Hernandez, the name, is not hers. It belongs to Carlos. She’s been meaning to change back to her maiden name, Matsuoka, but she hasn’t found the time. Sometimes Martha wonders if she’s holding on to the name for the same reason she’s holding on to the Kauai wedding photo that hangs in the living room — her in a flowing satin muumuu and Carlos in a white shirt and slacks, draped in ti leaf lei. Perhaps, deep down somewhere, she hopes there’s a chance that Carlos will walk back into her life again, even though he made it clear when he left that she was no longer what he desired.
She sits next to her son on the bus. Tyler, just six, wears a red jacket and he leans against the window, his legs dangling from the seat. His small red backpack sits on top of his lap and he plays with an Etch-A-Sketch.
“It’s a paper clip.” He shows his mother.
Martha nods and flashes a hint of a smile.
She is not all right. She’s counting the stops until the bus reaches Kapahulu Avenue, when she will walk Tyler five blocks to Carlos’ house. She is imagining what she will do for the weekend in her empty Makiki apartment, how she will feel without the sound of Tyler desperately trying to teach his new puppy Waffles to sit or him using old bed sheets to transform the living room into a tent city. It’ll be the same as all those other visitations that have come every other weekend for the past two months. She’ll curl under sheets, an empty bottle of wine on the nightstand. She’ll sleep until one in the afternoon, then watch movie after movie on Lifetime without getting up to eat or even shower. Eventually she’ll fall back asleep to the sound of rain, with Waffles curled at her feet, thinking about Carlos.
“You can’t take all that out of your bag, sweetie,” she tells Tyler. He has unzipped his backpack and removed two action figures and a pair of die-cast cars. A folded T-shirt and a pair of shorts hangs out of the bag. “Mommy worked hard to pack your bag. Let’s put it back until we get to Daddy’s house.”
“I want to play,” he whines.
“Okay, pick one. Then let’s put everything else back inside,” Martha says. Tyler begins to stuff the other toys back into the bag, holding on to his Etch-A-Sketch.
Lately he’s been better. The first week following the divorce Tyler asked, Have I been bad? I will be good. I promise, Mommy, I will be good. Martha assured him he had done nothing wrong, that Daddy’s decision wasn’t about him. Or her either. But she had awoken one night to the sound of a faucet running and water sloshing. She found Tyler in the bathroom, still in his pajamas, lying in the tub as it filled with water.
Martha spoke with the counselor at his school.
“It’s a common reaction to divorce,” the woman had said.
“What is?” Martha asked.
Martha had never heard of such a thing. The revelation made her furious. She had called Carlos immediately, hysterical, “Look at what you are doing to your son!”
Tyler shows her the Etch-A-Sketch again, this time a series of incoherent scribbles and circles and swirls. “That’s you, Mommy. And me. And Daddy. And that’s Uncle Thom.”
Hearing Thom’s name is jarring for Martha, makes her momentarily sick, reminds her that for six years she really had not known Carlos at all. But she fakes a smile, for Tyler’s sake. “That’s very nice. Now why don’t you draw Waffles. I bet she’d love that.”
Tyler shakes the Etch-A-Sketch close to his ear, erasing the picture he had drawn. “I like that sound.”
He gets to work on drawing the papillon. Tyler had stood in front of the Pet’s Discount window a few weeks ago, mesmerized by the puppy’s wing-span ears. Seeing Tyler’s reaction to the dog reminded Martha of the counselor’s suggestion that she add some sort of stabilizing element to Tyler’s life. Martha bought the dog for him, as if to tell him, Everything will be OK.
The bus pulls up in front of the Waikiki Library. Tyler stands and struggles to put on his backpack. Martha holds his Etch-A-Sketch and helps him into the straps. Then she grabs his hand as they walk down the aisle and down the back steps.
Tyler leaps into his father’s arms and Martha stands back in the yard. She decides not to ascend the steps to the porch. Carlos smiles at her, asks her how she’s holding up. Even knowing what she knows now, she still yearns for him. His gentleness. The way he is with Tyler.
“Fine,” she says. “How are things? How’s Thom?” At first, she’s surprised she even said his name. Then she’s surprised she even acts like she cares. She knows she doesn’t.
Carlos does not answer the question, he only nods.
Martha tells Tyler to be a good boy. He runs to her at the base of the steps and she hugs him. She does not want to let go. But eventually she does.
She walks out to the street, to head back toward the bus stop. But she hears the front door open and she looks and sees her son on the porch. He calls for her. “Mommy! I love you. See you Sunday.”
“Love you too, sweetie. See you Sunday.” She blows a kiss. Tyler does too.
When she reaches the bus stop, she notices she’s been carrying Tyler’s Etch-A-Sketch the whole way. Vaguely in the loops and scratches and scribbles she makes out the shape of a dog. His dog. But it’s her dog, too.
Loren Arthur Moreno worked as a newspaper reporter in Honolulu and currently lives in New York City where he is an MFA creative writing candidate at The New School. His fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Eclectic Flash, Ignavia Press, Glossolalia, Gertrude Press and Battered Suitcase. His flash fiction chapbook ‘At This Late Hour,’ was awarded runner-up in the 2010 Stonewall Chapbook Contest run by Brickhouse Books in Baltimore.