Mom scrambles across the room half-tripping over her own feet. She lifts his head and begins to attempt to pry the un-chewed hot dog from his throat. Beating on his chest and blowing her own breath into his mouth, she is trying to pour a bit of her own life into his empty shell. His face is a cold-blue and tears cover his cheeks. Bobby’s dead.
With her hands violently shaking, Mom manages to slide the pack of menthols from her back jean-short pocket. She shakes her last cigarette from the soft pack. He’s cradled in her lap as she flicks at the lighter. Flick, flick, flame. She pulls at the cigarette with a trembling mouth. She’s making this last smoke count. It is now just a stub threatening to burn her lips. Mom spits the remnant onto the floor. She allows the smoke to settle in her lungs. It hurts, it burns, and she lets it.
It is a busy, sizzling July day and Bobby’s shadow grows longer, thinner. It’s dinner time. Pulling himself out of the neighbor boy’s not-quite-cold swimming pool, Bobby finally acknowledges his hunger and begins the hot pursuit for Mom. Mom wants nothing more than to take a nap on the sofa, to crack open a good erotica—it’s too damn hot in this house to be cooking anything.
Wading past a minefield of Lego blocks and army men, Mom makes her way to the stuffy kitchen where she flings the window behind the sink open a little harder than necessary. Next pay. Next pay she’ll be getting central-air. The temperature keeps on rising and there’s no reprieve in sight. The heat’s making her crazy—she can barely think.
She pushes a few sticky, sweat soaked wisps of hair from her face. Upon pulling away, the back of her hand is coated with perspiration. She reaches the damp hand deep into the refrigerator; Mom knows just what to make. She turns the knob on the stove to high and begins filling a saucepan with warm tap water. The minerals mixed among the hydrogen and oxygen have an odor. The smell reminds Mom of long hot showers, a sink full of dishes, of Bobby’s first baths.
After a few minutes of boiling, she pulls the now-limp hot dog from the steaming pot. Steam surrounds her face as she pours the hot water down the drain. It soaks her hair and her mascara starts to run. She runs a finger beneath her eyes to smudge away the melted makeup. This damn heat.
He’s sitting at the coffee table. He’s transfixed watching the television. Mom swipes the remote control out of his lap—she needs to turn it down. She does this quickly as he begins to protest immediately. She trades his dinner for the power over the volume. He stops complaining—mid sentence—at the sight of his meal. His mouth is immediately full and Mom takes this opportunity to step outside.
The first drag of her cigarette is always the most rewarding. She still gets that initial head rush. It’s due half to the nicotine, and half to the thrill. This is her one last vice. Bobby never acknowledges Mom’s habit. He smells the staleness on her, only faintly, as they lie together—smashed like sardines on the well-worn sofa watching Antiques Roadshow. The show is a part of their nighttime routine, so is that smell.
The last puff leaves her lungs reluctantly. She holds onto the smoke desperately until it begins to bother her. She releases the toxins into the air through clenched teeth. A bit escapes through her nose and a breeze carries away the grey plumes. A breeze. The leaves on their maple haven’t moved in days. Mom allows stagnant air to fill the house in attempt to keep the thick, July heat out. The breeze continues to rustle leaves and Mom shakes the smoke from her shirt. She needs to open those windows before the cool reprieve escapes her.
She moves from the kitchen to the dining room, rapidly sliding the windows up, slamming them open. Mom steps into the living room and the sounds of cartoon gunshots ring in her ears. She told him to keep the volume down; one of his shows just might send her over the edge one of these days. She presses the power button and the screen goes blank. The only sound she hears is the fizzling of the almost-antique television set powering down. There is silence otherwise.
Mom turns on her heels expecting a shouting match. The humidity makes her fiery and Bobby had inherited that hot-temperedness. But he doesn’t argue. His tiny body is slumped over the table and his plate had slid to the floor smearing ketchup across the beige carpet. Jesus Christ.
Allyson Leskovic is a food server from small-town Pennsylvania.