Vo l . 7 N o . 1
Rocket Science I pulled over to the curb at my father’s two story brick house to pick up my son. I smiled to myself, glad that he spent afternoons with his grandfather. This was one thing, in all my screwed up life, I could feel good about. But the second I pulled up the parking brake, Caleb ran down the short path, flung open the passenger door, and threw himself into the car. “What’s the matter?” I asked, leaning across to kiss him. “Just drive,” he muttered. I caught sight of my dad in the front window, arms folded across his chest. Normally I would stop for a brief chat, but Caleb’s attitude made that awkward. I met my dad’s eyes. “Thanks,” I mouthed. He shook his head and rolled his eyes. Kids today! Figuring we could talk tomorrow, I put my foot on the gas. “What’s up, Kiddo?” “I’m not going back there.” Caleb stretched one bony arm out the window. “Yes, you are. We’ve been over this before. I don’t have anywhere else to leave you.” “Why are you always telling me what to do?” I sighed. My feet were screaming and my back was starting to chime in. “When you’re ten years old, your mother gets to tell you what to do. It’s not rocket science.” Caleb changed the radio to rap music, and turned up the volume. I felt a migraine coming on. But I needed to win this battle. I couldn’t afford a babysitter, not on my salary from the care home, not after my ex had stopped sending cash, not after we’d paid the rent and bought food and clothes from Walmart. I couldn’t leave Caleb alone, and my dad enjoyed having his grandson around, even if he grumbled. “What’s for dinner?” I considered the contents of my fridge. Not promising. “Hotdogs,” I said, trying to muster enthusiasm. “I don’t like hotdogs.” “You liked ‘em last week.” “I don’t want to go back to Grandpa’s.” I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel, inwardly cursing the driver ahead of me who kept slowing down at each intersection. I wanted to be home, done with dinner, and relaxing in front of the TV.
“What’s wrong with Grandpa’s place? He has air conditioning,” I said noting the hot air that moved sluggishly through the open windows of my car, “and Netflix and a rope swing.” Caleb shook his head. “And he has lots of war stories. You just get him talking.” “I don’t like his talking,” Caleb mumbled, staring at the strip malls we passed. “Why not?” “He says things…” I waited. “Things that make me uncomfortable. Nasty things.” I maneuvered the car into the parking lot of our apartment building and braked hard. Caleb tried the door, but the child locks were on. “Tell me!” I said calmly, although in my mind I was smashing the car into the row of metal trash cans. Caleb picked at the tear in the plastic of his seat and said slowly, without looking at me. “He showed