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stay calm, he thought
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His first thought was to calm her, she of the fluttering hands and fingers, her hair loosening from the scarf in the wind. There it was, his deep center of calm made especially for her, a vibration born in his round belly, legs swinging in the stroller. Later, as her frantic panic arrived daily, hourly, minute into another minute, shaking the timbers of the house from her place in the kitchen, he hid under his headphones and pretended his video game consumed his every cell. “Chris? Chris? Chris?” she said, voice fighting demons, he thought, weary of the demand.

He slid the lid off the stew on the stove, she pressed stop go stop on the sewing machine pedal in the family room, listening for him, her foot betraying her. Then he felt sorry, when she didn’t ask, then he felt the calm rising from his belly, into his chest, across his shoulders and sliding into his eyes for her.

“Yeah,” he said, “we had Assembly today,” taking up his dead grandmother’s elaborately patterned fork and knife at the table, “I won for Math.” He watched the joy cross her face, replacing the frantic, and for a moment he wished he could be enough, this moment would stretch on like the old days when the wind blew the scarf from her hair and they chased across the park, zooming in the stroller, and then lay in the grass watching the geese, scarf retrieved, covering them.

When the phone rang, he leapt and they wrestled for it, a new panic in the tips of her fingers trying to pry his away. “Yeah, Yo!” he said, the receiver held aloft, out of her reach like a child’s, he had shot past her height that year.

Her mother’s voice asked for her by name on the phone but his grandmother died before he was born, he thought. “Who?” he said, shoving the receiver away. “It’s for you.” He slid from her and the eyes trying to pry out of him what he knew, what he heard, and suddenly he realized that all his life she of the fluttering limbs, the frantic eyes had not been looking to him for calm, she had been hiding something, hiding a secret from him.

More than anything, he didn’t want to know.


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