lips. She looked at Michael, who was gleefully thumping through the umpteenth cartoon version of ‘Old MacDonald’ and humming along. He talked little, but he knew many songs by heart. He loved singing, even though he probably didn’t understand much of what the songs were about. Or did he?
“Today is going to be another hot day, pushing 80 degrees…” The local newswoman sounded as mechanical as if she were a simulation. Maybe she didn’t like her job. Maybe she wanted to be at home.
Carrie looked at Michael again and realized she had been sitting, legs up, arms crossed, all tense on the couch. She slowly relaxed.
She patted Michael’s head. “Where would you like to go, honey?”
He smiled at her, and she decided. Maybe the stomach cramps would come back. She was pretty sure they would until she got some more medication in him and he could fill that diaper properly.
They could take care of it in kindergarten. But not today.