WHEN MOM'S SICK • by Kendra C. Highley


I looked up from the bicycle tire I was patching. “Yeah, buddy?”

“I miss Kevin.” Taylor played with a wrench on my garage work-table, not meeting my eyes.

Sadness welled up in my heart — seven was too young for this kind of grief. “Kevin was a good friend. It’s okay to miss him. The whole neighborhood does.”

“I know.” He fiddled with the wrench some more. “Dad… what happened to him?”

I wiped my forehead and set my screwdriver on the concrete floor, not eager to start this conversation. “Well, uh, buddy, he died. Died and went to heaven. He, um, it was an accident.”

Taylor wasn’t appeased. “That’s not what I heard.”

“What did you hear, big man?” I rocked back on my heels, easing the strain on my knees. Taylor’s face was peaked in the harsh fluorescent light. Oh God, he knows.

“I heard that his Mommy shot him.”

“Where’d you hear that?” I asked, careful to keep my voice quiet and even despite the dread I felt. Maybe I can fix this.

“Jason told me and Tim and Jack while we played wall-ball at his house.”

I sighed. The neighborhood kids’ grapevine still works, apparently.

I stood and put my tools away, wishing I could find some way to spare him the details. “Well, Kevin’s mommy wasn’t thinking straight. Sometimes people aren’t in their right minds, and, um… they do things they shouldn’t.”

Taylor wasn’t appeased. “Jason said she shot Kevin, and his sister, and his dad, and then she shot herself.” He rocked from foot-to-foot, picking at the hem of his red t-shirt. “Can you actually shoot yourself?”

I rubbed my temples. “Yes. By accident or on purpose. Guns are dangerous.”

“Why would she do that?”

“She had an illness, Taylor. Kevin’s mom was sick and she got confused. She couldn’t tell between right and wrong anymore. It wasn’t Kevin’s fault.”

Taylor nodded, his brown eyes full of knowledge I didn’t want him to have yet. Because the estate was in probate, we saw their car in their driveway whenever we left our house and it clearly weighed on his mind. My stomach twisted — this pain wouldn’t end for him soon. Not for any of us.

Didn’t Karen think how far her actions would ripple out? She hit the whole neighborhood, not just her family. She killed a little piece of all of us that day.

Desperate to get back to real life, I said, “Hey, let’s go outside. You need to work on dribbling before the next soccer game.” I pushed the door to the house open. We’d play in the backyard, out of sight of Kevin’s house.

Lucky for me, Taylor was easily diverted. “Great! I’ll get my ball. Can I wear my cleats?”

That afternoon, my wife came down with the flu; Marie’s fever spiked and she became delirious. I had my hands full trying to keep her comfortable. As the evening wore on, I was too exhausted to do anything but heat up chicken nuggets for dinner. Taylor sat quietly at our round dinette table as I dished up the nuggets and canned green beans.

“Dad, is Mommy sick?” Taylor asked. His sharp-chinned little face was full of worry.

I nodded. “Yeah, big man. She’s really sick. Gran is coming tomorrow to help out, but in the meantime, we’ll just have to take care of her ourselves. Don’t worry, though — Mom just needs some rest.”

Taylor picked at his dinner. “Okay. I’ll go up to my room and make her a card.”

My wife called weakly from our bedroom and I stood. “That’s a great idea, buddy. Make her a super nice card, and I’ll be upstairs to check on you in a bit.”

It took me an hour to get Marie settled. She was chilled and shivering so hard I wondered if she’d crack a tooth. After warming three blankets in the dryer for her, I staggered upstairs to tuck Taylor in. But when I got to his room, he was nowhere to be found.

“Taylor?” I called. No answer.

“Buddy? Are you hiding? If so, that’s not funny, man.” My heart fluttered. I’d been so preoccupied… where was he?

I moved fast through the house, checking the game room, the garage, and the pantry. Still nothing. “Taylor Price, this isn’t funny! Get out here now!” I used the “Daddy growl”, that bass-toned, cathedral-echoing voice that stopped every kid in the park dead in his tracks, whether he belonged to me or not.

When I didn’t find him in the kitchen, I ran back up the stairs to his room and checked behind the clothes in his closet. I was knee deep in t-shirts and Lego bricks when I heard a muffled sneeze near his bed.

Bewildered, I stooped down and pulled up the bedskirt.

Two big brown eyes stared back at me.

“Buddy, what’s the deal?” I didn’t know whether to yank him out and give him a bone-breaking hug, or ground him from the Nintendo for a month.

“You said Mommy was sick,” he whispered.

Tears stung my eyes as I realized what the problem was. My chest ached for him, and for myself. “Buddy, Mom’s never going to be that sick.”

Kendra C. Highley is an Oklahoma girl, exiled to Texas. She is married, a mother of two, staff to two high-powered and self-important cats, an avid reader, an aspiring young adult genre novelist, a card-carrying geek, and a hopeful romantic.

This story was sponsored by
Camilla d’Errico: A character designer and artist who dances on the tightrope between pop surrealist art and manga inspired graphics. Explore her paintings, characters and comics: Tanpopo, BURN and Helmetgirls.

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