There he is, lying on the banana lounge soaking up the sun. My son. If he could bark, you’d think he was a harbor seal.
Danny, come in here. I want to talk to you.
Boy, do I want to talk to him. This morning he promises to wash my car. After that, he says he’ll mow the lawn. He was eating Cheerios at the time, the day was young, he was full of energy. I’ll clean out the rain gutters like you asked, he said. Great! I tell him. And maybe you can rake the leaves out front — remember? He promised to rake the leaves a week ago.
Danny! Here I come.
There is also the matter of the hairs in the bath tub. His, which he promised to clean. The cobwebs above the curtains in the living room are still where they were a week ago when he promised to get them down with the broom. I know where the broom is, Ma, he says whenever I remind him.
Danny: boy of good intentions. Why do you make your mother come out here in the hot sun? Here, for you. A list of everything you said you’d do. Time to get busy. Chop chop.
I talked to Father Al. He says a promise that isn’t consummated is a lie. It upset him, I could tell. He knows you from the beginning. He baptized you.
Danny reaches up and takes the piece of paper, a baker’s dozen of promises that, if he tried, he could finish by suppertime. Squints at the list. Right, Ma, I’ll take care of it.
When? The eternal question.
He moves his entire body and manages to give the impression that it is a feat he would undertake for nobody but me. Props himself up on an elbow. Smiles from behind his dark glasses.
Ma, you know I’m good for it. I like your list, I have nothing against doing those things. But if I do them all, what will I have to look forward to? These chores are like wealth to me, Ma. The more I have, the richer I am.
Think about it, Danny says. He swings his feet down to the ground and sits up. You don’t really want me to do all these things. Not right away. They’re your wealth, too. You can treasure them.
It’s like, imagine you had fifty dollars and spent it on a nice dinner last night with pops. Now it’s today. Would you like to have that fifty dollars back? Sure, you would. It’s the same with a promise. A promise saved is a promise earned. Promises are like money in the bank.
He stands, my well-tanned son, takes off his sunglasses and puts an arm around me. And Ma, you know promises come from the heart. They’re a connection that binds our family together. For you, the thing that binds is food, I know. Family suppers. And you’re right: I love your meat loaf. But for me, it’s promises. Promises are the ties that bind.
I stand there fanning myself with the newspaper while Danny sits back down on the banana lounge and replants his sunglasses on his nose. And know what? he says. Promises keep us laughing, don’t they? They’re a chuckle, like you, Ma. Come on, let me see that smile.
I smile, I can’t help myself. Then I surprise him with the newspaper.
In your spare time you can look for a job. Maybe you should be a salesman.
He blinks, and it’s like the horse nonsense he’s full of vanishes from his mind. All that’s left behind his eyes is an empty stall and a few bits of loose straw. Then he lies back and drapes the newspaper over his face.
Good idea, Ma. I’m pretty backed up on things right now. But I’ll look into it. That’s a promise.
Robert Schladale lives in writes in Northern California. He received an MA from the University of Virginia where he studied fiction writing with Peter Taylor. For many years his non-writing life has involved working on environmental and social issues, and his stories frequently touch upon those themes. He won first place in the 2009 Southwest Writers short fiction competition, and a flash story entitled “Tortugas” will appear in the fall 2010 edition of The Smoking Poet.