Will steered the dresser across the lawn to the curb where his BMW was waiting. He opened the back door and sighed. Despite its decade-old rust, the Beamer was still a car designed to carry laughing women, not pieces of stolen furniture. He would have rented a van instead, but money was nonexistent.
He’d been doing well for a while — a long while really, given his history — but last month his manager at the bank caught him in the bathroom with his sleeve rolled up and some rubber tubing draped around his arm.
He was currently squatting in a condemned condo where, by some fluke, the local paper was still being delivered. It was in this paper that Will had chanced upon the upcoming auction of his childhood home. His mother had apparently moved on. He didn’t know if she was dead or just in Florida. For Will, they amounted to pretty much the same thing.
Will traced a shaking hand across the dresser’s woodgrain. It was beautiful. Oak. He knew how much it could get him. He just needed to make it fit.
He studied the drawers. He figured there were still five baby teeth glued beneath the top one. After his second overdose, he’d come home to his mother hoarding his childhood things. She was trying to remember who he was, she told him. Will had been so disgusted by this he’d hidden the baby teeth, those last pieces of her pathetic puzzle. He remembered the pleasure he’d taken, watching her hurling couch cushions and emptying the junk drawer to find them. Will had left that day and never looked back.
He put both hands under the dresser and lifted, grunting and starting to sweat as he maneuvered the top of the big bastard through the BMW’s rear passenger door. The dresser went in about half a foot before getting stuck. Will worked at it for five minutes before deciding there was just no way. He was considering taking out the drawers and stacking them up on the front seat, aware of the futility of this gesture, when a kid came riding up the block.
She was maybe ten with curly red hair and a black book bag. Will tried not to look at her, tried to make it seem as if he was just a normal part of the neighborhood, just a man in sweatpants trying to jam a dresser into a busted-up sports car.
“Hey,” the girl said. “What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” Will said. “Just moving out.”
“But you don’t live here.”
“How do you know?”
“Because Mrs. Grover lives here, or at least she did,” the girl said. “Until she moved to the hospital.”
Will winced. “When did that happen?”
The girl shrugged. “Maybe three weeks ago.”
Will nodded. He tried not think of his old mother attached to machines.
“Why are you stealing her dresser?”
“I’m not,” Will said, “It’s my dresser.”
The girl considered this. “Oh,” she said. “You’re her son.”
Will rubbed away some of the sweat pouring from his brow. He was edging deeper into withdrawal now, some six hours since his last dose. Pretty soon he’d be throwing up into his cup holder.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m her son.”
“She’s a pretty lady,” the girl said. “She made me cupcakes.”
“Great,” Will said, turning back to the dresser. The girl watched him struggle for a while.
Then she said, “I steal too. Do you want to see?”
Before Will could say anything, she was unzipping her book bag. Will expected it to be filled with dolls or games or maybe even CDs, but the girl pulled out a diamond ring bigger than any he’d ever seen. When Will asked where she had gotten it, the girl shrugged again, turning the ring over, mesmerized by it.
“Grandma said I could touch it and that was all, but I couldn’t help myself,” she said, her voice faraway. “It was the prettiest one in the whole box.”
Will thought about all the dope the ring could get him. He looked up and down the street. The girl stood close enough to him that he could smell her hair. He could push her into the car in seconds. He counted his breaths, watching her roll the ring around, watching the light catch it.
The dresser’s shadow falling across her.
When he got to the hospital, it was late afternoon. The nurses stared him down. “Visiting hours are over,” one of them said. Will knew this wasn’t true. They’d been instructed not to let him in. This was okay. He simply turned on the acerbic charm that had gotten him out of several bar fights and into several beds. A smile, a joke, and two compliments later, one of the nurses was giggling despite herself and muttering his mother’s room number.
When he went into the room, he was astonished to find it filled with flowers. His mother was asleep in a garden. He stood by the door, watching her chest rise and fall. She’d hunted for a life that made sense for fifty years and now what did she have? Will needed to take a hit. He could see the Demerol patch on her bicep. He could peel it off, easier than a bandage, and chew it as the elevator took him back out toward the heat. He stood a moment longer, then he reached into his pocket. She’d lived her whole life without him and the flowers seemed to say she’d found people who mattered. Will liked to think that way. He set his gift under the nearest bouquet and left the room. He hoped his mother found it before a nurse did.
An odd gift for a nurse to find, a tiny envelope with five small teeth inside.
Kevin Tasker’s short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Vestal Review and Flash Fiction Magazine. His food writing has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and Edible Cleveland. He lives in Cleveland with his cat.